Beware Badware: Google’s Policy on Unwanted Software

I think it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t sell malware to your customers. But what exactly is malware comprised of? Is it only a virus that accesses private information, or can malware be defined as legitimate software that is sold through deceptive marketing?

Not too long ago, Google sent me an interesting email and it behooves every ecommerce manager to be familiar with its contents. Ostensibly, it’s a message for those who manage AdWords accounts, but its ramifications extend to anyone who manufactures digital goods and wishes to prosper by hawking these products online.

This is the message I received:

Dear AdWords Advertiser,

Around mid-December, the Google AdWords policy requirements around software downloads will change. The current software principles requirements in the “Misrepresentation of self, product, or service” policy will be replaced by Google’s policy on Unwanted Software:

After this change, advertisers with software downloads hosted on their site or linked to from their site must comply with the Unwanted Software policy, regardless of the device on which the software is installed. All such software downloads must comply with this new policy, whether or not these downloads are promoted through AdWords.

What you can do:

If you advertise a site that hosts or links to software downloads, make sure that software downloads hosted on or linked to from your site comply with the Unwanted Software policy. This policy applies to your entire site, not just to the pages that your ads point to. Please ensure that downloadable software hosted on your site, or linked from your site, meets the following standards:

  • Provides transparent installation and upfront disclosures about what the software does, and gives the user control over the installation process
  • Is easy to uninstall or disable
  • Behaves as expected once installed and allows the user continued control over updates and changes
  • Avoids the collection or transmission of personal information in an unclear or deceptive manner
  • Is only bundled with other software with authorization, and with other software which also complies with the Unwanted Software policy

Advertisers will be required to comply with the new AdWords Unwanted Software policy around mid-December.

After the new policy goes into effect, you’ll see details at


The Google AdWords Team

“These guidelines are, by necessity, broad. Software creation and distribution are complex and the technology is continuously evolving. As a result, some useful applications may not comply entirely with these principles and some deceptive practices may not be addressed here.” – Software principles | Google

This email is an obvious outcome of Google’s philosophy and software principles, which dictate how advertisers and publishers can improve the customer experience. Remember, the ecommerce world is slowly, but surely, coming around to the understanding that making your customers happy with a seamless online experience is the key to customer acquisition and retention. Any company that goes against this trend occupies an unfortunate position in the Google ecosystem. And, I’m willing to bet a lot of money that the flourishing of your business depends heavily on whether or not Google likes your site.

Google considers any company that violates their philosophy and principles a malware pusher. For example, in its software principles page, Google emphasizes the need for software publishers to be very strict on installation practices. Consent to have software installed on a machine must be expressly given by the user.

What’s more, consumers are encouraged to submit violators to StopBadware -— a non-profit dedicated to exposing software programs that consumers detest. So even if you are abiding by these guidelines, if one of your users perceives the situation differently, it’s your business that suffers.

What does this all this mean for your business?

Protect yourself

Imagine your company sells antivirus software, and hackers start co-opting your paid search efforts by luring your potential customers into downloading what they think is a solution for their computer performance, but is really just a phishing scam or malware program. If a person was standing outside a brick-and-mortar store waving people away from your store into their storefront where they rob visitors blind, it’s relatively easy for you to call the police and have that person removed from your store entrance. But on the Internet, it is not so simple. With these policies in place, you can contact Google, fill out a form telling them someone is hijacking your ad campaign, and they can investigate it. If its true, they can then remove the offender’s “ads” from paid search results.

Improve yourself

If you’re producing legitimately valuable software; and it’s clear to your buyers what they are installing, and how to disable the program; and you only bundle your products with other similarly legitimate products — your AdWords campaigns are probably not in any danger of being shut down.

But selling software online isn’t just about being in the clear. It’s about improving all aspects of your customers’ experiences with your brand. Sure, you’re very busy, but isn’t it worth at least reviewing all the processes and procedures that you subject visitors, users and customers to, and trying to see if there is a better way of doing it? Customer loyalty is on the line here, as is your business’s reputation: two things you really don’t want to mess with.

Free yourself from suspicion

If you’re using questionable marketing tactics to trick users into downloading your software, or you partner with those who do, this policy will have a negative effect on your bottom line. You have an increased chance of being reported to StopBadware, and of your paid search ads being removed from display results. Though the documentation is not explicit on this topic, I imagine these violations also affect your organic search results too.

This knowledge is especially important for those who rely on paid search to generate leads. But its not just about AdWords. Violating these rules can occur, not just in your landing pages, but anywhere on your site. As is noted in Google’s Abuse of the ad network page, “Your entire site must comply with Google’s Unwanted Software policy … If your site is suspended from advertising, all ads pointing to your site will stop running.” If you read the fine print on these Google policies, you realize that it also affects your website and your affiliates’ websites. If they host any of these suspicious kinds of links their site might be blacklisted, and that can affect your revenue too. To free yourself from any suspicion consider these questions:

  • Do you have landing pages that ask users to install your program as a free trial?
  • How easy is it to uninstall your program?
  • Do you bundle your product with a third party’s product?
  • Do you run an affiliate network?
  • Do your affiliate partners host third party links?

If you answer yes to any of these questions then you need to establish marketing practices that adhere to Google’s policies in these scenarios.


Adhering to Google’s policies on unwanted software allows you to retain your good reputation and your customers.