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Pop-up Banner Ads Just Got Worse

Monday, April 22, 2002

Pop-up banner ads are those annoying windows that seem to appear out of nowhere when you visit sites like Yahoo.com. Advertisers are taking advantage of what was meant to be a useful browser feature, exploiting it to spread the word about their latest greatest product or service.

What was simplying bothersome has just got a whole lot worse. Most of these banner ads are maintined by a small group of companies. One of these companies has apparently sanctioned the use of pop-up banner ads to download software to the user's computer.

How does it work?
Well, you may visit an obstensibly reputable site. That site will launch a pop-up window for one of its advertisers. You will recieve a window asking you to download or install a piece of software. The advertiser is banking on the fact that most users just say "yes" when prompted, thereby downloading and installing the application on your computer. They are also no doubt betting that most users will associate the download screen with the reputable company whose site they wish to view rather than the pop-up advertisement itself.

Though some of this software may in fact be harmless, the practice itself is deceptive. Some of this very same software is what brings computers in our front door for repairs on a routine basis. Furthermore, it should be noted that The Federal Trade Commission has brought a case against people who have used this same technique to trash customers existing Internet connections and replace them with dial-up accounts which call expensive 1-900 numbers.

How can you avoid this?
Well, since aparently "reputable" companies have sold their collective souls for $.05 banner ad, it's not as easy as just paying attention to which sites you're surfing. Also, many legitimate companies may require that you install additional "helper" applications to view their site. This is especially the case when viewing movie trailers, taking 3D tours of a car or house, etc. However, it is fairly standard practice for a company to explain to the user that additional software is required to view the content. If you do not see an explanation on the page you are viewing, then contact the company. Send them an e-mail explaining that you were prompted to install software while visiting their site. Ask them if this is necessary to access the content of the site. If so, then which content?

Though we wish it wasn't so, every time you install a piece of software on your computer you risk making your computer slower, unstable or even unusable. So, if you have any doubt as to the purpose or usefulness of a piece of software you are being asked to install, then don't install it. Just say "no"...errr, I mean, "cancel."

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