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Defaults ON, adverts OFF

Jul 05, 20044 mins

“Who’d a thunk a firewall would be set by default to screen advertising?” – Stephen Mahaney

My friend Jim dropped me a note the other day asking if I knew of any reason why Google should suddenly stop showing links for its paid-for ads. I checked Google from my browser and nothing seemed amiss, so we tried to find the cause.


Jump into our forum on this behavior of Norton Internet Security 2004.

We checked browser settings, did a Google search for any content that might be related, switched off Symantec’s Norton Antivirus, rebooted, made sure his Windows patches were up to date, rebooted and were finally about to sacrifice a chicken to appease the gods when I had to leave him to it when other crises loomed.

I got a note from Jim this morning pointing me to a Web site  that explains it all. There you will find the comments of Mahaney, president of Planet Ocean Communications (that’s the company that owns the site).

Mahaney’s business is “permission e-mail marketing solutions” or “search engine promotion experts,” depending on where you look, which is to say he has attracted a lot of anger over his e-mail marketing tactics. For example, see the Internet Deadbeats’ Hall of Lame  and an exchange on a firewall discussion list. My point is he has a huge ax to grind on the issue of blocking advertising, and he is not one to favor the idea.

Mahaney’s discourse explains that “Norton Personal Firewall/Internet Security 2004 (NPFW/IS2004) ships with an ad-blocking feature – with the default set to on.”

Ah-ha. The swines. In my brief diagnostic/analysis/wild thrashing about this session with Jim via phone I had neglected to jump to the totally unobvious conclusion that the problem lay in something a Norton product was doing.

Now I’ve had my fair share of software that hasn’t had vital security settings switched on. For example, last year I tested a mail server that was configured by default as an open relay and two months later I was still trying to get my mail server taken off a couple of the more brutal black hole lists.

The decision by Symantec to default to screening advertising is definitely not as dangerous as defaulting to an open relay, but not telling users is simply a bad idea.

As for Jim, who is an online marketing expert, he wants to see the ads, and as a competent computer user he is perfectly capable of running his PCs – at least until a vendor does something like Symantec did. If it screwed up Jim, a smart user, just think what it will do to the legions of naive users!

But there is more at stake. In Mahaney’s story he bemoans Symantec’s decision: “Symantec almost has a lock on the Internet security business via their Norton Anti-Virus Protection niche. And now, NPFW/IS2004 is being used on the overwhelming majority of new corporate and personal computers. Furthermore, NPFW/IS2004 is being bundled with many, if not most, new systems being shipped. It’s the No. 1 Internet security software, and it’s doing its best to torpedo your advertising efforts.”

Mahaney continues: “Naturally, to online marketers like you and me, this problem is a real concern. That’s why we’ve assigned some of our best people to come up with a fix. And they’ve done so. It isn’t perfect (yet) but it beats the pants off every other ‘solution’ we’ve found thus far. Are we willing to share? . . . Sure. To get the scoop on what we’ve got so far, see this month’s resource article.”

To get the resource story you have to be a subscriber to “Search Engine News,” which is published by Mahaney’s company and to which I am not a subscriber. If any of you have access to this story, I would love to hear a summary of what it covers.

All of this raises some interesting questions – that we’ll delve into next week. Messages to will not be blocked.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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