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How are you popping the pop-up ads?

Oct 06, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* In-your-face marketing is irritating, not enticing

The other day I was writing an article and [YOU ARE A WINNER! CLICK HERE] I got so irritated at [FIND YOUR TRUE LOVE!] all the [LAST MINUTE TRAVEL!] pop-up ads that kept jumping to the forefront [SPY ON YOUR SPOUSE!] of my screen.  It was almost enough to make me rip the Internet cable out of the wall. 

Many of these ads are more than an irritant; they are outright offensive.  Some of them depict very graphic sexual images.  There have been a few times when I couldn’t close them fast enough, and my whole screen became one swirling mess of unwanted obscene images.  I had to reboot the machine to get rid of them!

It seems that all summer we Internet users spent so much time and effort battling virues, worms and spam that we ignored the problem of unwanted pop-up ads.  Like the virus and spam problems, we now have to fight unwanted pop-ups with technology.  Ironically, some of the spam I now receive advertises pop-up killers.

Most of the pop-up killer tools seem to be geared toward individual users.  For instance, a couple months ago, Keith Shaw mentioned a good pop-up killer in his Network World Cool Tools column (see link below).  Keith tested IHatePopUps from Sunbelt Software, and concluded that the $10 tool does a pretty good job of blocking most unwanted pop-up ads.  And there are others, such as POW! from AnalogX and Popup Protect from ContentWatch, which are either free or very low cost.

The problem I see here is that individual end users are trying to address the problem with software that network managers might view as rogue or at the very least, non-standard and non-supported.  You can’t blame the user; he just wants these things out of his face. 

I suppose the best thing that an enterprise IT manager can do is select a specific product and purchase a site license for his company to use it.  Then he can force or encourage all users to use the same tool.  If your company has done this, I’d like to hear what product you selected and why, and I’ll share it with other readers in a future article.

There are plenty of legal issues surrounding pop-up advertising.  For example, Gator, which bills itself as “the leader in online behavioral marketing,” has been sued several times over its tactics of placing unwanted pop-up ads over other Web sites’ content.  Six Continents Hotels sued Gator for copyright and trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, and interference with business contracts. In another case, a group of media companies sued Gator on the grounds that Gator interferes with the way that the companies want to present their own Web sites.  The legal issues are still new enough to where they are still being argued and challenged in the courts, and new laws will surely emerge from the firefight.

Meanwhile, we users are frustrated and left to spend time and money to fight the problem.  And even though there are tools that can kill the unwanted pop-ups, they have the side affect of also killing pop-up screens that you actually do want, like special windows to read e-mail messages in Outlook Web Access.

I wonder how long it will be before pop-up killer vigilantes use denial-of-service tactics on purveyors of pop-ups, like anti-spam activitists have done with spammers.  I can see some guy at his PC getting so mad about the thousandth in-your-face ad for Orbitz on his screen that he overloads and crashes the whole Orbitz site.  (Now I am not advocating this as a legitimate means to solve the problem.  All I’m saying is that it could happen.)

A few years ago, we all thought the Internet and the e-commerce era it ushered in was the Holy Grail.  Now we’re finding the path is full of potholes in the form of pop-ups, viruses, spams and scams.  It’s almost enough to make you want to unplug your PC and burn your browser.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at