March 5th, 2002, 05:54 AM
Fight the New, Intrusive Web Ads
Fight the New, Intrusive Web Ads
Web bugs, annoying pop-ups and pop-unders, how alcohol makes you dumb.
Wednesday, November 14, 2001
There's steam coming from my ears. I just read Tom Spring's "Consumer Alert: Stealth Ad Invasion," and I'm ticked. Now don't misunderstand, I realize the need for advertising. Hell, I had my own small business, so I know that not advertising is like winking in the dark. But sneaky advertising is something I abhor.
I'm talking about things like pop-up or pop-under Windows, HTML code in e-mail that sends your address to a spammer, Web bugs embedded in Web pages or e-mail that return data to the tracker's Web site, and underhanded hyperlink technologies. And boy, there are lots of them out there.
The good news? This two-part column brings these issues onto the table, giving you the chance to understand how sneaky advertising works, and to learn how to defeat it.
Here's the Plan
At the forefront of aggressive advertising is TopTest. It highlights words on a Web page linking you to an advertiser. Tom Spring exposes it all in "Latest Online Ad Gimmick: Hyperlinks." I encourage you to take a deep breath and give it a read.
Dig this: Okay, now that you're ticked off, how about something to lower your blood pressure? Windows error messages are sometimes quite revealing and helpful. This one isn't.
Stamp Out Some Web Bugs
First a brief explanation: Web bugs are undetectable bits of code planted in e-mail messages and on Web sites. The code may be tiny, as small as one pixel (roughly the size of a spammer's code of ethics).
Good Web bugs are benign--they track the behavior of Web site visitors without paying any attention to your identity.
OTOH, spammers who send lots of mail use Web bugs as a return receipt to verify that your e-mail address is valid.
If you open--or even view--a booby-trapped e-mail, a hidden receipt zips its way through the ether and back to the senders. On a Web site, Web bugs happily provide the senders with your e-mail address and track you if you surf their site. This, if you haven't guessed, is a bad Web bug.
You can learn more than you ever want to know about Web bugs at Richard Smith's Privacy Foundation.
Give a Bug a Try
I've got a Web bug you can safely try. (Think of it as a bad bug gone benign.) Put your e-mail address in the requested field. In a few minutes you'll receive an e-mail. Look at it. In another minute or two, you'll receive another e-mail letting you know you've looked at the e-mail. Frightening, no? (You needn't worry. The site's owner, Jim Mackraz, is a nice guy and won't collect your address.)
Scott Spanbauer did a terrific piece in his Internet column--"Internet Tips: Free Tool Nabs Web Bugs"--about Web bugs. It's short, rich, and gives you another perspective on how Web bugs work. More important, he has a few solutions for defeating the bugs.
Bugs That Ain't All Bad
And now a disclaimer of sorts, and some reassurance (and something to ward off a jillion e-mails). PC World uses Web bugs. Like you, I'm a consumer of PC World and spend hours on their site. The difference? I have an inside track.
Here's what I know for a fact about PC World's site: We use Web bugs to count how many people visit the site so we can sell advertising. We also use both cookies and Web bugs to see what page visitors head for first, which page you're on when you leave, how long you hang around, and which direction you go on the site.
I've been behind the scenes and I really want you to believe me, there's nothing malicious happening. I check the stats regularly to see which of my online newsletters and print Home Office columns attract readers the most. It gives me a sense of what topics you find valuable and which ones are duds. (Of course my editor lets me know as well.)
Dig this: Your face is red and you look unhappy. Here are a couple of Flash animations to calm you down (and make you chuckle). [Warning: Occasionally, uh, mildly risqué.]
Next week? More on blocking ads and Web bugs, malicious Java code, and other nasties. And some specific tricks on how you can use a firewall both to see who's sending things from your computer without your knowledge, and to observe and block practically anything from leaving your e-mail messages.
Sign up to have Steve Bass's Home Office Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
My only fear in death is comming back reincarnated.
\"Would I ever sh*t you?\"
\"Of course not you are my favorite turd.\"--E5C4P3
March 5th, 2002, 02:49 PM
I also hate that type of advertising as I'd say does everybody else.
To tell you the thruth I'd go out of my way to avoid buying anything that is ever advertised in this way because if you buy the products the companies will think it is working and do even more annoying advertising.
Anyway good post.
If you don\'t learn the rules nobody can accuse of cheating.
March 5th, 2002, 11:33 PM
Jeez... people... Just...do...not... read... mail... as... HTML. It's that simple! Just get a mailreader which does not load images or objects in HTML-based messages, and tadaa, no web bugs!
Point being, web bugs work (AFAIK) by a server which logs all the times someon requests to see http://badserver.com/web-bug.gif. If you use an e-mail reader (or webmail) that loads images in HTML messages, then your computer requests that image from the <img> tag within the document. In some cases, the server might have a whole bunch of images:
In which case it can see which ones were accessed in order to determine if the message was read, if each message sent out had a slightly different image tag within the HTML code.
[HvC]Terr: L33T Technical Proficiency