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The Almighty Buck

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An Anonymous Coward writes: "MSNBC.com has the latest on the controversial Smart Tags technology that got punted from Windows XP. This time it's not Microsoft doing the dirty deed, but a couple of 3rd-party companies. And they already have 500,000 users installed. I can see the lawyers salivating already."
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  • This kind of stuff has got to stop. I own my computer. I'm not leasing it from anybody, it's a physical product and I own it. And I'll be damned if I want people smuggling their parasite-ware onto my pc, to make money from bandwidth I am paying for. When's this going to stop?
    • It's never going to stop... advertisers are going to try idea after idea looking for one that will make money... Eventually we'll have to read the lines of content between the ads. The good news is there is a new branch of the software industry popping up to combat the flood of ads. (junkbuster, norton internet firewall (best windows firewall, zonealarm is crap) and most new browsers not owned by companies that make money off ads)
      I can see the point of them, content has to be paid for... but just the same way as I like to tape things so I can fast forward through the ads, I'm going to do everything I can do to avoid advertising on the internet.
      • I can see the point of them, content has to be paid for...

        I'm not disagreeing completely with you but does it? There are lots of people who create sites containing content about something they are interested in. Information on niche areas is often provided for entirely altruistic reasons. Should a site funded entirely by its creator with no intent to ever make a profit be hijacked by this software?

        I wouldn't be very happy about this.

    • " This kind of stuff has got to stop. I own my computer. I'm not leasing it from anybody, it's a physical product and I own it. And I'll be damned if I want people smuggling their parasite-ware onto my pc, to make money from bandwidth I am paying for. When's this going to stop?"

      It's getting all the more common. For example, you can't even install some hardware anymore without getting adware... Creative Labs pretty much has a monopoly in sound cards (ever since they sued Aureal into extinction with a frivilous lawsuit that Creative lost). Installing the drivers (which aren't packaged as drivers, you have to run their installer, NOT just install the drivers) you get a trojan called "newsupd" which tracks your browser AND sends you ads.
      My guess is that this sort of thing will only get more common, particularly as two companies (NVidia and Creative) have a virtual lock on the medium/high-end sound and video segments of the PC.

      What is most offensive is how these massive corporations don't even give us the dignity of dealing with us as CUSTOMERS. No, they see us as sheep to be mined again by marketers, just for USING the product that we bought!

      If adware hardware was cheaper to buy BECAUSE of the spyware/adware it has in it, then I might have less of a problem with it. But, in the case of sound cards, it's clearly not, as the SB Live! (which has not advanced any in 3 years other than adding some minor bells and whistles) hasn't really gone down any in price in the same period.

      When you consider that harware always gets cheaper to make as it gets older in design, Creative obviously is using it's monopoly to fatten profit margins at their customer's expense. The Newsupd trojan only being another part of it.

      I'd guess that NVidia will soon do the same thing with the GeForce, now that 3DFx is dead. In fact, I'd imagine that their marketing departments will be looking into this new web-defacing adware.

      After all, corporations have no morals other than profit, and marketers have even fewer morals.
      • Re:I've had it (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by danheskett ( 178529 )
        What the hlel are you talking about?

        NVidia? Creative? Monopolies?

        What a joke. I bought a cheap-ass integrated-all-in-one mother board: SiS Chipset, SiS Audio, SiS Lan, SiS Video. It runs great, is zippy with my Duron 800, was literally painless to install ("insert chip into socket, attach fan, push DIMM into slot, screw to motherboard, boot").

        Creative and NVidia may have the lion's share of sound/video for people who care about medium to high-end sound and video, but I suspect that many, many, many people like me just want something that has decent 2D performance, plays my MP3's, and works well in Linux. And for that, there are loads of alternatives to Nvidia and Creative.

        What pisses me off is the absolutely frivous use of the word "monopoly". You don't "pretty much" or "almost" have a monopoly. It's not possible. Either you are, or you are not. And they are not.


        So sack up, and don't use hardware/software from people who support Adware. Its that simple. And it always will be.
  • So how is this any different than your old article. [slashdot.org]

    • The older article was about an overlaying of banner adds on a page by a company that produces a password keeper program. Users were often unaware of what the program was doing.
      BR>This new story is about two different programs who are disfiguring pages with colors and links and then selling keywords which in some cases are to porn sites..


    • Actually, this is a warmed-over version of a Slashdot discussion on July 31 [slashdot.org].

      The difference is that the prior story centered on eZula's TopText/HOTText (bundled with KaZaa), and this one also deals with Surf+. Surf+ is a classic trojan: described as a popup killer (useful), but also inserts ads on third-party web sites in the same way as eZula and SmartTags.

  • it still amazes me that msnbc, a microsoft affiliated site, can put up this somewhat anti-corporate and sometimes anti-microsoft content.
  • by jmerelo ( 216716 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @08:10AM (#2217916) Homepage Journal
    owns the content... it's technically feasible to change the content displayed by the client anyway you want. Maybe that's was really the incentive behind the IE/Netscape war.

  • So are there any way to protect oneself against this? How can they be allowed to hijack on others bandwidth? Spyware, adware, scumware, etc etc., I hope that there is someone who is working on a solution to these problems. They can't change the way I want to present my homepage, now the line is crossed a looooong time ago!
    • They can't change the way I want to present my homepage, now the line is crossed a looooong time ago!

      Unfortunately, they can. It's the way the Internet works.

      Right now I am voluntarily running Proxomitron, a web proxy which strips out ad banners, popups, and assorted misc.trash from the pages I view. And there's not a damn thing webpage designers can do about it except convince me to disable the proxy.

      Things like surf+ are like anti-Proxomitrons that introduce spam instead of filtering it out; the only "cure" is to educate consumers and provide information on removing this software if they've installed it. As long as they can be uninstalled, you can't hope for much more. Of course, the kind of integration Microsoft was developing for XP is another kettle of fish altogether.

      • Of course, the kind of integration Microsoft was developing for XP is another kettle of fish altogether

        How so? Because it defaulted to 'off' and could be enabled/disabled with the click of a check box?

        • How so? Because it defaulted to 'off' and could be enabled/disabled with the click of a check box?

          No, because you have no assurance that the default and the checkbox will remain in future versions. Remember, what started out as a nose becomes an entire camel in your tent if you don't take care of the situation early.

          The browser has no business modifying webpages. The browser has no business calling itself part of the operating system. The browser, proxy, and OS are three separate programs and should remain that way so you can choose the one you want from three separate vendors if you wish.

          • "The browser has no business modifying webpages."

            Erm... My understanding is that HTML is (at root) just a markup language for text. Until CSS and layers and whatnot got totally out of hand, it wasn't even POSSIBLE for the designer to dictate how a webpage would be rendered. I know I always change the default fonts and sizes; maybe the author of the webpage WANTED it displayed in ANNOYING-HUGE or illegibletiny or even *shudder* BLINK!

            I think any end-user who wants to modify their browser (by recoding it, by installing a third-party program, or by viewing it through one of those red plastic decoder rings) has every right to do that. So the text on your web page triggered my auto-link-to-search-engine software? How is that a PROBLEM?
          • The browser has no business modifying webpages. The browser has no business calling itself part of the operating system. The browser, proxy, and OS are three separate programs and should remain that way so you can choose the one you want from three separate vendors if you wish.

            I agree. But MS doesn't. I suggest you choose Linux. Its available from many great companies who really care about choice. Start at linux.com and then stop by Redhat.com or Mandrake.com to get going. They let you choose your browser, your proxy, and so much more.

            If you use MS Windows, they will be making that choice for you. Just so you know also, you can always install Netscape or Mozilla or Opera on top of Windows, FYI. Same with ZoneAlarm and all the other software/proxies/filters.

            Have a good one, and look into the "Linux" OS I was talking about.
    • I find it helps to run some sort of bandwidth monitor, like dumeter for windows, so that you can tell when something is using your bandwidth. Not perfect, but does advise you of unexpected bw use.
    • Why is this such a problem for everyone? The only people that are having their bandwidth "hijacked" are those that voluntarily download and install this software.

      This is another great example of overreaction on Slashdot.
  • It's buyer beware for software. It's good to know there's published information on what these software packages are truly designed to do, and one can only hope that some of the users have decided to uninstall them based on the recent media hype.

    Being a web designer and developer myself, I can attest to the fact that it can be alluring to know that by selling your integrity [mailbits.com], you can make a few extra cents off of an unsuspecting victims' email. But in the end, I don't think it's neccessary to get a fatter pocket by helping to increase spam; aiding in slowing down the already clusterf*cked internet, or participating in an unethical venture designed to help market others' products or services online.

    Webmaster: don't sell our rights away for a few cents a click!
  • People are forgetting that the web browsers are meant to render a page *in the way that helps the user the most*, not the way the "original maker intended"...

    These browsers (based on IE, but that's an implementation detail) give users a way to "auto type" words into a search engine. I don't see how this is, in any way, "hijacking content". If users don't want this, then they won't use these systems. And if they do, who is the "site owner" to tell them how to render the HTML she sends them?

    • You are entirely correct about the role of HTML, something which has been much neglected.

      The question here is who decides *... the way that helps the user the most*? For this kind of software, is it really the user?

    • who is the "site owner" to tell them how to render the HTML she sends them?

      The copyright holder, that's who. The copyright grants, among other things the exclusive right to create derivative works, except in the case of parody.

      • "The copyright grants, among other things the exclusive right to create derivative works, except in the case of parody."

        So remember, unless specifically stated by the author, you can't:

        - Change font sizes
        - Change colors
        - Resize auto-sizing browser windows
        - Display in less or more color depth than intended
        - Use screen-reader technology (audio or tactile)
        - Allow your browser to add links to the text
        - Display page in an unauthorized browser.

        Any of these modify the web page significantly, so they could be called derivative works. So now I'm getting confused. Does information want to be freely usable by the end-recipient or not?
    • You're missing the point: as a site owner I set it up to convey MY message, nothing more. If someone else links individual words to a search engine, THEIR search engine, they are most likely interfering with MY message. I don't possibly see how rendering comes into this...

      You need to get some education (or life).

      • You're missing the point: as a site owner I set it up to convey MY message, nothing more. If someone else links individual words to a search engine [google.com], THEIR search engine, they are most likely interfering with MY message. I don't possibly see how rendering comes into this...

        Well see here. I just cut and pasted your paragraph, and removed all your bold formatting and inserted a link. Did I, or did I not change your message?
  • Pardon me if I sound stupid, but...

    Don't these just affect IE on XP, or does XP actually act as like a 'proxy'? In other words, can you just use Netscape on XP to circumvent the problem? I'd venture to guess that you can't, because I can't see it being a big deal if it was just another 'feature' of IE.

    • Every new and evil 'feature' of IE is a big deal if it's the browser that most people (probably even most people on /.) who use the web use... And it is. Netscape is dropping out of the browser market, Mozilla isn't even a blip on most 'normal' user's radar, and Opera costs $ or makes you use screen area for ads, so IE is pretty much the only game in town for 90% of users these days
      • Ever heard of Links for Linux? It's similar to Lynx, only it can handle frames, etc. I am totally immune to ads, pop-ups, etc...


      • It goes further than this. 90% of all user will never change I.E.'s default settings. Whatever MS decides to put in is pretty much gospel.
    • It's likely an ActiveX control that acts as a local proxy changing the HTML stream before it gets rendered in the main IE HTML control. If Mozilla had a huge market share I'm sure the people making this software would target that also.
  • Do they install a local proxy and filter the pages before they reach the browser?
    Or are these plugins in IE, and mess up the pages after its been loaded?
    • Re:How do they work? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bilbo ( 7015 )
      It's a user installed plugin for the browser, not unlike Java or RealPlayer. The plugin then detects keywords and renders them as special links to the provider's pages (either directly to a third party page, or to another page with lists of "related" links).

      The user installs the plugin, so in a sense, it's their own fault. Problem is that they are promised one thing, but now they're getting something very different from what they expected.

    • According to ScumWare [scumware.com] it appears that they are plugins. This makes sense, since every version of IE has a different (and progressively better hidden) method of setting the proxy, but the plugin interface is standardized between versions.
  • by YIAAL ( 129110 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @08:22AM (#2217928) Homepage
    Hey -- if some teenager smuggles an app. onto a corporate computer, he's a nasty hacker who must be punished. When corporations try to smuggle their crap onto my computer, that's smart business. Huh?

    • I think the main difference is that a corporation will have a 4000 word click through licence allowing it, that 99% of people don't bother to read.

      That's why I always at least flick through licences before installing anything. The main sections to watch out for are about the collecting of any information, what they do with any information they collect, and the installation of any software.

    • You wrote:

      Hey -- if some teenager smuggles an app. onto a corporate computer, he's a nasty hacker who must be punished. When corporations try to smuggle their crap onto my computer, that's smart business. Huh?

      What's your point? Both are selfish actions that other people dislike. I don't see any paradox here.

  • Ok, ok, we've seen this topic on /. before, and yes it's great that a more mainstream (IRONY)MSNBC doing story on the Great Evil(tm) of smart tags(/IRONY), but come on..

    Anything that turns msnbc or disney into a pr0n site is just ducky.

  • Here is more info on how to protect yourself as a webmaster: Link [scumware.com]
  • I had one of those things install itself on my machine. I have to admit, though, that it hasn't bugged me enough to try to uninstall it yet. It's just sort of there. It doesn't pop up a window, or navigate me someplace I don't want to go. It just underlines stuff. And so far, it hasn't interfered with my ability to follow a hyperlink.

    But what I really find stupid is that the system isn't even that helpful. Because it just tries to find words, it has not comprehension of context, so if I click on the word "software" it always takes me to IBM, whether the context is "open source software", or "programming software" or "buying software"...
  • It's a shame that this is necessary, but adding this to your websites should give you grounds for at least a lawsuit:
    This page is Copyright 2001 by Anonymous Coward. Permission to distribute this page unmodified and interpret it in a web browser is granted. Permission to modify this web site in any manner is expressly not granted.

    The authors of this scumware are misleading people by claiming that "the user" is responsible for the changes being made to the web pagesbefore presentation: The essence of the problem is that, in fact, it is *their software*, not the user, which is modifying the pages. (The distinction being that the user is unaware of the nature of changes being made.)

    Permission to read and distribute != Permission to distribute modified versions.
    • But they aren't modifying the website. They are modifying the interface that is used to view the website. I really don't see how this is illegal. The content owners might be upset but nothing is happening to them. They are assuming that everyone is viewing their site through a browser. What if I wrote a program that monitored their pages for content, DL'd it, and presented to me in a more consise format. This wouldn't be illegal I don't think. They put out content, I use it. Do they have any actual control over how I make use of it for myself only?
    • IANAL but would applying browser based styling count as modification? e.g. changing the font properties etc.
      Would we also see the same issues where Javascript was turned off or not supported by the browser?
      I suspect that the weasel words needed should cover specifically containing the content itself, be even then a case sould be made that rendering www.slashdot.org to www.microsoft.com was a style issue.
    • The problem is, what is the "correct" and unmodified way to display the page? If I turn off the pictures from showing in my browser, would that be "illegal" according to you? Of course it can't be. What if a browser does nto support a feature you have, is it then "illegal"? Take a typical page and view it in Netscape and then IE, there will be differences.

      And finally, most important of all, it is after all the viewer that decided to install and use the program that added some links according to the settings he chose in his browser/add-on, why should he not be able to do that? Netx you will tell me I am not allowed to change the window size of the browser viewing your pages. Or that I am not allowed to lookup a word on your page in a dictionary (or even better, perhasp use some prgram that can do that automaticaly for me).

      What I would really like though, add/os (or preferably a seting in the browser directly), to prevent pop up windows and such to appear at all, THAT would be a great feature, wonder why no browser implements such featrues (well, none that I have tried).
  • These kinds of programs are short lived. So many people are against them, it's just a matter of time before lawyers suck the blood out of the software manufacturers. What would be really scary is if these programs simply over wrote regular hyperlinks on the web site - rather than just words in text. Or worse yet - make it appear that the changed page came directly from the main web site - not a third party. What's a shame about the whole technology is that people may actually enjoy this type of service if it were done in a more user-accepted way. I can't imagine what that would be - but someone out there must like it. Furthermore, this type of model could finally be the way to making Internet advertising really profitable for the advertiser, instead of just the web site owner. What I don't understand about everyone getting upset is that end users install the dang thing. It's not like it just suddenly appears on the user's computer and starts interjecting green links all over the place by itself. If users don't want it - then they won't install it (or software associated with it). But with hundreds of thousands of installations already taken place I really doubt that people are avoiding it. In fact, I would assume that most end users either don't care, or like it. Of course the individual web owners are upset, the on-line advertising market just became a little more competitive. Still, it's just a matter of time before the lawyers (or some idiot with a patent on this kinda stuff) sues the crap out of these little guys and put them out of business.
    • I think you make some points... This is a clear violation of copyright. There might have been some gray area for MS's smartlinks, which didn't alter the content in any way other than to put links on "keywords" to MS pages or to paid customers of MS.

      That was bad enough, particularly for those who have anti-MS pages, it amounts to rape.

      But this is even worse... This "technology" completely alters your page, and even uses it like part of their site. It strips out your own links replacing it with the marketers. This is something that likely can't be protected by "fair use", as it's likely something that the marketdroids can't get permission to do from the end user.

      Certainly the big sites will sue, as will the OTHER marketing companies.

      As far as I'm concerned, marketers who are as offensive as these clowns DESERVE to have the sharks unleased on them. Which will happen. That is, until a MS or AOL buys them...
    • What I don't understand about everyone getting upset is that end users install the dang thing

      End-users don't knowingly install these things, they are distributed quite literally as trojans. For example, image archives from sites like desktopgirls.com are distributed as .exe installation programs, and if you install these, the parasiteware quietly installs itself with neither the users knowledge nor consent. I tried this myself not too long ago just to check. 99% of people are either not savvy enough to realise what is going on, or they are way too trusting and naive. How else could some of these otherwise never-heard-of companies claim to have installation rates as high as 2 million?

    • What would be really scary is if these programs simply over wrote regular hyperlinks on the web site - rather than just words in text.

      Uh, eZula's TopText already does hijack existing links. See screen shots and explanation [scumware.com] at scumware.com.

  • Installing Smart-Tags software is the equivalent of signing up for TiVio to watch infomercials.

    The 500,000 people who signed up for this must be the same ones who think that AOL=internet.

  • Who is in control? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hobbex ( 41473 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @08:54AM (#2217959)
    I see a concerning tendency in these discussions for people who normally seem to understand that the other people cannot be allowed to dictate how we run our computers, to suddenly label this sort of software as evil.
    Just like I will not allow the movie industry to be in control over my computer when I watch a DVD, and the Publishing industry cannot be in control of my computer/palmtop when I read a book, the Internet's website publishers have NO right to demand that I view their sites in any particular manner. Software that replaces adds with others, or software that adds links to websites, has as much a right to exist as any other software. If I choose to run it, then it is my freedom to do so - if you do not like people being able to read your documents while replacing the adds, I would suggest you stop putting your content on the web in the first place - not that you demand that web browsers should suddenly serve you rather than the person browsing.

    User agents must serve the user and only the user. Demanding that browsers serve the interests and expectations of website publishers is in no way different from demanding that DVD players serve the interests and expectations of the MPAA, and that MP3 player serve the interests and expectations of the RIAA. The concept that of these "User Hostile" agents is the basis for the future that those who are attacking Freedom on the Internet are planning. If we value freedom and self determination in the information age, we cannot in any case condone and support an attitude that preaches that software is responsible to anybody except the person using it - even when it is the form of sleazy marketing.

    That said, there is of course a more sinister angle to what these programs are doing - that is that they sneak their way into peoples computers without people realizing it. That we should not condone - but let us face it, it will be impossible to get away from as long as people are using software written without the intentions of the user in mind. We already have the solution to that problem, it is called Free Software, and there is enough of it to cover every computing need. When was last time you got a piece of spyware off apt-get?

    So in closing, do not confuse the issues here:

    - Programs installing functionality the user didn't ask for or want = BAD
    - Programs doing what they (and presumable the user, given the previous) wants rather than what the website owner/music company/film company/book publisher/etc wants = GOOD
    • If this was indeed an issue of user agents serving users, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, it isn't: I highly doubt that any of the hundreds of thousands of people who installed the software knew that they were agreeing to have advertising thrown at them.

      USERS have the right to change how websites are displayed on their computers. Other companies don't.

      • USERS have the right to change how websites are displayed on their computers. Other companies don't.

        Other companies have a right to do it if the user condones it, and if you read my comment to the end, you would see that that is exactly what I said. But read a lot of the other posts in this discussion and the previous one on this issue, that is not what they are saying.

        There is a problem here, but it is completely orthoganol to what these programs do once they are installed - and that is that they are sneaking their way into peoples computers. It is possible that having them do so is criminal - but it is a crime against the USER, and the USER ONLY: if we start to drag in the website publishers then we are supporting the notion that programs are somehow responsible to somebody else then the person using them, just as the ??AA want it.

        And regarding the problem with these programs being installed, IMHO people who use non-Free software have it coming. All the programs they use are by definition written to the advantage of somebody other then the user - why should they be surprised that more often then not this works by fucking the user over in one way or another?
        • Since you seem to want to bring Free Software into the discussion, consider the following "method for breaking the GPL":

          Step 1: Find some GPL'd software you want to exploit commercially.
          Step 2: Write your proprietary extensions.
          Step 3: Distribute your extensions as a patch to (a BSD-licensed version of) tar which, upon finding files with given names inside a .tar, applies your proprietary patches.

          By the argument you are using -- that companies have the right to distribute software which users have the right to use -- this would circumvent the GPL, while staying within the bounds of copyright law.
          • Sounds plausible, and scary- but there are weaknesses with that evil plan.
            When the patch applies its changes to the GPL code, does it modify the license at the top of each source file?

            If yes, then it is modifying the license of something (the original code) they have no ownership of. Plainly fraudulent.

            If no, then when the patch program inserts its new code into the GPLed source, it is also placing them under GPL. So any single customer of the proprietary patch can republish the modified GPL code! (The patch author can argue that it was not his intent for this to happen- but he'd have to show that he did NOT expect the patcher to behave like that, which is unlikely)

          • I refer to Free Software as a philosophy and as a development model. I don't care about whatever loopholes you can find to the GPL: personally, I think we should get rid of copyright all together, including the portions of the GPL that depend on it (that would be the source code requirement, the rest is automatically fullfilled).
      • So what? Their freedom of choice isn't limited to the moment of installing software.

        If they don't like the ads, they're free to remove the software.

        If it's a pain in the ass to do because of Windows' deficiencies, well, they are free to chose an immature operating system, too.
    • - Programs doing what they (and presumable the user, given the previous) wants rather than what the website owner/music company/film company/book publisher/etc wants = GOOD

      See the problem here is establishing who is the customer of advertising. The premise of these things supposes that the user, staring at the screen is the customer being more well informed because he/she/it can quickly access information simply by clicking the link. This is wrong.

      You are the product of advertising. Advertisers use flashy attractive things to lure your little eyeballs, count up all eyeballs lured, and sell this as a service.

      Going back to the premise, one is not more well informed by being able to click on a link and be sent to a single controlled page containing PAID-FOR information. This is not information. This is advertising.

    • I see this more as a negotiated compromise between the user and the website they are viewing. The user can send the site a request "I'd like to view your site, but I'll be adding a bunch of ad links" and the site should be able to respond "Sorry, you can view this content, but only if you omit the ad links" or "OK go ahead" or "Sorry- you can't view it at all in that case."

      I don't have a problem with these sorts of ad links, but only if as website owner, I can participate in a negotiation on how my site content can be used. The companies distributing these tools are using my content to their direct financial benefit and my direct financial cost- that's ok, but they need to ask permission first and enter into an agreement with me, either directly or on case-by-case through automated negotiations with the users of their software.

  • Most annoying (Score:2, Informative)

    by error0x100 ( 516413 )

    "And they are starting to understand that they must accept some advertising in order to support free content on the Net."

    This reasoning by itself, I can understand. There is just one problem with it - I don't see the part where I am "supported" for the free content I provide .. it would seem that eZula is going to get money for "supporting" the 'free content I provide and pay for on my website. How is this "supporting" free content then? Is eZula going to send me some money for each hit their advertisers get from links they inserted into my web page? Of course not. So how can they argue that their TopText software is "supporting free content" in *any* way? They're just riding off the success of other people's websites, literally, like parasites .. in fact, TAKING AWAY advertising revenue that those site owners might have gotten from their own adverts, as site owners would get fewer hits. This is thusly damaging to free content providers.

  • Will there come a point where I have to write a notice on the front page of my site that it contains no third-party advertising and/or banner ads... and that anything that might appear of that nature on the page was not put there by me?

    Come to think of it, maybe that's not a bad idea...

    • "Will there come a point where I have to write a notice on the front page of my site that it contains no third-party advertising and/or banner ads... and that anything that might appear of that nature on the page was not put there by me?"

      I intend to put this notice into my sites:

      "This site contains no advertising. If you see any advertising, that is because your browser client is placing them there. This site does not endorse any of these advertisers, and questions the integrity of products/services that would steal space without compensation on a noncommercial wensite.

      If you wish to experience this site with no ads, as the author intended, use Mozilla http://www.mozilla.org, as your browser client. "

      I'm thinking that we can use this invasive marketing (which will piss off even Joe 6pack) as an opportunity to sell the average user on Mozilla, the first, and ONLY cross-platform browser designed to give the USER control of his internet.

      IE and Netscape lack Mozilla's controls because MS and AOL have no desire to lock THEMSELVES out of doing the same things if they wish to.
      The more over the line the marketers go, the more likely it is that people will go out of their way to avoid them. Installing Mozilla isn't that hard of a way to avoid them.
  • Storm in a Teacup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by (void*) ( 113680 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @09:11AM (#2217978)
    These people don't seem to get what the web it. The whole point of the web is that the web client gets to control where he wants to go, what resources he chooses to download. If I want to write my own browser that creates a link out of every other word, that should be my perogative. If the resulting website looks slanderous/twisted or whatever, it would only look like that to me, nobody else.

    This is not to say that the technology is well thought out. Many of the complaints are valid. It is not a good idea to mark commonly used, generic words to be sent to a specific site. It is not a good idea to spread or propagate those links to people who do not want them, or sell to the highest bidder. IMHO, only end-users (or businesses running a company wide intranet) should be able to control exactly which links where. And this is done because only they know what kind of links satisfy their needs

    Face it - the idea behind this is as old as the annotated work. This is just the problem of indexing all over again - which words do you want to put in the index, and which ones not to? The engine that enables one to do this should be lauded, but one should realize that the choice of words to highlight is dependent highly upon one's judgement. Those who think that this judgement can be pushed onto a machine just have not thought hard about what it is that they are automating. Employing such potentially useful functionality for advertising, and the criticism of that as "taking away the hits" seems so banal, so idiotically lacking in perspective.

    • I agree the user can do with the content whatever they want in terms of immediate personal display on their browser and later fair use. But as content provider I do have one fundamental right- the ability to not provide content when I don't want to. If the content provider wants to ask a question first (e.g. "will you be adding ad links?"), in expectation of an honest answer, before deciding whether to provide content, they should be able to do that. They can't here.

  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @09:19AM (#2217991) Homepage
    As always, there is a flip side to this. If this is made unlawful, that would probably apply to filtering/adbusting proxies as well; for the content providers there isn't much of a difference between replacing their ads and removing them. And once you're down that slippery slope, you could see blocking graphics, disallowing popups or animated gifs or even having your own typeface as intruding upon the websites' rights. This could conceivably mean that websites could legally demand that users use only a certain browser in only its standard configuration, whether the site would work with other setups or not.

    I think the problem with this software isn't what they do, but the fact that they are being deployed in a dishonest way. Most people getting them installed will have no idea they are doing that, and they don't give paople an easy way of removing them. The dishonesty stems mainly from the fact that the users are installing an application to do one thing, and these change an unrelated application without this fact being advertised as part of the description of the original application.

    • Sorry janne but I dont agree with you.

      A addbusting Proxy gives you the posibility to watch a subset of the publiched work (sort of like a reders digest or summary)

      This inserts NEW Information into the work. An entirely different thing.
      That new information can tottaly change the style and purpose of a work in ways a sub set can not.
      • Well, almost. What they can do is argue loss of revenue in both cases - totally ignoring the fact that if you are going to the trouble of using an adbuster, you're not likely to click on it anyway... I didn't say this was reasonable, I just said it is an unpleasant possibility.

  • by HuskyDog ( 143220 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @09:20AM (#2217992) Homepage
    Perhaps I am missing something here? If users don't like these extra links then they can remove the software. If they don't know how then they can either ask or go buy a book.

    If it comes built into their OS then they can either put up with it or move to a free OS.

    In either case, why should I have any sympathy?

    • " Perhaps I am missing something here? If users don't like these extra links then they can remove the software. If they don't know how then they can either ask or go buy a book. "

      I don't like that attitude. Like everyone, I was once a novice computer user (true, it was over 15 years ago, but I digress).

      I abhor exploiting newbies as a matter of principle. But there is a self-interest angle...

      The more newbies get exploited by marketerware, the HARDER it gets for them to experience their PC and the Internet without exploiter programs bothering them, the MORE likely they are to jump from the PC to simple dedicated machines that will lock them into one company's less obscene marketing.

      Without newbies coming into the PC market, what happens to those of us who's income depends on it? We can either help the newbies, and try to do something about this abusive exploitation, or else, laugh at them as they are driven OFF the PC, and as we end up haughty ex-IT professionals now working at places where we have to say "you want fries with that".

      Because, other than our computer skills, I'm betting the majority of us have no other job qualifications than that.
  • by ProfessorPuke ( 318074 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @09:21AM (#2217994)
    This brings up an emerging legal problem that the politicians haven't quite got their teeth into yet- if the DMCA et al provide the intellectual property industry with protection against unauthorized redistribution, should it be legal to evade that restriction by moving the point of redistribution to the client side?

    These three things are illegal to distribute today:

    • A Wall Street Journal article with the ads removed, or replaced with your own ads.
    • A PNG combining the top 20 new webcomics for that day, suitable for printing.
    • A copy of StarWars ep 1 with JarJar edited out.

    Yet the author of each piece of modified content could get around that law by only giving out a program that, when run from the end-viewer's computer, uses a legally obtained copy of the unmodified content and then creates a locally modified version with the desired changes. (There are technical obstacles to applying this technique to each of those examples, but they're surmountable).

    At no point was copyright law broken- but as a software engineer will tell you, deciding which part of a system should go on the client and on the server is an implementation detail that should be decided by technical performance concerns, not legalisms about which piece of data you can copy where.

    To the end-user, the result looks exactly the same either way ("Hey! They just waved to JarJar, and kept right on walking!"), so why should one implementation be less legal than the other?

    (This situation is rather like an inverted version of the "GPL ASP loophole")

  • For example, users of software from msnbc.com find that pop-up ads appear while they are surfing, overlaying existing Web site banner ads. The practice has so frustrated Internet sites and advertisers that the Internet Advertising Bureau announced this week it is considering a lawsuit against msnbc.com -------->crime popup message -> CatchCallA ;) [iwin.com] I wish they could fabricate something which can assail the eye to arrest the attraction;)
  • The cause for the article just seems too convenient for Microsoft. What's written here reads like a kid who go in trouble for breaking the rules, then pointing to another kid who broke the rules afterwards so that the first kid would get into less trouble.

    Would it be at all surprising if this "Surf+" nonsense is just a program written by Microsoft drones, released under another name, to generate publicity somewhere else. To make someone else the bad guy (cuz this is worse - common words as ads). BUT, the whole concept seems so absurd, that I get the impression that we are meant to be highly offended by it.
    • you forgot to add: "and the government injects me with mind altering drugs as I sleep, and the aliens are already in control."

      Look at the timing of this....Office Xp was released a few months ago with Smart Tags, then there was the media circus about how Smart Tags in IE were bad juju. Surf+ sees the idea and knows that they won't have any competition from MS for a good while and decides to make the leap and do it themselves.

      The difference here is that with MS tags, users could disable them if they never wanted to see them, select which they wanted to appear, download new ones from any third party developer they chose, or even write ones themselves, just as can be done in the most recent Word and Excel.

      The problem with the MS tags in IE is that they demoed them with only MS specific targets and didn't really advertise that these were just placeholders for new and better ones to be written by developers all around the web, and distributed for free or pay without owing anything back to MS. Have any of you looked at the SDK in public view on MSDN? It is damned simple to roll your own Smart Tags. If you don't want them, you turn them off and never see them again.

      This new attempt apparently gives you no such power and tells the user what to do. It looks like a thrown together approach to a probably good idea, that was poorly implemented here.

      As for websites losing control, I have not seen exactly how these work, so I don't know if they alter your site at all, but it looks like they just add a layer on top of your site, like MS did. At that point it is beyond your control. The client has rendered your site and is mining it for data that the user hopefully finds useful (if not they should be able to turn it off). If you write a book, and in the course of reading it someone highlights or makes notes in it, that is their choice and is fairly close to the ideal situation with these third-party highlighters. If you record a television program, do you have to dutifully sit through the ads or can you just FF right past them?
  • "But the companies involved say they are just doing what the Web does best -- providing hyperlinks to relevant information."

    Yeah, shitload of links to p0rn sites or x10 web cams... is that what the internet is really about?

    oh... erm......sorry I asked. :)
  • There has to be SOME limit. The ability to have SOME control over who knows where you go on on the web to say nothing about where you actually go has to be a basic human right. Else the web is no nothing more than a passive media like television.
  • Using technology similar to NBCi's QuickClick or Microsoft's smart tags, the green words are really links to outside Web sites.

    They send a pop-under ad for X10, they have a similar technology, and they have the balls to say "That effectively turns sites like MSNBC.com -- in fact, any site -- into unwitting portals for the seedy side of the Internet"
    Sorry guys, but until that seductive chick in the X10 ad is gone, you don't have the right to discuss the seedy ads on the internet.

    PS: No, the pop under ad does not come up on my screen anymore, but it is still there until it gets munched, and a lot of inexperienced users don't know how to get rid of it.
  • That effectively turns sites like MSNBC.com ? in fact, any site ? into unwitting portals for the seedy side of the Internet.
    Apparently, "unwitting" is the operative word here.
  • I was just about to congratulate Microsoft on making a smart move. Grant it you were able to turn it off in IE, the other companies' software may not be as forgiving. I must say, the smart tag feature was some real annoying shit, if a bunch of companies start carrying through with it, there are gonna be some virtual riots.
  • by new500 ( 128819 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @10:22AM (#2218079) Journal

    . .

    claiming this is just leeching risks appearing like a whiner to the few lusers who are actually pleased at some other (possibly illicit)functionality they received wth their viral browser plug in.

    Putting up yet more terms and conditions on my web site doesn't sound like any fun or use. It's no news that reader's initial attention span and patience with a new site is short. So making them read a whole treatise, or - possibly worse because there's not lkely to be a back link to your referring page - diverting visitors to another site so they can read up on the plague, doesn't sound good either.

    I presume these things work on a standard browser plug in architecture. You can detect Flash and other plug ins with javascript. Why not Top Text and all this crap, the politiely divert visitors with the offending code to a page that says actually does given them the info on what is going on, and that reminds them that in your eyes and in the eyes of many reasonable content producers, they are keeping very bad company indeed, and may not presently view your work.

    I would feel just fine casting Top Text plug in vistors away from my site. For all the talk of legal remedies, involving parasitic behaviour or any more subtle arguments that have been put forth to me this the web equivalent of fly posting? If my web site were physical these people could be arrested for criminal damage.

    I'm sure I could think of a few nicer arguments such as destruction of trade dress, contributory misrepresentation, alteration of registered trademarks (which is protected) and who knows what else. To someone who mentioned this elsewheer, this is likely _not_ a direct and clear copyright violation, as - on one point at least - the user is modifying your work only for their on use.

    The basis on which the providors of such leechware could be sued for copyright infringment I am not clear. This is a grey area because of the free will aspects, free distribution of the offending leechware (though if this was directly sold you coudl claim copyright breach with intent to pander or profit therefrom which would be serious) and in essense the keyword advertisers are only paying for modifications to the code of a freely distributed "gift". Has anyone thought if these leechware things update themselves automatically? That might at least indicate the producers of this crap were _actively defacing_ website properties, and that they were n control and not the viewer / luser/

    So until there's a legal remedy, is there a technological one : can I filter visitors by plug in or whether they have this crap installed?

    He he, I guess you could quickly sell your defeater code to a bunch of upset content providors.

    Isn't this rather like the guys who claimed they could sell a $50 box that's blank all the ads on tv, hyped it and sold the "defeaters" tosome channel for $x MLN?? I mean, are these people making a packet outta these keywords, does anyone know?

    • Interesting questions. Clearly if I add a hyperlink to my personal copy of your web page, I'm modifying your work for my own use (not a problem). Also, clearly, if I get onto your webserver and add hyperlinks to the original, I'm "defacing" your published work (a big problem).

      But what if I'm an ISP, delivering cached (and altered) copies of your work? Does it matter if my customers give me permission to do this (after all it's your copyright, not theirs)? Does it matter if my ISP only has one customer? Does it matter whether I change the page before I send it to you (on the cached copy) or after (through a link-adding browser)?

      I don't know what the courts will decide, but it seems to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of copyright law to for anyone to modify your words before they reach the reader, whether they have the reader's permission or not.

  • Release a virus, trojan, gatorware whatever... that installs an ad busting proxy... I'd love to see the effects of such a thing and watch as the entire web advertising industry goes down overnight. (except slashdot and some warez sites etc.) lol :-)

    oh dear, i'm gonna get flamed and modded for that one.. oh well, there goes my karma.
  • by RomulusNR ( 29439 ) on Sunday August 26, 2001 @11:04AM (#2218153) Homepage
    I had an extremely similar idea back in 1995 while I was working for Inso (now EBT) in their electronic references group (now long gone). Basically I envisioned a system where news stories would be automatically populated with links around recognizable terms (proper names, scentific words and terms, historic events, etc). Of course, in my much more socially beneficial idea, those links would point to articles in online (subscription-based) versions of our reference products, like the Cambridge Encyclopedia, the New Heritage Dictionary, and the Information Please Almanac.

    Unfortunately none of this became reality (I hear even the project I was working on when I thought of this ended up just being merged with ESPN SportZone). I wonder if I have any copies of my prototype for this.
  • has anyone seen what page you get if you type in an invalid domain with IE5+ now? instead of the usual error page, it now goes *straight* to an MSN search page.

    now that's some shit.

    • Hasn't it always done that? I thought that if you typed in an invalid domain, it went straight to a search engine, assuming that you was trying to search for something.

      I assume you could set up which search engine it falls back on, but it doesn't suprise me that it defaults to MSN

      Of course, if it does the same thing for hyperlinks, that would be different...

      NB - I haven't used IE explorer for 3 months having changed over to Linux and KDE. Never looked back.
      • screenshot. [vena.net]

        it always appeared to be searching for something, but starting yesterday was the first time I saw it actually go to a the search engine.

        i took a quick look at anything available in the browser settings, and i can't seem to find any way to change this.

        anyone have any clues?
  • Couldn't the Truth in Advertizing laws be applied? There are two places where you could argue that necessary information is not being supplied. Unless the default install button is marked something like "WARNING: Default install will install more odious shit on your computer which could make your web browsing experience more annoying than before," I'd think that a complaint to the FTC would be in order.

    In addition, I'd think this software must notify the web server of its presence somehow. As far as I know, it doesn't. Again, a complain to the FTC might be in order. Or maybe just a happy class action suit. Lawyers love class action suits. The lawyers usually get several million dollars and the people who were actually harmed by the actions usually get a coupon or something. I'm sure you could find a lawyer willing to file a class action suit...

  • An unlikely allie (Score:2, Insightful)

    by marcovje ( 205102 )
    I work at a major ISP helpdesk, and all these proxying programs are rapidly becoming the
    second major problem most helpdesks are facing.
    (First is, and remains firewalls, including
    NAV 2001)

    The reason is simple. They sometimes go haywire
    and block IE traffic. (I can get pinged, even
    ICQ etc, except IE goes dead).

    Give this half a year to trickly through from
    the unwashed massed to ISP-management, and you have yourselves a firm partner against
    these programs. (Yes that is slow, I know)
  • These programs only seem to regognize text (if you can copy + paste it into notedpad its text). Creating an image from the text (screenshot or whatever) should prevent this from happenening. Although this would be a bandwidth wasting, time consuming thing to do if you dotn want your pages modified its an option.

    If I'm wrong please correct me, im running on theory with this one.

  • Being a curious and somewhat masochistic person, I decided to try TopText and see what happened.

    I normally use Opera, but I fired up IE 5.5, updated to the latest stable patches (6.0 beta is out but I didn't bother with it) and installed TopText.

    No yellow links, but my pages are randomly reloading, usually bringing up something further back in the browser history.

    It even destroyed my efforts at Meta-Moderating!

    I'm using Windows ME (Don't ask why, we have sales reps in the field using it and I had to become familiar. Don't install it. IF you must use Windows use Win 98 SE or W2K, perhaps XP when it comes out, but NOT Windows ME)

    www.matthewmiller.net [matthewmiller.net]

  • I'm getting sick of reading about this smartlinks stuff like it's something new... Hasn't anyone seen those ads NBC was running about 6 months ago for that "QuickClick" program? "Click any word, find information!" Well anyone try it? Its Smarttags. Anyone ever install the program FlyCast in the past 2 years, by accident or otherwise? Smarttags. Flycast has been doing this for a LONG time, way before Microsoft. And from the looks of those screenshos, those products are using Flycast technology. Maybe if you were so concerned about this (which I don't see why you should be... On the web, its up to the user how the content gets displayed, not the publisher.. And it is very easy to distiguish what are Smart tags and what aren't) you should have spoke up long ago.
  • ... not because the software is a problem, since, after all, you don't have to install or use it. The problem is that this software is a very unsympathetic "test case". If Web publishers sue over this, they stand a goodish chance of getting courts to decide that client software that deliberately modifies the look of a Web page is "vicarious infringement by unauthorized creation of a derivative work" or some such silly thing. If they can't do that, they may even be able to get some DMCA-like law banning the practice.

    Some people are arguing that that's a good thing. Well, it's not, and the reason it's not has nothing to do with advertising software or "no-click" search engines. The reason it's a problem is that it destroys the possibility of effective cooperative annotation software.

    There's stuff on the Net right now that lets any user of the system add annotations to the pages she sees. Those annotations are made visible to other users of the same system. There are two ways to do that: proxies (e.g. CritSuite, sorry, no link, because I don't want the server slashdotted, and it seems to be dead at the moment anyway), and servers similar to the ones under discussion (e.g. the now defunct ThirdVoice").

    This is good and useful. It makes it that much more difficult to put drivel on the Web, whether it be advertising, political propaganda, or just plain misinformation, without there being visible dissent. It completely short-circuits, for example, the practice of registering <yourcompany>sucks.com to prevent people from finding your detractors, since the annotations don't have to come from any particular domain. Furthermore, the wide deployment of such software would be a wonderful step for collaboration and cooperative discussion, and preventing the software from working on Web pages in general would be a huge blow to that deployment.

    The proxy implementation of annotations has copyright problems because the proxy clearly redistributes a derivative work. If people get all upset about this advertising software and try to get it banned, that ban is almost certain to sweep in the client-based annotation solution, and that could destroy annotation completely. That would be a huge victory for the Forces of Evil. No, it wouldn't be a total victory for them; a person can still put up an opposing view on another page, and a user can still use a search engine to find it. It would, however, make critical debate just that little bit harder, and that is never a good thing.

    And, no, you do not have a right to completely control how your Web page looks on my screen.

  • Hidden scripts. Web bugs. Pop-ups. Cookies. Ad trackers. SmartTags (a contradiction in terms if I've ever seen one). We've entered an era where companies and unscrupulous marketeers (yes, this is a purposeful allusion to the term buccaneer [dictionary.com]) hijack our bandwidth and piss us off on a daily basis.

    So what do we do? We try to protect ourselves with counter-measures, we spend time and effort getting rid of things that shouldn't be there in the first place. There's got to be a better way. If the corporations can hide behind the law, why can't we, the users, the techies, the people, make legitimate use of it, in order to adequately protect ourselves from the vultures?

    Currently, this is difficult. The companies that annoy the hell out of us hide behind a single fact: 'You came to my site. Suck it up, and watch what I'm serving you.' Or, take another infuriating fact: Click-through licenses, which are written in such a convoluted manner so as to make them absolutely useless. But what if users and content providers (for, after all, they get hit by the various gator/smartTag technologies too) worked together to create some kind of structure which would indeed make it illegal to serve such ads to the user without their express consent?

    How can technology and common sense be used so that each user can expressly define what he or she consents to viewing? If such 'preferences' were the first thing a remote server processed, for example, would it not help people avoid unwanted content? Would it not become illegal for companies to disregard your wishes and hijack your bandwidth serving you up with a load of crap? It should.

    Or what if 'click through' licenses were required to stick to a common format in simple, plain English, Q&A format that even the least advanced user would be able to understand? Eg: 'Does this software install anything that might at any time perform an action without my express consent, such as serve me ads, or communicate information to a server? Yes/No: ...'

    So what would it take? Adaptations to the internet protocol? Browser/OS support for this scheme? How would people pushing for such a structure make it a de facto standard, or even make companies/sites disregarding this content liable under law? And is more litigation the answer to it all? Or is it a double-edged knife? Step back for a minute from what you know -- you are fighting a war on someone else's terms. What would it take to redefine the battlefield and take over?


  • The injured party is the reader, not the site creator. If you want to download software that displays web sites with ads, that's your business. But any ad for that software had better make it clear that the software adds advertising, or it's fraud. And it must be easy to uninstall the software, or it's hostile code.

    Back when we had real enforcement of consumer protection laws, the more obnoxious forms of this would have been stamped out quickly. Now it's going to be tough. But those laws are still on the books and can be used. Start sending those complaints in to the FTC [ftc.gov] and your state department of consumer protection. (The FTC site is down today. That's a bad sign, given the current administration.)

    Exercise: Go to the Surf+ [spedia.com] web site and find the uninstall directions. How long did it take you? Here they are:

    • How do I uninstall Surf+?

      To Uninstall Surf+ please follow these steps:
      1. Select the Start Menu
      2. Choose the Run command from the menu
      3. Type in surfplus.exe /u and hit the O.K. button
      4. Answer 'Yes' to the question that pops up
      5.After you uninstall Surf+, please close all the IE windows.

    • Spedia has replaced my home page. How can I restore my original one?

      To restore your original home page, right-click on the left side of the SpediaBar and choose Spedia options from the menu. Go to Startup and uncheck the box that says "Make Spedia my home page".

    Note that uninstalling through "Add/Remove Programs" isn't offered (this disqualifies Surf+ for the Microsoft Windows Logo Program), and that the home page apparently can't be changed in the usual way. Now that's hostile.

    (I haven't actually tried these directions. Someone who runs IE on Windows might try them and see if they work. I wonder if you can in fact execute the uninstaller with the default path from the run menu.)

  • Does anybody know if the program phones home at each web page load to find out what to link the keywords to?

    If so, then would not that suggest that protecting my company's network from this be possible by polluting the company's internal DNS with a bad entry for this entire domain? I am thinking in the same vein as putting in DNS records so that anything in the doubleclick domain resolved to or similar.

    This is something I would obviously test myself before putting onto my company's network, but I'm asking if anyone else has already tried this.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson