Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Tools for Web surfers sink pop-up ads, spyware

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #706  May 6-12, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    We all want a bargain, and the best bargain is something for nothing. There is a lot of useful stuff online available that is truly free, including the free graphics software I looked at in BIV Issue 699 or the wide variety of open source programs. But computer programmers must pay the rent so a lot of what appears to be free really comes with a hidden price tag.

    We tend to take advertising for granted. Radio and television ads let us view otherwise free broadcasting. Most Net surfers were happy enough to put up with ads on the tops of Web pages. But they were too easily ignored for many advertisers, who were disappointed by the low rate of click-through, or people clicking on ads to view the advertisers' Web pages.

    Web ad campaigns escalated, replacing subtle banner ads with larger ads placed right in the body of text. And some advertisers turned to pop-over and pop-under ads. Those ads automatically opened up in their own windows, forcing readers to physically close them in order to get to the Web page they really wanted to view. Reader Mark Greene of Pacific Controls Ltd. complained: "Those annoying pop-up ads all too common nowadays. And not just the pop-ups that occur when you log onto a Web site. I seem to have pop-ups hidden on my hard drive, or in my system tray or registry, that pop up regularly and very annoyingly."

    New-generation Web browsers - including the latest versions of Netscape, the open-source Mozilla, and Apple's new Safari - all include options to control these pop-up windows. Overwhelming browser favourite Internet Explorer (with an estimated 96-per-cent market share) lacks this feature. However, it can be added to Explorer. Symantec's Internet Security Suite 2003 (looked at in Issue 700) includes it as one of its many features. There are also lots of free or shareware pop-up stoppers. I like the free Popup Manager (

    Some free programs, such as the popular Eudora Mail and Opera Web browser, add ads that appear while the program is running. In many cases, you can purchase an ad-free version. Some adware also adds spyware. These hidden programs watch how you use your computer and what Web sites you visit, reporting back so that you receive ads targeted to your surfing habits.

    In some cases, installing free software also installs spyware even if no ads appear in the program. The spyware lurks in the background, sending out reports on your activities. In some cases, spyware may change your browser's home page or, as Mr. Greene noticed, display unexpected ads on your screen. Because it is running all the time, spyware saps system resources and performance, and may contribute to browser or even operating system instability and crashes.

    You formally gave permission for this when you clicked OK at the screen that flashed the long software licence text while installing that free program. But how many of us actually read those software licence agreements? And in some cases, spyware is automatically downloaded and installed simply by clicking on a Web ad, such as the ones that pretend to be system error messages. Things you can do:

    -Make sure your Explorer security is set at least to medium level so that nothing will be secretly downloaded and installed. (Click Tools, then Internet Options, then the Security tab.)

    -If you or your teen use file sharing programs, replace spyware-laden KaZaa with the spyware-free KaZaa Lite ( Replace other adware with the paid versions.

    -Check your system with Spybot Search and Destroy ( Note that in many cases, removing spyware makes the "free" application stop working. (Like Popup Manager, Spybot is free. If you use them, consider a donation.)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan