In the third and easily the worst "Godfather" movie, Michael Corleone utters the oft-repeated quote, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
I was feeling a little like Don Corleone myself recently while Web surfing. Thats because something that I thought had become a part of my past was making an unexpected and very unwelcome return.
Sort of like Woltz finding a horses head in his bed, I was surprised to find that pop-up advertising was once again invading my computers—even though every single browser I use ostensibly blocks pop-ups. Despite using Firefox and Mozilla, Internet Explorer with Service Pack 2 and pop-up blocking add-ons such as the Google Toolbar, pop-up advertising was once again invading my Web-browsing turf.
I guess we should have expected this. After all, with the significant money that many companies have made from pop-ups, there was little chance they would act like Tessio and quietly go for that last car ride.
Nope. These pop-up vendors and the sites that use them are more like the scheming Barzini, staying in the shadows and hiding behind the actions of others to invade your Web-browsing activities.
So how is this happening? Basically, all it took was a simple philosophical change on the part of the pop-up purveyors and their Web site clients.
Traditional pop-up ads worked through scripting on a page that invoked unrequested browser windows as soon as one loaded the page; browsers and blockers simply stopped code that opened unrequested windows.
To get around this, the new generation of pop-ups waits for a site visitor to request something—usually by clicking on a link. When the site visitor clicks the link, and essentially requests a new page, the pop-up uses very simple and traditional scripting to launch another window to host the pop-up advertisement.
Now to me and many of the browser makers, this, of course, means war. And for many users, defeating these sneaky new pop-ups isnt that difficult.
Users of the open-source Firefox browser should upgrade to the most current release. In my tests, this has stopped pop-ups at sites where they were occurring when I was using older versions of Firefox.
Those who use the Opera browser simply need to go into the preference settings for "windows" and change the pop-up settings to "Block all pop-ups."
Similarly, users of Internet Explorer on Windows XP with SP2 will need to go to the Privacy tab in the Options controls and choose the Settings button for the pop-up blocker. They need to then change the filter setting to "High: block all pop-ups."
At the time this column was written, the browsers most at risk from these wily new pop-ups were Mozilla 1.7.3 and the similar Netscape 7.2. In these browsers, there was no easy way to completely block these unwanted pop-ups. The only easy workaround we found was to open all links on sites that use these pop-ups in new windows or tabs, which prevented pop-up windows from occurring.
Oh, yeah. Anyone who uses plain old vanilla Internet Explorer on any non-XP SP2 platform is vulnerable to all pop-ups and should get an add-on blocker or move to another browser.
Mind you, the recommendations Ive provided here likely will work only for a while. The pop-up dealers will keep on fighting, and we should expect a back-and-forth war (like the one Sonny Corleone and Bruno Tattaglia fought in the first "Godfather" film.)
But if we as users keep our browsers and blockers updated, we will cut down on the number of page views that these pop-up advertisers get. And as these views go down, the profit that sites and others gain from pop-up advertising will also go down. And, eventually, it will no longer be worth the ill will pop-ups cause among site visitors and general Internet users.
Then, we finally will have made pop-up ads an offer they cant refuse.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.