The bombardment of pop-up advertisements on the Internet is the latest scourge facing computer users. These software pests, known as adware and spyware, make ads pop up on a users screen. Difficult to find, uninstall or disable, they are usually packaged with other software and unknowingly installed by users.
Pop-up ads hurt company brands. The Federal Trade Commission found that more than 40 percent of consumers who experienced pop-up ads believe the Web site they were on—not the pop-up advertiser—had permitted the ad to appear. Approximately one-third of consumers surveyed by the FTC said the pop-up ad would cause them to have a less favorable Opinion of the Web site.
But pop-ups are more than annoying; they change users browsers, add programs, retard PC performance, crash computers and collect personal data. Even if you are able to find and uninstall a pop-up, it can rebuild itself.
A recent survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance found that nearly 90 percent of all PCs could be infected with at least one form of spyware. Microsoft reports that half of all computer crashes reported by its customers are caused by spyware and its equivalents. Dell reports that spyware is responsible for more than 12 percent of all technical support calls.
Businesses and consumers are fighting back. Corporations that once sued only the adware companies are now going after the advertisers. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have bills pending to regulate the practice, including requiring consumer notice and consent before any software is downloaded, full disclosure by the advertisers, easy removal, and the prohibition of sharing any personal information. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has proposed guidelines for self-regulation, and consumer and business efforts such as the Internet Education Foundations GetNetWise (www.getnetwise.org) are educating buyers on safe Web behavior.
At Wells Fargo, we have adopted policies against engaging in pop-up advertising. Similarly, Major League Baseball recently announced it would stop signing new business contracts with any company that advertises with adware companies. More organizations need to follow these examples.
Businesses need consumers help. We urge these actions: First, avoid downloading files from unknown sources. Second, be suspicious of software offered for free over the Internet. Third, keep computer operating systems and Web browsers up-to-date with the latest patches, since pop-ups often exploit known security flaws. Fourth, keep Web browser security settings on high to decrease the chance for Web sites to download software to a computer without permission.
It will take the united efforts of businesses and consumers to end pop-ups.
Kevin Zaney is executive vice president of Internet strategy at Wells Fargo & Co. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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