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Google combats pop-up ads
Do you hate pop-ups or what?

 4:35 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hey, webmasters on this board know that Google practically never announces anything in advance. But I wanted to give everyone here a heads-up about something that we're going to do, because this is an issue that concerns you too and we wanted to ask for help.

You probably have heard of "scumware" programs. They are programs that get installed when you download programs like BearShare and AudioGalaxy. Sometimes these scuzzy programs just spy on users and report where they go. The worst programs actually target users with pop-ups. They appear at random intervals, or target users based on what they type on any website.

Most of you already know this, and I know that lots of you despise these scumware products. Jim over at SEF actually started www.scumware.com to combat this junk. The most persistent question that we get at Google is "When did you guys start showing pop-ups?" It's really discouraging because we *don't* show pop-ups and never intend to. We work hard to make Google a useful, fast site for users, and I hate that other companies are abusing our reputation for their own profit. A lot of these scumware products target your websites all over the net, too.

Sometime in the next few days, I think we're going to put a promo line on our home page. It will say something like "Google does not show pop-up advertising. Here's why" with a link to a background page. It will explain our position against pop-up ads, tell how to uninstall scumware, and mention how to complain to the FTC.

So why am I telling you about this in advance? Basically, we're on the same side against scumware, and it would help if other websites took action too. If you dislike scumware that highlights links on your site without your permission, or triggers pop-ups, please help us out. Put anti-scumware messages on your pages, or write the FTC, or just spread the word about scumware. I'd also be curious if you have other suggestions for stamping out scumware.

thanks in advance for anyone willing to help,



 4:43 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

the most obvious way given Google's power..

ban all sites that sell such programs, and sites that link to them, from the database.


 5:08 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

In a way, I agree with chiyo, but perhaps another tack? Who else better than Google to educate the marketers and the public about invasive advertising? For instance, give us and the ad media some polling results. We need concrete stats on this issue, not just protests.
We see posts to online bulletin boards and newsgroups, calling for a boycott of Company Y because they use unsolicited commercial email to reach consumers.

With all of the consumer backlash we hear about, Iím surprised that we donít see more studies on the negative effects of intrusive online advertising

The Negative Effects of Online Ads [mediapost.com]


 5:26 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

The best thing Google could do would be to develop and install the same kind of detection scripts that are being pushed by many of the small sites. If someone using an "infected" browser was automatically redirected to a page that explained that Google is preventing access to Scumware, and then provided removal instructions, that would be a MAJOR contribution to the cause.

Anything short of banning access would probably come across as an attempt to use a popular topic to fire a shot across the bow of Google competitors. Everyone is aware of the fact that most of the other search engines sell pop up ads.

If Google's serious about helping to remove this type of advertising from the web, then they should be willing to give up the same percentage of traffic that all the other sites have committed to.


 5:27 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Chiyo, we try to stay away from censorship if at all possible. People are actively searching for these music sharing programs. It's just a shame that the programs come with such nasty stuff hidden inside.

rcjordan, I agree that we need more hard numbers about scumware. Here's what I can tell you:
- there are over 3 million downloads per week of music-sharing programs with scumware bundled in
- these programs occupied fully half of the top tech "buzz" searches on CNET earlier this month: [cnet.com...]
has more info
- we get pop-up complaints every day from users, and I'd guess that there's a hundred users for every person that writes in.

Has anybody here run into the problem? It's hit a lot of people I know, but I'm curious if other people have run into this.


 5:36 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)
WebGuerilla, that's a great suggestion. I don't know how many of the scummy people we can detect with Javascript though? If anybody knows good resources, would you post them here? Here are the ones I know (Brett, is it okay to list these as resources?):

The last site has some Javascript to detect scumware--does anyone know how well it works?


 5:44 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Has anybody here run into the problem?

A few on my sites, but the culprits were thought to be good, reputable banner ads (Engage) that later went rogue when the merchant decided the CTR wasn't high enough. JohnQ rarely knows enough to give you any sort of informed input, and small publishers don't have the time to help them dissect their desktop.

Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing, GG. So, (seriously) is googleplex arming itself against smart tag derivatives? They're coming, too.


 5:55 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)


Another thing Google could do to help the cause would be to restore the PageRank of the 9 sites in that category so that they may show up in Google SERPS :)

I have not used one of these scripts, but my understanding is that these programs are fairly easy to sniff out. Certainly there is a chunk of surfers who disable JavaScript, but even if you only caught half of them, you would still catch a lot. Probably more in a day than all the current sites would catch in a month. Plus, Google has the added benefit of being a site that people visit regularly. If I'm out surfing the web and I come across a small site that tells me I need to unistall a piece of software in order to access the content, the odds are that I'll simply leave.

On the otherhand, if I showed up at my favorite search engine to search for some new MP3's and I was told that the program I downloaded and installed the night before is now preventing me from searching, I'll probably take the time to remove it.


 6:08 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>even if you only caught half of them, you would still catch a lot.

And just catching them may not be the biggest damage google would do. The press would have a field day if a major SE steps up to the plate and takes action to protect its pages from wormware.


 7:09 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's weird. I started out reading complaints from our users about pop-ups, and it was just so frustrating. One of the great things about our business is growth by word of mouth. And a few users write things like "I'm never going to use you again!" as if we betrayed their trust. When we write back and explain, the users to a one are understanding and sympathetic. But I know that lots of other users just assume that we're doing this.

I just want this scuzzy stuff to stop hitting our users with pop-ups. I hope lots of websites will help us to get the word out to new users and people who don't know about this stuff.


 8:12 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

On a new site I'd added <STYLE TYPE="text/css"><!-- span {font-size:12px} --></STYLE> which I believed gave some protection over these programmes.

Took it off after the Dec."update" just in case.....

Any views on its effectiveness against scumware and/or potential pitfalls with SEs?


 8:51 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Nope Brett, I'm not really that devious and I'm not trying to throw stones at IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo, any other search engine, or any Future Threat To Google's Existence. I have a lot of respect for IBM and I'm not talking about an Atomica program that people choose to install. I have a lot of respect for Yahoo and if want choose to show pop-ups, that's their right. If some new technology eclipses Google and all search engines because it's superior, then I say power to them.

I'm honestly just trying to get people to stop showing pop-ups ads on Google. End of agenda. When you download BearShare, there's a 126 paragraph license agreement. You won't find a single mention of the word "pop-up" except buried in paragraph 103. Then the rest of the install makes it sound like SaveNow is actually good for user privacy! How are users and the marketplace supposed to filter out popup-ware if they don't know that they have it installed? We've had users tell us that SaveNow installed itself when they uninstalled other spyware software.

I understand the hazards of posting here. People can take what you say and interpret it however they want. I also understand that this is a great way to talk straight to webmasters, and that's why I come here on my extra time to answer questions. You're really give me too much credit, Brett. Sometimes when a person looks like they're trying to do a good deed, they're just trying to do a good deed. :)

Whining follower? Sigh.. :(


 9:24 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)


Good Idea! The worst offender is iMesh, as it surreptitiously installs Flashtrack. A horrible program that always causes pop-ups on google.


 9:33 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

What a thread!

I for one still see BOTH scumware and ST (and related technology) as problematic, and would love both to be eliminated whilst they are "still in the crib". And yes, I think there is only one route to this... and it is driven by education and simplicity.

The Google approach is good. A simple link to a simple page explaining the issues to searchers. And yes, I hope that page is well written so that people will actually understand the nature of the threat.

I would also like it to embrace more than just scumware... but a start is a start, and I am delighted Google are doing it. I for one will certainly link sites directly to the page if it is well written, and hope that others take this threat equally seriously.

If this is to have the effect we want, however, simplicity MUST be aligned to education... users will not do anything that is complex or difficult.

Access to the scumware removal scripts must be simple and quick, execution must be simple and quick, etc. In fact, one of the first steps could be to insert a scumware removal option on the Google Toolbar.

This is a serious problem, and it is not just limited to popups. Sooner or later though a major SE had to join in the opposition to this... and frankly we should be delighted that Google has jumped in, not critical.

I look forward to seeing how this thread develops - hopefully positively... it is an issue that effects us all.


 10:14 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Napoleon, thanks for the comments. I definitely agree that education is crucial. You're right about the simplicity too. I think we'll probably start with just a link on the homepage to an information page. When we get the page written, I'll try to post a link to it here early so people can check it out. Thanks for the suggestions.

Let me make sure I'm explaining myself clearly. If a webmaster wants to put a pop-up on their page, that's cool by me. The only pop-ups I'm talking about is from scumware that people don't realize they're installing. If webmasters are bothered by scumware, now is a great time to do something about it.

nutsandbolts: thanks for the heads-up about FlashTrack. I'd heard of it, but I didn't realize it did pop-ups too. It's amazing: I just installed BearShare to confirm about another program, and there's new popup-ware included. It's called n-CASE, and the license agreement doesn't even mention pop-ups. They call them "interstitials." Right.. :)


 10:20 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Personnaly I hope that one day there will not exist any website with popups.

Recently I've found a website that was cheating in a TopList by loading the TopList url in a frame. This same website tried to force the installation of Gator and Comet Cursor, displayed some ads for a very short time (to for ad impression) and offered content that was mainly stolen from other website. My desktop was full of pop-up and this was not a porn website. Actually I don't know if it show up in SERP because I've found it in TopList but this is the kind of website I wish I never see in SERP.

For SmartTags, I don't like them too, I still have to see a good use of this "technology". If the only purpose of SmartTags is to send traffic to the company which has the most money, I hope we will see a tool that remove them. I don't want to look at page with only blue underlined text :).
You can do so much things on a browser when you know a little bit of C++. I hope we will see more improvement for the user that need good information and not only for people with money.

Maybe we can imagine a kind of good smart tags or a smart tags architecture where the user is informed about them and can choose in which backend the query go. Something like do you want your smarttags
from Google and get result based on page relevance or do you want your smarttags from a search engine where the one who give the more money win top position ? I think that in the current state all these
system are evil, they don't inform user and steal traffic. There must be also a way for webmaster to protect their page from being modified by foreign sources. I think that webmasters will be upset to see their copyrighted content modified with a lot of links to competitors.
It's a little bit like ThirdVoice IMHO.

In fact, it may be good to provide a place where it is clear that results are paid and not based on relevance. To Google toolbar could show tree drop down menu with 1) links to pages related to the current page based on a query in Google, 2) links to pages related to the current page based on popularity or user ranking, 3) paid links

I like very much the idea from Brett about Google implementing a validation system.

In fact we can also think about automatic SE optimization :).
The bot could crawl the web, get the email of the webmaster and send
back HTML pages that validate and with relevant keywords put between bold tag, in title, in meta-keywords and auto submit to Yahoo directory and dmoz.org in the right category. ;)



 11:59 am on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

I agree with Napoleon - Whew!! - Lots to take in here.

What we call Scumware and Smart Tags are two different angles.

Scumware popups are something I haven't been infected with. In my opinion they are a virus and should be eliminated. Maybe the sort of people Google ought to be talking to on this one are Norton, McAfee and Grisoft.

Smart Tags on the other hnd are another matter and I think Roland_F has the right approach to attack these 'Copyright Law' in effect MS are republishing you site with minor changes without the permission of the author. In this country that would be breach of copyright.

There should be some way that a webmaster can have his web page published without change. Maybe an HTML META would be the way to go about it. Most sensible webmasters would then include it and Smart Tags would die out.

Unfortunately we are just a few voices screaming out into a sea of ignorance and the corporate domination of the web by M$ and its allies is likely to continue unabated. :( now more depressed than before.


 12:18 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

> There should be some way that a webmaster can have his web page published without change. Maybe an HTML META

Agreed - though from what I know about copyright that would be the wrong way round. The copyright holder would have to express that he is happy to have content modified and redisplayed.

Copyright (UK) basically is: "you can't copy/modify/redistribute anything unless you are given permission". (Copyright lawyers would probably have kittens reading that - must be way more complicated.)

If someone invented a gizmo that did this to TV commercials there would be an outcry from the broadcasters, look at the whole VCR that strips out ad's thing.

Imagine you're watching an ad/documentary/soap and placed products would go yellow and flash, pointing your remote would take you off to an advert for a competitor of the placed product. Its not a perfect analogy but the big companies would sue, and win. The reason that it won't happen on the web is it's the big guys that would win.

[darnit - gone right off topic ... ;)]

Back to the Google stand: its a great thing - the more users are educated to the evils of scumware the better.

These things are trojan horses. Spying, popups, backdoors, what other nasties do they introduce?


 2:16 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

GoogleGuy -

It is a great idea for Google to take a stand. Motivation does not matter, if these pop-up scumware things proliferate we will all, soon be spending all our time answering e-mails trying to explain the situation to angry visitors. It's a waste of money and resources and contributes to the web entropy. It's dragging us down.

I think Google is gently pointing out that we who publish on the Web, large and small, are the defacto leaders in an unregulated Internet. With that leadership goes a responibility to keep the ship upright. :) Otherwise the public will start abandoning the Internet.

(Do we yield to field to the Spammers or do we resist?)


 4:44 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Fantastic Thread..I've learned quite a bit and also have formed some opinions..

GoogleGuy - I support Googles stand on informing it's users about scumware. You mentioned how many of your users have written and complained about pop-ups and such, think about how many didn't take the time to write and just stormed away.

I downloaded and installed Kazaa, and got hit with "TopText", without warning, annoying yellow link lines strated to appear under certain keywords while I surfed. I ended up taking care of the problem along with Ad-Aware.

I wonder how many people have TopText installed and don't know where it came from..or how to get rid of it..

Excellent posts everyone..


- SlyGuy


 5:02 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

While detecting all kind of scumware may be hard,
if Google start to cryptographicaly sign each SERP, the Google toolbar could verify if the signature match the SERP content.
You could even try to detect if the Google toolbar is installed
and if present you could deliver the SERP in a proprietary format that the toolbar would decode and inject in the browser, bypassing any kind of scumware that put DumbTags (tm) everywhere.

You could add a content verification system based on cryptographic signature to the toolbar in one or two day (by using OpenSSL).

Scumware problem solved for Google :).


 5:39 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

I would be happy to link to Google's page about it from every site I have, but especially from my band related site, where I'm sure a hefty percentage of users are infected. Hearing it from Google would make more of an impression than from anyone else, I'd think.

I don't think that these or Smart Tags can be seen as a good thing for anyone. Users are perfectly welcome to do all kinds of things to a web page, but I don't think a site should be forced to be an uncompensated advertising vehicle, perhaps for something totally antithetical to the guiding principles behind the site. For instance..can you imagine the ad opportunities for an alcohol abuse recovery type site? Not a pretty thought.


 5:41 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

The lions share of this scumware comes from companies who supply file stealing sofware (somewhat scummy as well), what do you expect?

2 solutions:

1.) A good open source file stealing program.

2.) Adoption of a less hypocritical attitude towards the whole business; if you get wonky because someone defaces your web site with yellow links, but also feel that it is okay to rip off copyrighted music, movies and software, you need a reality check. It's either right or its wrong, if you don't like copyright infringement, tell that to the community that you speak to, but don't be two faced about it.

Googleguy, I can understand your concern about being perceived as a censor if you don't link to these thiefware downloads (or sites that do), but I kinda see it this way; I will defend your right to bear arms, but if you point your gun at me, all bets are off.

(edited by: john316 at 5:58 pm (utc) on Jan. 23, 2002)


 5:48 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

An other threat that might allow bigger leverage from business is corporate espionage.

I scan for these "spy" packages daily to make sure our senior executives web activites do not end of up on a competitors desk or front page news.

Tell that to some security firms and large public firms. They will come to your aid as soon as possible.


 6:45 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>Their habits are that shocking eh!!

Ian's point seems to sum up my view of this topic, or, should I say, the extension of the topic. Far be it from me to disagree with the "capo di tutti capi" on this, but the 'Guy's original intent seems to have been forgotten.

I don't see this as Google wanting to nip any future competition in the bud. Rather, they know the amount of traffic their service generates and feel it's as good a forum as any to bring this malaise to the attention of as many people as possible. What's the harm in that? Will I put pop-up information/warnings on my sites? You bet...if my employers don't mind (I'm not the be all, end all for my sites, unfortunately).

There's no debating that so-called "scumware" is a problem. Google just wants to make people aware of the fact that it exists and that people need to pay more attention to what they're getting with their pirated _____[insert medium of preference].

Just my .01 (it's not worth shelling out the extra penny).


 7:39 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

Does this 'scumware' been reported to affect Macintosh computers too?

I think not. I have some filesharing software (LimeWire and AudioGalaxy [had]) but have not had any instances of furious pop-ups appearing. But then I use OmniWeb, not exactly a high profile browser on a high profile OS. :)

However I support Google's approach to defend the integrity of it's information, since it is also a struggle to defend the integrity of the information I provide.

Probably the best way, as has been mentioned above, is to detect users with scumware and provide instructions on how to deactivate the pop-ups. Users will be especially encouraged to remove scumware if they are informed about the degradation in their browsing experience :slower downloading times, pop-ups, privacy intrusions and maybe even illegal snooping around.


 8:14 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

john316: > don't link to these thiefware downloads

Applications don't steal music, people do.


 8:47 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>The most persistent question that we get at Google is "When did you guys start showing pop-ups?"

Maybe, my money would be on "How do I remove my search history from Googles search box?"

If you really want to help and educate your users why not promote some of the alternative browsers, those that give the user the ability to control their surfing experience. I never see any pop-ups,I can control whether or not I see ads from certain domains, I can control and manage cookies, my browser gives me those options.

Now of course if you do a good job you're friends over at Yahoo will get less X10 impressions, but as we have seen with the December update Google doesn't mind throwing a few babies out with the bathwater.


 9:34 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

1. Google's move to educate users about this with a link is a good idea.
2. The above suggestion to scan users for scumware with the Google Toolbar is a good idea for two reasons:
- Scumware would mainly affect non-technical users who don't know what it is (technical users would deal with the problem)
- The vast majority of non-technical users use the browser that came with their OS: Internet Explorer
Thus, it is fair to say that the Google Toolbar would be a good place to get scumware from.
3. I think that the suggestions to scan users for scumware (via JavaScript) on Google's web pages (such as the home page) are the wrong approach because:
- It will slow down the surfing experience for all users (I use Google because of its speed and even a fraction of a second difference is noticed)
- It is too crude of a tool to catch scumware: although I'm not an expert on the topic, I think that most scumware wouldn't be detectable with JavaScript.

GoogleGuy, we can place links on our web sites, but that isn't likely to be an effective solution. My personal suggestion is that the only way to effectively deal with scumware would be for virus companies to introduce a scumware-removal option in their programs.

The virus companies have been responsive to Microsoft requests to distribute security patches through their programs, indicating their willingness to partake in plans that remove generally undesirable issues from a computer, rather than confining their software to viruses.

While I'm not about to say that an education campaign is a <i>bad</i> idea, I think that it would only reach a tiny fraction of affected users even if a link were placed on every site on the entire web. Many users don't even know how to uninstall a program without assistance. These are the hurdles that an education campaign faces:
1. Getting people's attention
2. Effectively teaching people what scumware is (before this thread I had never heard of it)
3. Providing a simple mechanism to alert people that they have scumware on their computer (this could be done on IE/Win through an ActiveX control)
4. Teaching people how to remove scumware.

If you take the above four points and replace 'scumware' with 'virus' (and adjust the grammar accordingly) then you see why I think that virus software is a good idea.


 9:45 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>if you get wonky because someone defaces your web site with yellow links, but also feel that it is okay to rip off copyrighted music, movies and software, you need a reality check.

Very Good Point. The idea of Google becoming the new champion in the fight against copyright infringenment is comical.

All contents of this Internet site (including design; information; audio; video; photographs and graphic elements) are copyrighted by ------. Information herein may not be reproduced, transmitted, rebroadcast, published, re-written or distributed in any form without the expressed written consent of -----.

That statement exists in various forms on millions of TOS pages across the web. Ezula, Gator, and Google all completely disregard them. One operates from the desktop and the other from a web server, but the principles as well as the public statements used to justify the behavior are basically the same.

Either you believe that altering and redistributing content created by someone else is wrong, or you don't. I just don't see any way you can be on both sides of the fence.

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