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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)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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,


10:05 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Okay, I think that this discussion is getting somewhat off-topic.

From the earliest stages of their fundamental design, web pages have always been intended as data that is streamed to the user. Nothing more.

We don't even really have terminology in our language for this sort of structure yet. One thing that so many people still don't grasp is that *the web is not print*.

Never before have we had a medium that can be viewed in so many ways. Google can cache your page and stick its header on your page, so that people can always access your content from a web browser. But I can also surf most web pages from my PalmPilot or my Cell Phone. When that's the case, instead of adding headers like Google does, I have scripts that remove headers on the pages and navigation links and such so that I just have the basic content of the page. If you just want a specific aspect of a page as well, that's perfectly dooable - Microsoft Excel has a great mechanism for end users to easily grab certainly parts of a web page. I've used it to extract the weather from Environemnt Canada's web page, to extract stock quotes from the Toronto Stock Exchange pages, to get headlines from other pages.

In short, the web is about information. If you post it, it's fair game: people can grab it and manipulate it and do wonderful things with your data. Attempts to move against this are common (Probably the #1 question at www.htmlHelp.com is "How do I protect people from stealing my Javascripts"). And, as we've all seen with BigCo's suing people for "deep linking," they are largely fruitless.

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

WebGuerrilla, are you suggesting that Google's cache service is infringing copyright?

Besides, I don't think that it's Google intention whatsoever to [become] the new champion in the fight against copyright infringenment.


10:20 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

>>WebGuerrilla, are you suggesting that Google's cache service is infringing copyright?



10:30 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

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WebGuerrilla, by that logic, when a browser caches a file on your computer, that would also violate the copyright.


10:46 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

This is turning into a really interesting thread. Thanks to all the people who are against scumware, and for the good suggestions. WebGuerilla, I think there's a difference between our cache and a music-sharing program. There are a bunch of standard ways to tell a search engine not to index or cache a page (robots.txt, meta tags, etc.), and every respectable engine obeys those standards. But it's impossible to tell these scumware programs: "you know what? no thanks. Just skip the pop-ups on my domain."

Okay, back on topic. :) pat_s, you've got a great example with alcohol recovery. We had one user write in to complain. When their child did a search for "hot wheels," the scumware saw the word "hot" and popped up a porn ad. You would not believe how mad that person was. Eeesh.


11:34 pm on Jan 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

GoogleGuy, I think you've identified a real problem. Your efforts to present a clean, attractive, informational page are being derailed by scumware. Most users of scumware are not aware that they have it, or that the linking that comes from it is not Google's doing.

We may all have this problem as scumware continues to expand, so I am interested in your efforts to deal with it. You have the resources to make a difference, unlike us little guys.

But there's one little problem: You cannot wash the Internet when your own hands are dirty.

1) It is ludicrous to suggest, as some have done in this thread, that the Toolbar be used to detect scumware. The Toolbar is already spyware, and most people are not aware that Google is tracking everything they do on the Net with that toolbar, along with a 36-year cookie. Now it's being suggested that the Toolbar start snooping around on the user's disk! Hey, let's add all those directory listings to the master surfer file at Google, using the unique cookie ID as the identifier! That way we can help out the FBI by scanning for "box cutters" plus "flight schedules" on all those hard drives!

Better yet, let's start installing a unique ID in the Toolbar, and send that back to Google in disguised form, to fix those scumbags who erase their cookies. And even better, let's grab that globally unique ID in the Windows Media Player, so that if they get smart and uninstall the Toolbar, as well as deleting their Google cookie, we still know who they are!

Scumware, be vanquished! Scumbags, welcome to Big Broother!

2) Clean pages are great. Google should delete the Google banner from the top of cached pages. Arguably, many new surfers are under the impression that all this wonderful data they find with the "cache" button comes from the smart folks at Google. It helps to keep them on-site, and increases Google's profits. (By the way, prowsej, one clear criterion about whether such caching and/or archiving falls under the definition of "fair use" in the Copyright Act of 1976, is whether the copying is done for nonprofit purposes, or done for profit-making purposes. Google is not nonprofit, as they have recently begun to brag.) Better yet, delete the cache copies entirely.

3) Ditto for the Google images thumbnail archive that was taken from all those thousands of sites; most webmasters don't need their imagery ripped out of context and placed in a Google frame.

Sure, we can install robots.txt and META tags, and limit Google to what we consider proper and comfortable. But this is reactive, and a relatively small percentage of websites are aware of these options at the level of sophistication needed to fine-tune Google's crawlers. Moreover, Google makes these options available for legal reasons, not out of a respect for publishers' rights.

There are a number of proactive steps Google could take to be a bit less Big Brootherly. Until that happens, I don't believe that anyone from Mountain View has earned the right to complain about scumware. Google, get thine own house in order, and then come back and ask for suggestions about how to handle scumware.


12:51 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I do appreciate Googleguy's point of view regarding scumware -- the only people who don't hate it are those that created it.

However, I believe Everyman has a valid point. I believe the cacheing of pages is a wrong that cannot be rectified by requiring webmasters to use a special META tag to keep pages from being cached, and possibly subjecting those webmasters to penalized rankings. If Google wants to cache pages, let them get written permission from the owner of the copyrighted pages.


1:12 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

If you dislike the cache so much, just buy a cloaking script and send a blank page to the googlebot, I'm sure people will begin to type your address into the browser to find your content. ;).


1:39 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If you dislike the cache so much, just buy a cloaking script and send a blank page to the googlebot

Good idea, but why in the world, I should do that. If google wants to cache my site, then it should consider asking web masters to instert Meta Tag on their websites, which they wants to be cached.

How many web site owners do actually knows about caching and how it works - pros and cons ?

If Google wants to cache pages, let them get written permission from the owner of the copyrighted pages.

Could not have said it better.

I guess, along with this POP UP problem that GoogleGuy has raised, they(Google) also need to think about asking webmasters before they Cache web sites.


1:52 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

As far as the argument, which I've heard in other places, that we post it on the web and no longer control it - I'm fine with that. If someone decides to download a program that puts links all over my site, so be it. What I really can't accept is that these programs are bundled with other applications in such a way that many if not most of the people using them don't realize what they are. I think it's totally fair to be outraged about that.


1:54 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Gator tried to install itself in the middle of a bunch of popups while at a friend's site at a free host earlier. Who knows where the thing came from. It sure wasn't him, he'd be the *last* person in the world. It would have been VERY easy to accidentally slip and install while closing all those popups had I not noticed.

The same thing probably happens all the time while people are at Google, not knowing where or when those interstitials come from, and this is happening all day every day. So they're certainly timely and relevant issues.

Those aren't the major issue as I see it. A few years ago I worked market research on a number of projects. One in particular was recruiting people, from selected groups of consumers in fixed numbers, to attend the auto show in Los Angeles and give their opinion on new car models and styles for one of the "big three" Detroit manufacturers. Each participant was given $75 cash (it's probably more now) plus lunch for their effort. Add that to all the costs of administering, recruiting, paying for the data to target the demographics, and it's well into hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one project done annually. Millions of dollars are spent each year on market research, down to cable TV networks, music companies, computer companies, and even baby shampoo.

The point is that while these are done for product development and marketing purposes(and cost a bundle), they know that their goals will accomplished by giving the people out there what they need, what they want, and what they like. It benefits the companies, but imho everyone gains in the long run. Gee, they even do taste test focus groups to make better-tasting strawberry preserves.

What I see happening is that Google is getting from everyone collectively a massive amount of input that's worth it's weight in gold, just as though they had contracted an ad agency. With a highy targeted demographic. Where would an ad agency get this kind of list?? But much, much better, because everyone gets to participate in an open environment, share input and ideas, and it's available to everyone from all over (including other search engines).

The correlation as I see it - just my personal opinion - is that just as with those companies who do organized paid research, Google is truly trying to establish dialog with the purpose of making it the best search engine they can - by giving the public what they need, want and like. That way they'll succeed, especially in the face of the failure of others who apparently did not give the public what they want.

Since so many people rely on Google listings for the very survival of their business, I personally see this as a good thing. I can't imagine what it would be like if Google had the attitude of Yahoo or Alta Vista. Sure, it presents a certain public image, but I see that attitude as a more important issue than any specific thay may come up. Only time will tell what the ultimate result will be, but meantime it *could* end up to everyone's benefit.


2:05 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Everyman, I'm not sure why you dislike Google so much? There are plenty of unethical, Big Brother-like companies in the world, but I promise that Google isn't one of them. It's strange, because I could name 10 companies off the top of my head that really do abuse and exploit their users.

I'm sorry that you don't like the toolbar, but I don't understand why. It's not bundled with other programs. We follow a strict opt-in privacy policy--the user has to click to install with advanced features, because that's not the default. Our installation message says in capital letters (in red, no less): "PLEASE READ THIS CAREFULLY. IT'S NOT THE USUAL YADA YADA." I've never seen a user complain that they were tricked into downloading the toolbar, unlike this scumware.

I think Google works as hard as any search engine to protect the privacy of our users. Here's an easy example. Google doesn't allow advertisers to place tracking GIFs on search results. Other sites show banner ads and web bugs so that advertiser can track users all over the net. We skip on a chunk of easy money because many advertising agencies want us to put tracking GIFs on our pages. Compare that to other sites' privacy policies that say things like "In addition, we allow X, Y and Z to set and access cookies on your computer."

This has definitely been a feisty thread. Anybody want to claim that scumware is a good thing? Then we could really see some fireworks :)


2:22 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I can claim, and I'm sure you can too, that the average user does not read anything except what they are looking for.

I've looked over a few backs in the past when they install something. I've also looked at programs running in the background on other computers. Now this isn't the population as a whole, but you get the idea after seeing it for so long.

They have gotten so used to clicking yes yes yes ok ok ok to install their programs in the quickest amount of time, that they click right on past the Gator window for example. Or the CDLoad program. Or the Webhancer program...etc.

You WILL never stop the click-and-destroy computer users out there.

You teach one and there are a hundred more coming up the flanks who know almost nothing about it.

The only way you are going to reach these users is to serve them a page that won't continue for 60 seconds. In that time, they have to read what you are offering them about scumware. They will have left the site by then but you get my point

If someone visits your site to search for something, they are going straight to the search box. How many average Joe's glance at all the other links they are shown?

Those that do aren't average Joe's and if they are interested enough in those links then I'm sure they are aware of adware.

I'm not bashing Google in anyway.

I'm just saying that John Q is click-happy, a click-and-destroyer, they want to get to their need as fast as possible.

Isn't that what Google's main principle is? To get the user to their main objective in the shortest amount of time because that's what the user wants and therefore does?


2:22 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

As far as I'm concerned, Google still returns relevent results rather than results from the highest bidder and as long as it does that, I love it. It's also done a better job with putting Usenet on the web than Deja ever did, both in terms of format and load time. I'd use the toolbar myself, but the Yahoo toolbar is the easiest way to keep my bookmarks on the web, and one extra toolbar is really enough. But none of that really has much to do with scumware, does it?


3:20 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Kazaa had something like this, it was software included by New.net and is placed on users computers so their "New" domains can be seen. This crap screwed up my computer and restricted my internet access for 2 days, it was such a mission to get it resolved.

Anyways, cant we somehow start an online petition and send it to the FTC for action to be taken?


8:43 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member googleguy is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Hey, you don't need to wait for an online petition. Go to www.ftc.gov and click on "file a complaint." If New.net or something else messed up your computer, mention it to them. That's going to be one of the takehome messages from our education page.


9:02 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

New.net sent me a snotty "harming our company" e-mail as one of my sites (that google puts on page 2...then 3... then 4.. back to 2.. back to 3.. gone.. then 3.. etc ;) described their software as Scumware. Perhaps I should change it to "could ruin your computer-ware!"


9:38 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

It looks to me like if Google had done nothing about this menace there are still people who would have ago a them... for NOT using their influential position to help counter it.

Let's be fair here, Google is in profit and doesn't HAVE to do anything about a problem that affects us all. To me, the fact that they have stepped into the fray is to be warmly applauded, very much so. We need every ally we can get.

It is easy to underestimate scumware and forget just how obnoxious it is. This stuff is changing the behaviour of the browser on YOUR computer... under the covers.... deceptively. It is totally dishonest... it is also theft... theft of traffic. Anything that can be done to take this on should be supported by us all. It is not an issue that should be side-tracked with grievances people have with Google's operation, which frankly, pale into insignificance in comparison when the bigger picture is considered.


9:57 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Heres a thought. How about Google adding a Sponsored Link themselves, and/or disallowing other Sponsored/Adwords links on scumware related searches? If all the "warez" "gator" "kazaa" etc searches came up with it, you would at least be targetting the sort of people who are looking to download scumware, and have a chance of educating them

As to the other aspect of this, I think Google should be careful about how they handle the presentational aspect of this. If Google (intentionally or not) set themselves up as "the anti-scum crusaders" they leave themselves open to retaliation, and many of the companies in question have proved themselves to be ethically grey at best.

If Google make serious inroads into this problem, a lot of people stand to lose a lot of money, and they won't just sit there and meekly take it I assure you.


10:45 am on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Everyman, I call spyware a software that try to install itself when you don't want it or when you don't know what it do.

Of course the cookie + clickstream is a big potential to spy on people
but the privacy policy from google is clear and the toolbar is easy to uninstall. You can't put Google Toolbar and Gator in the same category.

The privacy could be enhanced in the Google toolbar of course, maybe by using a Privacy On/off button right on the toolbar or maybe if you want the PageRank of a webpage you should request it by clicking the PageRank widget.

For copyright related issue maybe the cache should be opt-in instead of opt-out. The same for the images search.


1:56 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

1. I think that's a great solution, TallTroll
2. I don't belive that any of the file sharing companies current advertise on Google. If they do, I think that Google should take a stand and say "sorry, we won't do business with you because the scumware that your software installs is hurting our brand image, yadda yadda yadda"
3. I did a search for "file sharing software" but it didn't have any adwords, that's why I belive none of the file sharing companies advertise with Google. (of course, they could use differerent keywords ... )


2:02 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

It appears this is an awfully trendy topic [wired.com]

Here's a link to the POE [poenews.com] article that's mentioned.


3:16 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

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.

googleguy I agree and I think it would be an easier and more effective way for webmasters to help if we all got together and made scumware page. We would all put a small page on our sites with a description of this and a link to the scumware page.
On the scumware page we will explain how they work, the programs that do this and removal help. We can just point them to ad ad-aware because though I am not very up to date on the scumware programs but I think ad-aware removes most if not all of them.
On the page we would tell our visitors that we are not using pop-ups they are coming from this scumware.

Doing things this way will have all of the people fighting it "on the same page" and help get the word out in a better more consistent manner.

I personally have never run into this scumware problem and really don't know that much about it but reading this thread has been very enlightening.

This is just a thought but I think if we all were to attack things the same way it would weigh more heavily.



3:33 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The one aspect of this topic that rarely seems to be addressed is the culpability of the companies who mass distribute these products.

In the beginning of this thread, Chiyo suggested that Google should make a statement by removing sites from its database that sell/distribute these types of software products. GoogleGuy responded by saying Google likes to stay away from censorship.

To me, that seems like taking the easy way out. Search engines often make editorial decisions that effect what you may ot may not find on the web. Dumping pages they believe to be spam, removing sensitve pages from their cache,and restricting/editing AdWords are just a few of the editorial decisions Google has made recently.

So why not dump these sites from the Google database? If CNET is providing a distribution platform for a product that is contributing to reducing the quality of the users experience, why would taking steps to stop that from happening be viewed as a censorship issue? To me, it would simply be a matter of looking out for the interests of my users. Much like Google's decision to not allow tracking gifs on ads. (Which I think is an excellent policy).

So where is the outrage against the CNETS of the web? The only reason the file sharing companies accept the bundle agreements is because they know they have a distribution system that will allow them to place the product on millions of computers in a very short amount of time. If every software download site were to take a stand and simply say that they will not allow these types of programs on their site, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion.


4:16 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Call me strange but what is the business reason behind this for Google? Is it pure marketing or there is something else? I am too jaded to believe Google or any corporation does anyting for the good of all.

Google's number one responsibility is to the shareholders, not the the general public, just like any other corporation.


5:01 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Does Google have shareholders? I mean, is it a public company? I'm not sure it is. Anyway, it is possible that Google realizes that it got where it is by being good at what it does. Anything that seems to compromise that is detrimental to its stature in the industry.


5:18 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Even if Google is motivated by self interest, arn't we all?

I don't see a downside for us in fighting scumware with Google.


5:19 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

No, Google is not yet a public company. So at the moment, they only need to answer to their private investors, not shareholders.

But that will probablly change in the near future.


5:55 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well, once it is a public company, there goes the ballgame. :)


5:58 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

Google could easily do an analysis of the types of keywords used by those who are most likely to end up downloading scumware without knowing it. Put these words into a dictionary.

When they get a hit from a searcher, ad a link to the SERPs page on the Google status bar or somewhere. A good place would be on the same line as:

"Unsatisfied with your results? Help us improve."

It could read:

"Annoyed by constant popup windows? Your browser may be infected."

And then link to an information page about uninstalling such software.

The key is to do this only when the search terms suggest the liklihood that the user could be infected. That way Google can claim that their link is a measured, defensive response to something that is affecting their own pages and reputation. A lawsuit filed by a scumware company against Google would not be successful in this case.


7:25 pm on Jan 24, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

When your browser is infected by scumware, when you do a "File ¦ Save As ..." to save the current page, are the tags added by the scumware still in source code ?
This 121 message thread spans 5 pages: 121

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