A 'pop-up blocker', also known as 'pop-up killer', is a program that prevents pop-ups from being displayed in a user's web browser. Pop-up blockers work in a number of ways. While some close the window before it appears, others disable the command that calls the pop-up, and yet others alter the window's source HTML. One problem with pop-up blockers is that they cannot always differentiate between an unwanted pop-up window and one that is user-requested. But that is just a minor problem. Before you decide whether you want to fight the ad-blocking battle, you really need to know the threats that you are dealing with.
Let's just start from the beginning: Pop-ups are those annoying windows that get in the way of us viewing the web sites that we want to view. Sometimes they even have things on them that are offensive. Most of us get mad when faced with undesired pop-ups but, in fact, few of us do something about it. The most reasonable explanation for this is that even people who detest web ads concede that the explosion in web advertising has financed a no-cost Internet rich in content. However, if every Internet user blocked all advertisements all the time, companies might have to charge user fees for their web services or else they would go out of business. Albeit most web surfers would, to some extent, agree on the need of advertisement as a financial resource for Internet-based companies that fundamentally operate as content providers, the new online advertising methods and techniques that some advertisers have been using appear to cross the line between what is reasonable and what is not; in other words, what can be considered a 'fair amount of advertising' and what is just an 'unethical use of advertising as a means to invade people's eyeballs, minds and lives'. The trick here is that online advertising evolves faster than one could possibly imagine. You would be very naïve if you thought that the latest generation of online ads just sits timidly on a web page carrying an identifying label that says 'Advertising. Click on me'. Instead, the bulk of adware stealthily masquerade ads as non-commercial content or bombard our eyeballs with pyrotechnic excess. Although it is literally impossible to describe all the different types and formats of existing online advertising, let us walk you through the most common ones that have so far been identified. First there are Standard Banner Ads, including new formats such as the vertically oriented skyscraper. These stay inside the primary browser window. Second, there are the pop-up and pop-under ads. As opposed to standard banner ads, these appear in new browser windows, typically stripped of toolbars and menus, and either cover your original browser window or hide beneath it. Third, there are Interstitials, which are ads that appear after you click on a link but before you see the next page, and Pop-up Transitionals, a type of ad that plays in a separate window between two pages of content. Fourth, there are Superstitials, a highly evolved ad species which move across the face of a web page, as if they were animations projected on a piece of glass over the page. Worst of all are the Mouse-Trappers and High-Speed Spawners, so called because they break your browser's Back button and/or disable the Close box and often also have the ability to replicate windows faster than you can get rid of them.
Most legitimate web sites try to avoid using misleading ads to get clicks but some allow the trick banner, that is, an ad that mimics a dialog box. When you click its OK button to dismiss a system message, you are automatically drawn into a spiral of other web ads: a total nightmare! Then there's also adware like TopText, which skulks onto your system when you install certain shareware or freeware programs and then spawns its own pop-ups to compete with those launched by the sites you visit.
There are a number of ad-blocking software alternatives available in the market today, both free and paid for. Among the free software that was tested and has proved to be fairly effective are 12Ghosts Popup-Killer and 12Ghosts StopMessengerAds. Also, shareware such as STOPzilla!, ABF Internet Explorer Tools, AdBeGone PopUp Killer and CoffeeCup PopUp Blocker have received some good critiques. Free pop-up blockers, such as STOPzilla and Panicware, are readily available for download. Both the Google and Yahoo toolbars include the ability to block pop-ups. That capacity is also enabled by default in Microsoft's XP Service Pack Two (SP2) settings for Internet Explorer. Most ad-blocking programs work as specialized proxy servers. Once running on your PC, they examine the addresses that your browser requests, check each one against the entries in a frequently updated database of ad server addresses, and then drop requests for ad content. Some also rely on pattern matching to look for windows and images that match known sizes and shapes of ads. Leaving inconvenience aside, there are other good reasons to fight back. For example, blocking ads frees up precious bandwidth and can protect your privacy. Ads take time to load, and they invariably get in the way of what you are really interested in while surfing on the Internet. Because many ad servers place cookies on your computer, ad companies are able to track your surfing. These companies claim that the function of most cookies they set is to regulate the type and amount of advertisements you receive. But because the larger ad services span a wide array of web sites, ad-related cookies can also provide ad companies a lot of insight into your web surfing preferences. And this is a critical issue since you, as most of us consumers, have never explicitly consented to be followed on the web. If you want to learn more about your privacy rights, visit the www.Anti-Spam-League.org website. This organization has a lot of valuable information on privacy, spam, identity theft and other common Internet abuses. Become a free member by visiting www.Anti-Spam-League.org. Finally, there is the debate regarding whether using ad-supported web sites is giving the implicit obligation to tolerate and support online ads. Logically, advertisers think that the implicit contract seems to be acceptable to most users and web sites because without advertisements, the Internet as we know it would vanish really fast. However, the consumers think differently. In the end, people have a right to control what appears on their computer.
Advertisers use these intrusive techniques simply because they are effective. Sad but true. Some of the most intrusive ads have the unfortunate effect of quickly catching customers' attention and as a result, pop-up blocking software is getting more and more popular these days. Even Microsoft announced in the end of 2003 that the new Internet Explorer will include popup ad blocker. Naturally, it is foreseeable that popup advertisers are likely to start developing software to bypass it. In April of 2004 Falk eSolutions AG, a global provider of ad delivery and management solutions, launched a new ad targeting option to automatically detect pop-up blocker software on users' computers and instantly convert pop-up and pop-under inventory to alternate formats for optimal delivery to those users. Our belief is that as new popup-blocking software comes out, more aggressive pop-up display methods are likely to emerge to bypass the defense. As a final thought, no anti-ad utility works flawlessly; but without ads, you would not be annoyed so frequently with undesired commercial messages, and pages would definitely load faster!
If you want to learn more about this and other related topics, check out www.Anti-Spam-League.org. This organization offers free membership and the chance to access a wide amount of relevant information on privacy, spam, email abuse, Internet fraud, responsible marketing and several other topics.
About the author: The purpose of the Anti SPAM League is to help consumers and business owners reduce the amount of SPAM they receive. In addition, our Anti SPAM organization believes that educating site owners in the area of SPAM prevention and ways to successfully and responsibly market their sites, is key in making a difference.