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Pop-under Windows: Annoying Certainly, but Dangerous?

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Pop-under windows launch silently and hide beneath your main browser window. Aside from being terribly annoying, they can also theoretically carry a harmful payload. This article dissects them, and gives you ways to avoid them altogether.

There are few things on the Internet that annoy me more than someone else making decisions about what I want to do. It's fiercely annoying to load a Web page, and have it automatically begin tooting a MIDI file of Eye of the Tiger or Tie a Yellow Ribbon. This is an especially egregious crime when I'm already listening to a CD of my own, and at the first earful of subdued peeping I look quizzically around the room and then waste five minutes peering out the window trying to find an ice cream truck before realizing that the annoying little jingle is, in fact, emanating from my own stereo speakers—buried somewhere beneath the noise of my new favorite band. Imagine what it would be like if advertisers could change the channel on your television at will, and you will begin to feel my rage. If I wanted to listen to your stupid MIDI file, my friend, I would have played it myself. I don't like it when someone runs a program on my computer, and I certainly don't like it when someone decides that I want to open a new browser window to look at their advertisement. The most egregious of these are the full-sized windows with controls removed.

But now that most of those HTML coders who put autoloading MIDIs into their Web pages have been mercifully deported to countries without electricity, my new personal pet peeve is advertisers deciding that I want to open a new window containing one of their ads and hide it behind my browser window where they tend to accumulate over the course of the day like rats in a dump. Like Figure 1.

Figure 1 One of the most common pop-under advertisers is X10, which suggests that you can use their wireless security camera to survey alluring women at your front door, home office, garage, nursery, or yard.

What's the Buzz? Tell Me what's Ahappenin'

So why would people stoop to such depths, obviously annoying their users? The answer is most likely buzz. In the beginning, Internet monitoring companies such as Neilson and Jupiter (which measure Web traffic much in the way Neilsen is famous for doing with television) counted popups and pop-unders as unique hits to a Web site. Launching pops was a way to artificially inflate hits, generate buzz, and hopefully (for the company doing this) generate revenue. However, much of that has changed. In December of 2001, CNET reported that Jupiter and Neilson both removed popup ads from their criteria for "hits," deciding that they did not represent a willful intention to visit a Web site. After that decision by Jupiter, X10, the largest single user of pop-under ads (which had been safely sitting in the top five most-viewed Web pages in the world) dropped out of the top 50 altogether. What's the buzz?

Obviously there's been a lot of animosity generated by this practice, and we're not the only ones upset about it. Joe Jenett hates pop-unders so much he's begun a crusade called ASAP! (A Stand Against Pop-under ads!). It has become something of a clearinghouse of information about the nefarious programming device. You can find it at http://jenett.org/asap/.

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