Tag Archives: ACE

WhenU Addresses Its Image Problem

The whole WhenU story gets weirder and weirder.

Last week Ben Edelman, the privacy hound, pointed out that the besieged pop-up provider WhenU was ‘cloaking’ itself. This means, in Ben’s words, ”using prohibited ‘cloaking’ methods to make search engines think certain WhenU servers offer content of interest to readers seeking certain search terms, when in fact the servers merely redirect readers to articles favorable to WhenU.” The result: ”WhenU elevates the visibility of sites it selects, while pushing critics’ sites lower in search engine rankings.”

Google and Yahoo have since removed from their listing all WhenU sites involved in the scheme. WhenU, for their part, have blamed an outside company for the move: “WhenU hired an outside Search Engine Optimization firm to legitimately enhance our search engine rankings. These issues were brought to our attention today, and we immediately addressed the situation and instructed the outside firm to reverse their actions. We anticipate being relisted at the major search engines shortly,” says Avi Naider of WhenU.

Now Ben has spotted something that WhenU may find harder to explain away: WhenU has, he says, stacked copies of more than two dozen news articles on at least 12 of its websites in an apparent attempt to create a “boost in visibility of this pro-WhenU content, at the expense of content critical to WhenU”. These websites include a dizzying smorgasbord of names, including whenubuild.com, whenuchat.com, whenyoucook.com, whenudecorate.com, whenulearn.com, whenumail.com, whenuretire.com, whenusleuth.com, whenusurf.com, whenyouinvest.com, and whereuinvest.net.

Of course there’s nothing wrong in itself with doing this, although the intention seems to be clearly the same as the earlier the move — to improve search results for webpages referring positively to WhenU. But as Ben points out: “Research has yet to determine whether WhenU has authorization to make these article copies, but the articles mention no such authorization. The articles also lack ordinary statements of copyright by their respective publications.”

I’ve sought comment from WhenU on this, and will post anything once I receive it. At first glance it does appear that WhenU are taking desperate measures in the face of public criticism and legal challenges. It will be interesting

Phishing And The Pop-up

Speaking to Well Fargo Online’s Wendy Grover this morning, I realised there’s a dimension to the debate about pop-ups that hadn’t occurred to me before: Phishing.

The central argument used by companies such as Wells Fargo in their long-running litigation against the likes of WhenU and Gator (now Claria) is that they confuse the user. These services, they say, hoodwink the user into downloading software that will track their browsing habits and, in the case of WhenU, replace existing ads on a website with their own. Surveys, Wendy Grover says, baffle the end user who didn’t know the software was installed and believe the pop-up ads they do see are from the website itself, not WhenU.

Until lately this was all a little academic. Privacy issues were at the fore. But now that banks and financial institutions are being targeted by sophisticated scammers who create convincing looking emails and websites to fool users into entering their passwords, it no longer seems so. If users are confused about the origin pop-ups on banking websites, then it illustrates their vulnerability to being duped by an entirely fake website. Wells Fargo themselves have been the target of several phishing expeditions.

Customers, we have to acknowledge, do not know exactly what’s going in their browser, and while educating them helps, misleading programs adding third party content don’t.  ”It’s very important that customers know where they are and where they’re entering their information,” says Grover. I’d tend to agree.