Tag Archives: WhenU SaveNow

WhenU’s Popup Victory

WhenU, now known as Claria, has won what it calls an “important decision for the entire Internet industry” in its motion to enjoin the Utah Spyware Control Act, passed in March. WhenU had argued the Act “affects legitimate Internet advertising companies and therefore violates the First Amendment and dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, among other laws”. (Here’s a CNET story on the verdict.)

If I understand the ruling correctly (and this is based largely on Ben Edelman’s assistance), the judge has ruled that, in this particular law, Utah was unconstitutional in trying to limit popups, while it was within the constitution in trying to outlaw spyware — or more specifically, software that is installed without a licence and lack a proper uninstall procedure. As the judge did no want to break the act in half he ruled in favour of a preliminary injunction for WhenU. Ben, who works as a consultant for the Utah government, reckons WhenU could lose on appeal, since under Utah law, the judge “is obliged to regard the act as ‘severable'” — in other words, that he can keep parts and discard parts.

Avi Naider, WhenU’s Chief Executive Officer, meanwhile, is celebrating his victory. “Spyware is a problem and we want to put an end to it,” he says in a press release. “WhenU supports appropriate anti-spyware legislation at the federal level, but unfortunately Utah’s Act also impairs legitimate Internet advertising.”

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.

Popups Never Die, They Just Mutate

In response to my post yesterday, a reader suggested that with the proliferation of pop-up ad blockers in browsers and toolbars, who needs to worry anymore about ‘contextual’ ad services like WhenU?

Since I installed the Google toolbar, I’ve forgotten what a pop-up looks like. Since I installed Win XP SP2, the “pop-ups blocked” counter on the Google toolbar hasn’t moved. In a few years, you’ll be writing a column called “Remember Popups?”

Not quite yet, unfortunately. Ben Edelman, an expert on privacy issues and a critic of services like WhenU, tells me: “WhenU doesn’t use these methods at all. Rather it uses client-side software, and popup stoppers just don’t stop this. And they can’t, easily, given 1) the way popup stoppers work, and 2) the way WhenU works.”

I’ll be looking more at this in a future column, but for now, yes, popups as we know them needn’t be much of a bother. But meantime the contextual ad industry continues, with companies like Popstitial (looked at in another earlier post) and IntelliTXT (looked at here) raising the bar.

Utah, WhenU And Pop-Up Poaching

The spyware war continues.

Ben Edelman, an expert on spyware, reports that “WhenU, a major provider of programs that show pop-up ads according to users’ web browsing activities, yesterday filed suit seeking that Utah’s Spyware Control Act be declared void and invalid.” WhenU effectively poaches browser real-estate by plopping its ads above those of others without the permission of the website.

Ben says: “I’ve followed the act and believe it would provide substantial assistance to consumers facing an increasing barrage of pop-up ads.”

It’s an interesting issue: If Utah’s new act kicks in, will it just be folk like WhenU who will be affected? On Monday, April 19, the FTC will hold a workshop on spyware, Ben says. Here’s the agenda (PDF) and written comments, along with Ben’s own (PDF).

News: Popups Are Legal

 Bad news for those of you who hate pop-up ads: A U.S. federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by truck and trailer rental company U-Haul which sought to ban software by Internet advertising company WhenU that launched rival pop-up ads when customers access U-Haul’s Web site, Reuters reports.
 
The judge said the ads don’t violate the law because WhenU’s software didn’t copy or use U-Haul’s trademark or copyright material, and because computer users themselves had chosen to download the pop-up software. He acknowledged that pop-up ads are often troublesome and annoying. “Alas, we computer users must endure pop-up advertising along with her ugly brother unsolicited bulk e-mail, ‘spam’, as a burden of using the Internet,” he wrote. I don’t want to be rude to a judge, but I just don’t buy that argument.