Practically one of my first blog postings ever I published(Black and white and gray all over) a continuum of good and evil. I was attempting to investigate the shades of gray in moral behavior when it comes to online practices. Since 2005 there have been many innovations in unwanted advertising messages. The shear size of the online population has made something as crazy as buying and holding domains profitable. There are so many people that treat the URL window like a search engine that evidently you can make good money hosting ads on random sites.
Now we discover that in the latest beta of the Google tool bar if you go to a non existent page instead of getting the ubiquitous and annoying "404 page not found", Google steals a few seconds of your time to redirect you to a page with "helpful" links which of course generate revenue through ads. Well I maintain that that is no different than the numerous spyware and so called "add supported" software of yore that redirected your searches and browsing to sites of their choosing.
This calls for an update to the Continuum of Evil depicted here.
You can see that I created a spectrum. On the top are obviously immoral behaviors. The 419 scam is obviously bad. I would say that spam that promises one thing and delivers another is worse than spam that represents legitimate offers. On the "good" end of the spectrum I start with magazine and newspaper ads. Sometimes I buy a magazine just for the ads! While television ads are annoying enough for me to not have television in my house most people will agree that you get what you pay for and if you want free programming you have to put up with the ads (or zap them with your DVR).
There is a thin line where I believe advertising crosses over from benign to evil. Hosting a site in the hopes that someone will mis-type a domain is just this side of OK. Redirecting someone's search is on the other side. Google has once again fallen on the wrong side of "do no evil".
The current kerfluffle over Comcast and their attempt to rate limit BitTorrent traffic is interesting. Wait until Comcast stumbles on new ad models. According to Esther Dyson, writing in the Wall Street Journal this past week, the next revolution in advertising is context driven ad placement by ISPs! I can tell you the various DNS software companies are very excited by the possibilities of making re-directs of non-exisitent and mis-spelled domains possible. The fun is only beginning.