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Commentary: Pop-up ads are driving me nuts! How about you?

Don't pop-up ads just drive you nuts? And what about sites that follow you around and gather information about your browsing habits--just so they can send back ads based on what they've learned?

Don't pop-up ads just drive you nuts? And what about sites that follow you around and gather information about your browsing habits--just so they can send back ads based on what they've learned?

I mention these two subjects because they are the major gripes for many AnchorDesk readers, at least based upon your comments following my column asking you to give Internet advertising a break by not using ad blocking software.

Many of you responded, "OK, David, I won't block banner ads. But those @#%&* pop-ups have got to go!" And I agree with you completely. But, ironically, one of the most powerful tools for making ads less obnoxious is something that also made readers crazy: the technology that allows Web sites to track what you are interested in and send back "appropriate" ads as a result.

Something everyone hates but no one talks about is inappropriate behavior by Web sites themselves. This is perhaps the worst kind of pop-up.

Here's what happens: you're surfing the Net innocently enough, and suddenly you're confronted with what I'll describe as "adult-oriented content." You didn't mean to find it, you just clicked on the wrong link, and a screen opened. So you close it. And another one pops up. So you close that one, and another one opens...you get the idea.

Why is it that this invariably happens at the office just as your boss walks up behind or at home when your spouse walks up and starts wondering if your "preference" isn't what he or she thought it was.

Frankly, I'd appreciate anything that would stop pop-up porn, those online casino pop-ups (complete with sound), or the spy camera pop-ups. One way is to use special software to block pop-ups, which you are welcome to do with my full blessing.

One caveat: Site owners know you hate pop-ups and don't accept the advertising without some thought. If the economics were better, I don't think anyone would allow them on their sites--but desperate times and desperate companies result in desperate measures. If your favorite site--or one that you get value from--uses pop-ups, I'd still rather you just ignore them rather than take money from the pocket of a site that is really hurting.

Another option would be for advertisers to be aware that you don't go to online casinos, have never even looked at online sports, and therefore could be presumed to not care less about advertisements for online gaming. Sites that tracked my behavior could figure this out and stop sending me ads about things I clearly don't care about.

In a retail environment, Amazon.com is a master at tracking my behaviors and showing me more and more things that I do care about--based both on what I've been interested in before and what other people who are interested in the things I am interested in are themselves also interested in.

Example: I like tropical fish. You like tropical fish and birds. Perhaps I will like tropical fish and birds or you will share my interest in cats. It's really more complex than that, but Amazon tries to guess other topics its customers might care about and recommend those items, too.

This is a wonderful feature that has shown me books and music I never would have found otherwise--and removed many dollars from my wallet as a result. If only all Web sites were so predictive, while still offering me items outside my narrow interests and expanding my horizons.

And if that takes tracking and analyzing what I do online, even across multiple sites, that's way cool by me. I understand some people are concerned about the privacy aspects of this, but so long as nothing bad happens to me as a result of such data collection, it seems like a big win.

I do, however, have a recurring, Internet-driven nightmare. Suppose everything were as precisely targeted as Amazon.com? I'd be driving down the highway and the billboards would shout, "Hey, David Coursey, you need a new cell phone, right?" Or TV commercials would only be about stuff I had thought about buying that day.

It would not be before the commercials would be more interesting than the programs--I'd go to the bathroom during the dramatic sequences of The West Wing rather than miss the new Ford Explorer commercial. Every program would be like the Super Bowl: Forget the game, watch the commercials.

Obviously, personalization can go too far. And to think it all began with those manila envelopers in the mailbox proclaiming: "You, David Coursey, may already be a winner!" If I could just get rid of obnoxious ads without killing the good stuff or the online content providers than depend on the ad revenue…now, that would be a win.