I bring up this question because adware company reps and adware apologists have been known to make statements about anti-spyware zealots (like myself, admittedly), that we think "our views are the views of every consumer". A few months ago I asked Spyware Warrior readers to respond to a few questions related to the value proposition of adware/spyware. I'd be interested to know what readers here think about adware and online advertising in general.
The concept of a value proposition arose from the discussion, whether adware makers could offer potential users anything compelling in exchange for getting ads served to them. Historically adware makers have not honestly offered this choice, instead relying on deceptive installations. It was pointed out that one of the apps offered by WhenU in exchange for viewing ads is a clock sync program, something already built in to Windows XP. Obviously that’s not a good value proposition. If WhenU or other adware makers can offer me the equivalent of an Adobe Photoshop in exchange for viewing a few ads, I would consider it. But they’re going to have to do a lot better than the rinky-dink games and screensavers they currently offer.
Now for the questions:
1. The adware companies talk about their value proposition. Can you think of any adware applications that you would want on your computer in exchange for viewing ads? Some examples might be Claria’s eWallet or Dash Bar, 180solutions’ Zango Search Assistant or Zango Astrology, DirectRevenue’s Best Offers, eBates' Moe MoneyMaker, eXact Advertising’s Bargain Buddy. Why or why not?
2. Online advertising is a fact of life, just like TV commercials. Does it matter to you as a user how online advertising is delivered? Let's rate some ad delivery mechanisms in order of one to five, one being "it's perfectly acceptable and I like it and might actually purchase something from the ad" to five being "it's absolutely unacceptable, I hate it." Or do you hate all forms on online advertising? Some examples of online advertising include static banner ads, pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing banner ads, in-line text ads, embedded ads, slider ads. I probably missed some, so feel free to mention any others that come to mind.
3. There has been a lot of talk about relevance of ads and contextual advertising (Click for definition and see examples). If you are shopping for airline tickets, for example, do you appreciate an ad, no matter how it's delivered, for a competing site or company if it saves you money?
4. How much influence do online ads have in your purchasing decisions? Would you buy from one type of ad over another? For example, would you buy from a link in a banner ad but not from a pop-up ad or vice versa? Or do you comparison shop at familiar sites and make decisions based on features and price, not advertising?
5. What do you think adware companies could do, if anything, to make their software acceptable to a majority of internet users? What, in your opinion, does the future hold for adware companies? For online advertising in general?
After such serious questions, here's an entertaining rant, I Hate Pop-Ups. Excerpt:
Pop-Up advertising is the equivalent of running down the street and yelling in people's faces to buy a product. Imagine walking along one day and some guy screaming at the top of his lungs to buy your printer cartridges from his website or your Hot-Dogs from his Fast Food place. What makes the Pop-Up worse than a guy yelling in your face on the street is that on the internet you don't get to yell back or tell him where to stick his Hot-Dogs.
Disclaimer: I make no pretense of this being an unbiased questionnaire. I've tried to refrain from interjecting my own opinions, but my bias is undoubtedly obvious. I'll respond to the questions later in the comments after others have their chance.
Update: The new edition of Mike Healan's Spyware Weekly Newsletter was just released. Mike, another self-described anti-spyware zealot, (he used the words radical extremist) writes about why he now blocks ads and links to a Slashdot thread on the same topic. His reason for blocking ads now (when he didn't before), pop-ups and sliders.
Update Oct. 22. Thanks to everyone for the comments. A couple of notes here -- it was pointed out to me by a couple of people, including the gentleman from eBates, that MoeMoneyMaker was not a good choice for inclusion on the list of adware examples. Even though it is classified as adware by a number of anti-spyware programs, it apparently does not serve ads. One reader wrote to me by email:
eBates MMM does help consumers actually save money (extra rebates). No extra pop-ups. Much less obvious why this is bad, relative to the other programs you list (none of which a sensible informed user would be likely to want). In that vein, I don't generally use the word "adware" to describe MMM; I do think it has sometimes found itself onto users' computers without users wanting it or knowing where they got it (less so now than in the past); but it's just not quite like the other adware apps.
Mr. Alessandro Isolani, CEO of eBates, wrote to me and stated:
There is little similarity between our software and the other products you mention. MMM is not an adware delivery mechanism; it is an adjunct to our main program. It only interacts with users when it is saving them money. It is easily removed by the 'add and remove programs' control panel. And once removed, it cannot be re-installed without writing our customer service to obtain a reinstallation tool, thus preventing accidental reinstallation.
I have never used or installed MoeMoneyMaker. I included it in the last because I know it is labeled as adware by a number of anti-spyware apps. I have, however, seen eBates' software installed via exploits along with adware/spyware but not in recent months. Other spyware researchers told me they have not seen eBates' software instllled via exploit recently either.
Eric Goldman responded to the question "Does anyone really like adware?" at his Technology & Marketing Law blog. Eric's response actually surprised me. I recommend reading his blog to anyone interested in this topic. The adware companies would do well to read it also.