Browser manipulation as advertising tactic?
September 24, 2003 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Ugh - and Ooqa Ooqa The company that brought us "shoshkeles" (flash ads plastered over your webstite of choice), United Virtualities - has now launched a newer, more annoying ad banner/tool/, ooqa-ooqa, which basically takes over your browser, removes your toolbar, and inserts ads. (They call it a "Branded Browser", and say it's fully "opt-in", which it wasn't for me) I saw it in action here, at (to be a victim, I believe you need IE5+ on a PC, maybe not). Wasn't the idea of taking over the end-users browser squashed, chalked up as never a welcome or good idea years ago, when the ability to do it first arose?
posted by kokogiak (47 comments total)
I went there. I use IE6. I got the standard pop-up telling me that the site wanted to install some software, and I said no. No software was installed, and nobody took over my browser.

The problem is what?
posted by Lokheed at 11:51 AM on September 24, 2003

The beloved Google toolbar stopped even that--I received nothing but a blank page and a Javascript error. Hardly an effective advertisement.
posted by vraxoin at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2003

I don't use IE much anymore, so I gave it a go and said Yes and everything. I even had to turn off my googlebar popup blocker, or nothing worked.

Good lord.

It's insane. A new desktop app installs and runs Forbes news, your browser pops itself up over the original window, replaces all toolbars with images and links inside Forbes' site (so they can track all back button presses, etc), and it gets rid of your status bar.

In short, it's a hideous, privacy-invading pile of steaming marketing crap.

I'm glad I got my family all off IE and onto Firebird, I feel bad for the rest of the population that doesn't know enough to block stuff like this, this one is really over the top.
posted by mathowie at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2003

who would want this? i mean, i understand completely why the advertiser would want it, but want kind of a moron end user would opt-in to such a thing?
posted by dobbs at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2003

I got no popups of any kinds with Firebird. Oh, and Forbes is using about a zillion third-party cookies. Might want to block those too.

On a side note, Firebird lets you right click on ads and block all images originating from that server. Pretty soon, not only do you not see popups, but you see many fewer ads as well.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:58 AM on September 24, 2003

dobbs, someone who just clicks "yes" whenever a weird dialog box pops up in front of them.
posted by whatnotever at 12:00 PM on September 24, 2003

I guess your experience will vary - for me, I got no opt-in choice or dialog box - the thing just took over (perhaps I clicked at the wrong time while loading). If it is truly opt-in, then it's not so completely evil, just bad. But my experience was heinous.
posted by kokogiak at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2003

How is this not infringing on MS and Netscape's trademarks? Sure, it disappears when you leave the site or close your browser, but still, they're even calling it "rebranding".

It seems to me that this would never work in a real-life situation, such as a store. Could I rename all the products in my store with my own "starvingartist" brand, as long as I remove the brand from all products at the time of sale? I don't think that would last too long.

Perhaps I'm simplifying the issue, or I just don't understand it, but this seems really dodgy and stupid to me.
posted by starvingartist at 12:07 PM on September 24, 2003

I use Firebird normally, and nothing untoward happened. I also fired up IE, and browsed to the site. Because of the way I have security set-up on IE, it took about 30 dialogs prompting me before the site would load. I, unlike the ever adventurous mathowie, declined to install any new software. I think the browser mock-up is in flash though, and the downloaded software is something that runs in the background?
posted by patrickje at 12:11 PM on September 24, 2003

Out of curiosity, what does the pop-up say, if anything, about what you are supposed to download? Do they entice you to cooperate with promises of 'enhanced browsing', or is it your general "something is trying to install itself" dialog?
posted by kokogiak at 12:11 PM on September 24, 2003

It's probably because you, someone you love, or your computer manufacturer lowered your security settings to "I Welcome the Anal Probe".
posted by cinderful at 12:13 PM on September 24, 2003

I must have missed that setting cinderful - will have to check a little closer next time [furiously searching for "Anal Probe" setting in IE... must be in here somewhere, maybe under 'Advanced/Accessibility']
posted by kokogiak at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2003

I'm using IE 5 and have no reason to visit Forbes ever, ever again. This is easily the most obnoxious form of Interweb advertising I've ever encountered. It wouldn't even let me move back to Metafilter. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2003

> Out of curiosity, what does the pop-up say

"Do you want to install and run (after accepting our agreement) Business News Alerts, a free 10-second download that will display business news headlines in a slider window in the lower right corner of your computer screen?"
posted by jfuller at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2003

Wow, thanks jfuller - that sounds like a completely different app than the one that actually runs. Unless (horrors), there's more than one thing going on here, which seems likely given the discussion above.
posted by kokogiak at 12:25 PM on September 24, 2003

So many "web designers" out there who are too clever for their own good. What problem are they trying to solve?

Which is why I bring you, for the first time anywhere:

Zen's Rules of corporate web page design:

1) UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY (which is almost never), web content MUST be plain ol' HTML.

2) All pages MUST be checked out on IE, Netscape, AND Opera before they are published.

3) .PDFs are allowed, PROVIDED there are unavoidable hard-formatting requirements that must be met to do justice to the page.

4) Make me click on "SKIP INTRO" on your corporate homepage to avoid viewing some useless piece of marketing Flash crap, and I will personally hunt you down and kill you and your whole family. If you have to show the world how f'ing clever you are or pad your resume or whatever, make the damn Flash crap something I can opt INTO, rather than OUT OF (and send me the stats on how many hits your Flash crap actually gets in a month).

Pretty simple, huh? So how come there are so many corporate web designer jackasses out there who just don't get it?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take another Prozac.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:27 PM on September 24, 2003

I don't think this is a double post, especially since we now have a real live example, but it's worth noting that Matt first brought this to our attention on April 2, 2002:

The company that brought full screen flash ads that overtake the browser is cooking up something new, which could quite possibly be worse: reskinning your browser and replacing toolbar buttons with advertisements. Although they don't state the limitations, I would assume it works in windows IE and possibly Netscape/Mozilla (through XUL). Perhaps it's time to switch to Opera once and for all.
posted by mathowie at 11:22 AM PST - 25 comments

I got that from the April 2002 archive. Unfortunately, the thread just returns a database error.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2003

and if you do install this "app":

Once the Software is installed, it will be in communication with’s servers. You are responsible for any telecommunications or other connectivity charges incurred through use of the Software.

From the EULA.
posted by DBAPaul at 12:29 PM on September 24, 2003

ZenMT - "what problem are they trying to solve?"

How to make money. Forbes has some arrangement with United Virtualities so that ads can be inserted into the "formerly dull gray" toolbar, to maximize their impact, thus their value, thus the amount of money they can make. This has almost nothing to do with design, other than to accomodate the massive set of browser tools they disable with this.
posted by kokogiak at 12:31 PM on September 24, 2003

kokogiak -- I suppose you're right. I wonder if they considered the cost of customer "bad will" which could be generated by this scheme before they went ahead with this?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:42 PM on September 24, 2003

Basic IE6+SP1 on WinXP does two things for me.

1) it totally takes over the browser removing all toolbars, menubars, and status bars. Even funner the buttons it does provide do not work (back doesn't take you back and home does not give my homepage.

2) it asks me to install some software. No idea what it is as I'm not feeling that adventurous but from what others have posted I'm glad I didn't.

Thank $DEITY for the Proxomitron. The web would be unuseable with out it.
posted by Mitheral at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2003

kokogiak, according to your third link, this should work on Netscape as well. I just tried Mozilla 1.4/Linux, and it (thankfully) didn't work. Sounds like maybe an ActiveX thing, so I'd suggest Windows users maybe turn off ActiveX in their browsers, or at least set it to ask first before running anything. (Which ought to be the default, if it isn't.)

Unfortunately, I predict online ad companies are going to invent some even more intrusive ad formats. The trend seems to be towards either better-targeted (if you're Google, or running one of their affiliate programs), or more intrusive ads. And with the latter, as more people run pop-up blocker software, or non-IE browsers, which generally block pop-ups natively, companies are increasingly going to be trying to get "in your face" with ads.

on (the world's longest) preview: dobbs: I'm guessing people who trust the Forbes brand will be more likely to click "yes". This is, after all, a "respected" business mag, not some dodgy porn site. (Even if that's apparently who they borrowed their ethics from.)
posted by arto at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2003

Wow...that is some sneaky code. I have a firewall running, plus zone alarm, plus black ice, plus popup stoppers...and it still tried to install on IE. No problems with Opera.

Firebird has been chatted up enough here lately that I'm downloading it now. You know if Forbes is doing it...then everyone else is going to start doing it. Like those annoying "over-the-content" ads that Yahoo does. I hate those.

I've written a note to the webmaster and the editors at Forbes telling them why more "eyeballs" often equals more user alienation. This was stupid marketing trick and some marketing manager should be taken out back and flogged.

Hmm...ok, truth be told...*most* marketing managers should be taken out back and flogged...just on general principle.
posted by dejah420 at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2003

From the third link in the FPP:

... the Ooqa Ooqa (which, like the Shoshkele, gets its moniker from the nickname of a founder's daughter) ...

So they're child abusers, too.
posted by Acetylene at 2:04 PM on September 24, 2003

Is there an easy way to transfer bookmarks from IE to Firebird? That's all that's keeping me from switching. "Import Bookmarks" doesn't seem to work right.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:23 PM on September 24, 2003

CrazyBrowser lets you have your cake and eat it, too. Keep all your bookmarks, keep all your IE compatability, gain tabbed browsing, and lose the popups. Who could ask for anything more?
posted by crunchland at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2003

Firebird has been chatted up enough here lately that I'm downloading it now.

One of us, one of use
/creepy whispering

Is there an easy way to transfer bookmarks from IE to Firebird? That's all that's keeping me from switching. "Import Bookmarks" doesn't seem to work right.

Did you export them from IE first?
posted by Mick at 3:12 PM on September 24, 2003

I see the following third-party cookie blocked:}Y}35571

I wasn't prompted to install anything, and all I see is a blank page.

IE6 SP1 Win2K.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:45 PM on September 24, 2003

Did you export them from IE first?

True story: Not so long ago, I wanted to try out Opera. So I had a problem transferring my bookmarks. I couldn't select the Mozilla bookmarks file because Opera wouldn't allow me to select a hidden directory. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of creating a symlink from ~/.mozilla/default/<gobbledygook/bookmarks.html to ~/bookmarks.html. I was really pleased with myself until I noticed the 'Export Bookmarks' feature...

Dejah: Does Yahoo really have "over-the-content" ads? I haven't seen a pop-up or irritation like that with Mozilla..
posted by salmacis at 3:51 PM on September 24, 2003

Is there an easy way to transfer bookmarks from IE to Firebird?

Automatic import used to be broken, but seems to be fixed as of the last major release.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2003

Apart from being intrinsically evil, the site did not display any untoward behaviour on Firebird and I am not as brave as mathowie so will not try it in IE. I can well imagine, though, that the average internet user will blindly trust Forbes and install whatever they are told to.

ZenMasterThis, your rules are excellent, particularly #4.

When I first installed Firebird (v 0.6.1), my IE bookmarks were automatically dumped into a folder called "Imported IE bookmarks" and I just had to shuffle them around to the right folders which, while not perfect, was a small price to pay.
posted by dg at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2003

I don't install this sort of thing or allow it to be installed, so I'm hardly an expert, but could someone better versed in the subtleties of ethics explain this to me:

What's the essential difference between this malicious ActiveX/Flash/Plugin type trojan -- albeit one with an EULA -- developed by an incorporated entity, and some kid's page on Geocities which exploits the browser to install some malware to root your box? Just because some goons have a corporate charter and a poorly-informed legal department, the federales look the other way?

Regardless, this is one more reason to avoid a browser monoculture.
posted by majick at 5:44 PM on September 24, 2003

ZenMasterThis, your rules are excellent, particularly #4.

Thanks, dg, I'm blushing.

Re your tagline: I heard a reggae cover of the Floyd's "Time" on (listener-sponsored) WPKN this very morning.

Karma, man.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:05 PM on September 24, 2003

Wow, it took over for me (IE6, with reasonably secure settings) with no prompts at all. I'm going to send Forbes an angry letter. This is horrible.
posted by mmoncur at 6:06 PM on September 24, 2003

Couldn't touch me in Opera, but I loaded it up in IE (6.0, WinXP Pro) and it took over without asking.

So many "web designers" out there who are too clever for their own good. What problem are they trying to solve?

The problem is that the web doesn't suck nearly enough.
posted by boredomjockey at 6:41 PM on September 24, 2003

CrazyBrowser lets you have your cake and eat it, too. [...] Who could ask for anything more?

Me. MyIE2 does the same (as does Avantbrowser, but I prefer the former), and I like both better than CB. That's just me, though. 'Feel' is important to me, and Firebird just ain't got it yet, imho.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:55 PM on September 24, 2003

stavrosthewonderchicken, I tried MyIE2 as I thought it may be useful for a couple of web-based applications that I need to use for work and which need active-x to be enabled. Unfortunately, it persists in blocking the URLs for the log-in screens even after I have told it not to do so. I also tried Avantbrowser, but hated it so much that I uninstalled it within a few minutes. I guess the "feel" thing is subjective and I found Firebird to fit me perfectly right from the start. Mozilla was similarly comfy, but the inability to choose an e-mail program to launch when clicking on e-mail addresses continually irked me.

ZenMasterThis - a reggae version of "Time"? I'd love to hear it. Any idea who the artist was so I can see if I can find it on kazaa buy it?
posted by dg at 7:10 PM on September 24, 2003

My curiosity got the better of me and I opened the site in IE. That is just plain evil. I don't mean evil with the cartoonish evil laugh type evil, I mean the old-fashioned, really bad kind of evil.
posted by dg at 7:17 PM on September 24, 2003

Dejah: Does Yahoo really have "over-the-content" ads? I haven't seen a pop-up or irritation like that with Mozilla..

They do, they do. Usually on things like sports, racing, other content areas that drive a targeted demographic...but I've never seen it on news or on branded yahoo content.
posted by dejah420 at 7:21 PM on September 24, 2003

dg, may I introduce to you a fantastic album, Dub Side of the Moon.
posted by ashbury at 7:38 PM on September 24, 2003

actually, one complaint I have with CrazyBrowser is that it blocks all popups... even the ones I want. If it had a hotkey to disable it temporarily ... like shift-click or something... I'd be happier.
posted by crunchland at 7:51 PM on September 24, 2003

I had the same problem with CrazyBrowser, crunchland.

Cool, thanks ashbury.
posted by dg at 8:29 PM on September 24, 2003

Hm. I loaded up, complete with Ooqa ooqa, and tried to use my Favorites. Got a message that to use Favorites, Ooqa ooqa must be deactivated. Okay, I pushed the button. Ooqa ooqa went away.

And stayed away. I kill the browser, go back to, and it's still IE 6.x. Can't figure out how to make Ooqa ooqa come back even I wanted it (which I don't, I loathe it like everyone else).

Forbes isn't a bad magazine, but someone there has a real talent for picking the wrong new technology to back. Forbes was an early adopter of the Cue Cat, too.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:48 AM on September 25, 2003

Heh, I still have a Forbes-branded Cue Cat somewhere around here.
posted by mmoncur at 1:05 AM on September 26, 2003

Yeah, the Forbes 'business alerts' thing is a known parasite, just one I haven't got around to documenting yet. As well as drive-by downloads from pop-ups sourced through, it is also stealth-installed with some third-party software, eg. screensavers.

Care - with the drive-by version: when you uninstall it, the front-end disappears, but all the software is still there. Any web page can then cause Forbes to reinstall its front-end with one object tag. To get rid of it properly you have to delete ForbesDownloader.ocx from the Downloaded Program Files folder.

It is depressing how even mainstream companies like Forbes and Lycos (with their SideSearch spyware) are getting involved in unsolicited commercial software.

Meanwhile, this fake-browser thing is not really anything sinister, but is so laughably unusable and annoying its amazing they thought it could somehow benefit Forbes. I suppose bored marketing managers have to do *something* to prove how pro-active they are.
posted by BobInce at 7:37 AM on September 26, 2003

The "10 second download" that most of us are being prompted for is not responsible for this (though I wonder what crap that thing will do to my computer).

This whole gimmick is pulled off using a trick in Macromedia Flash. You don't need to install the plugin that prompts you for this to work. Just have Flash installed and enabled is enough.

Macromedia Flash is siding with the forces of evil in the advertising wars. They're giving the content producers the ability to work around things that the browser will not let them do normally with javascript.
posted by joquarky at 8:03 AM on September 26, 2003

... I will personally hunt you down and kill you and your whole family.

Macromedia Flash is siding with the forces of evil in the advertising wars.

I'm sharpening my ninja sword this very moment...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:24 AM on September 26, 2003

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