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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

See No Evil: Norton Blocking Paid Search Ads

I love the McAfee personal firewall product. No more invaders probing my computer's hard drive. A side benefit is that I can block certain types of pop-up ads. Pop-ups interfere with my life and contravene what I see as browsing convention. So if an advertiser has to endure the ignominy of having its pop-up blocked from my screen, I figure, too bad. Annoy someone else.

Keyword-based search ads are another matter entirely. They've single-handedly revived interest in online advertising, because they're so relevant and seem like such a good compromise. Instead of going out of business or turning into annoying also-ran VC-greedy portals (as AltaVista and the like felt forced to do), second-movers like Google and Overture (and their partners) have managed to be profitable while serving users at the same time!

In spite of this, Norton couldn't leave well enough alone. As Kevin Lee reports, their new personal firewall apparently attempts to block pay-per-click search ads, those unobtrusive, relevant messages beside search results that help advertisers, Google (and to be sure, Kevin and I) pay our bills. Come on, Norton. You didn't have to do that.

For one thing, on many non-commercial inquiries, there won't be any ads anyway. And Google won't let ads appear unless there is user interest (a high enough click rate). To block this type of legitimate targeted content is intrusive and irresponsible, and probably illegal.

Just imagine the hue and cry if Microsoft were to release a browser or operating system "feature" like this.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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