Is Someone Hijacking YOUR Visitors?
I found several new links on all the pages of my website. I had not created them. No one had paid me anything for the links on my pages. Moreover, many were leading my visitors to my competitor's websites. Someone was web-jacking my hard earned visitors.
These new links have a heavy yellow underline. When the mouse hovers over them, they show a bright yellow background, much more noticeable than any of the other hyperlinks on my pages. You can see an example of these links on the following page.
By Robert Smith
©2004 All Rights Reserved
Recently while reviewing some text changes on one of my web pages I noticed something that nearly knocked me off of my chair.
I thought it might be a virus so I visited Symantec. I wanted to see if there was a newer virus data file or a virus warning that would explain these links.
On the Symantec site, where I found the words "virus protection." I found a link to Symantec's rival, McAfee.com Corp. Same results.
Something Is Badly Wrong Here
I went to work to find the source of these mystery links.
I discovered that after deleting all my cache files in Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the links went away, but every time I restarted IE, the links came back. They also appeared in ebooks compiled to use IE for display.
These links didn't show up when viewed in Netscape.
Microsoft Smart Links Technology
Smart Tags, according to Microsoft, are
"... a feature of Internet Explorer that add smart links to
pages you view. Smart Tags enable real-time, dynamic
recognition of content on web pages and offer you relevant
options as you work. By hovering and clicking on these
smart links, you can get access to additional information
or perform convenient web tasks."
Many Internet marketers, fearing Smart Links could be used to hijack visitors by using their content to divert traffic to another website without permission or compensation, complained loudly to Microsoft.
Microsoft's received a so much negative feedback from webmasters about the damage Smart Tags technology poses to developers and businesses on the Internet that a month ago, it announced they had backed off of plans to ad "Smart Tags" to its Windows XP operating system.
"Smart-Tag" Technology is like a scalpel. In the hands of a doctor, it can restore health, but in the hands of a killer it can cause only pain and suffering.
Disabling Smart Tags on Your WebPages
If you are a Web author, you can disable Smart Tag recognition in Internet Explorer within a Web page by adding a Meta tag to that Web page.
After adding this tag, any Smart Tags that the author has added to the page will continue to work, but Internet Explorer will not dynamically add new tags when users view the page.
The tag is:
<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">
On The downside, while this may disable Smart Tags by Microsoft it does nothing to disable browser pluggins. Or to remove these specific links from our pages
What Makes This Work?
To make a long story short I discovered the source of these links was a browser pluggin my son had installed as part of a file-sharing program similar to Napster.
KaZaa is the fourth most downloaded PC program on Cnet Network's Download.Com site. It has been downloaded 4.9 million times since July 11.
KaZaA makes it possible for people to download licensed software and music without paying the owners anything. When KaZaA is downloaded a copy of a special Internet Explorer pluggin is installed.
The pluggin adds hyper-links to keywords purchased by advertisers on every page the user views with Internet Explorer ANYWHERE on the Internet.
The Source of The Pluggin
The pluggin is named TOPtext. It's provided by eZula.com. It's listed in the KaZaA installer as:
" TOPtext, a browser plugin to give Internet Explorer relevant
I contacted several of the advertisers the links sent me to and in every case they claimed they had had complaints, but had no actual knowledge of where the links were coming from. Even after I supplied them with information about the source of the links, they all have remained active.
"Contextual Advertising Theory"
EZula supporters say "contextual advertising has promise because it is far less obtrusive than other forms of online and offline advertising while delivering only what a consumer wants."
The purpose of my website is to deliver value-added content on the subject of Internet Marketing and Home Based Business. I have spent over five years developing this site, and I maintain well over 5,000 pages of valuable free content.
This content works much like a TV program. It provides a vehicle for delivering highly targeted traffic and builds trust and sales over time. In the case of TV, programming content is possible because advertisers pay for commercials. No third party is allowed supply different commercials in place of the paid commercials. If third parties were allowed to hijack TV programming where would the money to develop the programming come from?
It's exactly the same on the web
Now I have learned that in less than 20 days, over four million potential customers visiting my website may see links appearing on my pages to products I don't sell and would not recommend.
I maintain that my website content belongs to me and your content belongs to you. I can only assume all content developers would feel the same way. No one has the right to hijack our hard earned traffic by adding links to the words we use.
Vote With Your Feet
We can't put the genie back in the bottle. If advertisers and the buying public are willing to fund this type of advertising, this technology may be the killer blow for small content rich web developers.
Small businesses such as myself can't afford to sue the corporations that dream this stuff up. The best we can do is to not support the advertisers. We can also let them know that we don't support this form of advertising and will not buy their products.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft's Smart Tags technology and browser pluggins like TOPtext pose a substantial threat to content driven marketing. Shawn Collins has launched an online petition to protest against Smart Tags. You can sign the "No More Smart Tags" petition here:
If you feel this form of advertising is a violation of the copyright laws that protect your content, you may also want to register your thoughts with eZula.com, the company that owns the TOPtext pluggins in use today.
If this technology is allowed to develop, I am concerned that soon the whole concept of developing free content for the Internet will be threatened. If content developers can't earn income indirectly through content development, we soon may be required to pay for every scrap of information we now get free.
Have your sales dropped off lately? In just the last 20 days over 4 million web surfers are viewing links on your website you didn't put there. These links are taking your customers elsewhere, the really scary part is unless you have TOPtext installed on your browser you won't even know it's happening.
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