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Badvertising on the 'Net: Your computer is currently broadcasting an IP address!

You've seen these ads, without a doubt. They pop out of nowhere, looking quite like a genuine Windows system alert. Often they flash "WARNING!" or some such, to catch your attention. Then they proceed with a breathless message, something like the following: "Your computer is currently broadcasting an IP address! With this address, someone could begin hacking your system IMMEDIATELY!" There are several variants, one is shown below:

An example of this unethical advertisement:

Your computer is currently broadcasting an IP address!

Well, rest assured. Your computer is not going to blow up. You probably know that an IP address is simply a number for your computer that allows other computers on the Internet to send you packets of information, using the TCP/IP protocol. It's only "broadcast" to the machine you're downloading data from, and the few intermediate machines on the network that are needed to reach the target machine. By itself, it's not really enough information for a malicious hacker to perform some exploits on your system. And without sending out an IP address (either yourself or through a proxy server) you really can't get anything off the Internet using TCP/IP - you couldn't Web browse at all!

These ads are designed to look like system errors so they build concern from the user that his or her system may be malfunctioning or is unsafe, and then they could be cheated into buying the software "solutions" the ad is selling. Often this software is spyware and therefore a security compromise itself.

This kind of "badvertising" would never be allowed in a print media. If you see an advertisement in the newspaper made up to look like a real, objective news report, it always has "ADVERTISEMENT" printed somewhere on it in big bold letters. That's not only editorial policy - in many places, the law requires it. But on the Internet, unethical companies think nothing of designing popup ads to look like real system errors, to push their software onto the tricked victims. It really shouldn't be allowed, and the company that created these ads is currently facing a lawsuit.

But as long as we can use deception and paranoia to sell things, here are a few other warnings I feel advertisers should consider using in their ads, in roughly the order of sensationalism:

Concept #1

Your Web browser is currently downloading
INFORMATION! Information is potentially DANGEROUS and could DESTROY YOU!
Your computer could have ACHIEVED SENTIENCE!
Right now it might be plotting your UNTIMELY DEMISE!

Concept #2

Concept #3

The state of the universe is being determined by QUANTUM EVENTS!
These events are RANDOM, and could possibly ANNIHILATE YOU COMPLETELY!
Your monitor is currently holding a charge of over 40,000 VOLTS of ELECTRICITY!
This much charge could KILL INSTANTLY ON CONTACT!

Concept #4

Concept #5

You are subject to the FORCES OF GRAVITY!
There is the danger that you could FALL FROM GREAT HEIGHT and DIE!
It cannot be proven conclusively that YOU EXIST!
This could lead to an ONTOLOGICAL QUANDARY!

Concept #6

Concept #7

You do not SHARE THE SEX of one of your PARENTS!
You may have been ADOPTED!

Concept #8

Concept #9

Look at how BIG the INTERNET is! Somewhere without a doubt are ALL OF YOUR UGLIEST SECRETS!
Your time on this planet is VERY LIMITED! Why are you wasting your time READING THIS AD?

Concept #10

...and of course, with all of these ideas in hand, now the question we have to ask is, what wonderful products can those pop-up ads appropriately advertise?
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visits since 9:02 PM PST 22 Jan 2003