Psychology, Society, Tech

Stealth Advertising

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio la...

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop computer. Français : Le clavier QWERTY d’un ordinateur portable Sony Vaio de 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In magazines you see “features” which are in fact adverts, you can tell what they are because they will say “advertisement feature” somewhere, yet on the internet some advertisers seem to be able to get away with insidious tactics.

Download pages are often a minefield of big colourful buttons marked “download” only one of which will be the actual thing you want to download, the others being adverts for security scanners, toolbars and other such extraneous stuff that end up clogging up the computer at best and costing the unsuspecting user cash at worst.  I have noticed that these stealth ads have leaked out onto other parts of the web, I saw one that was designed to look exactly like the placeholder box you see when a browser plug-in has crashed, complete with worrying words like “your computer needs an upgrade”.  Being an old hand at this computing malarkey I recognised it for what it was and ignored it but someone less knowledgable might click on it and download the scanning tool or whatever it was, again often paying for it too – even if it was simply by it being ad-supported, thinking that it was essential.

This is the same tactic used by virus writers, using authentic looking error messages to panic un-knowledgable users into a download.  This rarely works in the real world, if you saw in a magazine a box that said “your heating has failed, you need to upgrade it now or your house will explode” you’d know instantly it was absolute bull, the tactics in that world are to plant seeds of doubt “has your boiler been serviced recently?  Could it be a potential killer?  Bwah ha ha ha ha.”  But the immediacy of computers and the internet, combined with the still mysterious nature of how they work to some people makes getting the sale that much simpler.

The message is clear; be careful what you click on.  Unless ad-funded toolbars are your thing, of course.

Disclaimer – I know not what adverts appear below this post as I have no control over them but it would be supremely ironic if there’s a box down there, right now urging you to click it to fix errors with your pc…