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Pop-Up Ads

What are these annoying ads I keep seeing pop-up on my computer screen?

As internet users, we've all likely seen ads for a variety of products or services inundate our internet surfing experience. Some ads even go so far as to advertise products to remove the very same pop up you just received. These ads, annoying as they are, do not likely violate Washington's anti-spam law.

How to make it stop

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, you can block unwanted pop-up messages and better protect your computer from hackers. It's as simple as turning off the Microsoft Windows feature that allows pop-up messages, or installing and running a firewall. The advantage of a firewall is that it prevents other types of unauthorized access to your computer, beyond pop-up advertising. Neither approach will stop pop-ups sent to your browser by a Web page you are visiting.

Disabling Windows Messenger Service

Advertisers utilizing pop-ups are exploiting a feature of the Microsoft Windows operating systems known as Messenger Service. Despite the name, Windows Messenger Service doesn't have anything to do with instant messaging. It is designed to provide users on a local- or wide-area computer network with messages from the network administrator. For example, a company's network administrator might send a message to all its users that the company's network will be shutting down in five minutes.

Most personal or home-only internet users may not have any practical uses for Windows Messenger Service. If your computer is on a business or home network, however, shutting off Messenger Service might not be the best approach. Your network should be protected by a firewall.

If you find that you have no need for this type of functionality on your computer, disabling the messenger service will prevent the possibility of pop-up ads. To disable the messenger service:

  • Click Start, and then click Control Panel (or point to Settings, and then click Control Panel);
  • Double click Administrative Tools;
  • Double click Services;
  • Double click Messenger;
  • In the Startup type list, click Disabled;
  • Click Stop, and then click OK.

Installing and running a firewall

Another way to slow or stop pop-up advertising is to run a firewall, software or hardware designed to block hackers from accessing your computer and getting into your programs and files.

A firewall is different from anti virus protection: Anti virus software scans incoming communications and files for troublesome files; a firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have high-speed Internet access through a cable modem or a DSL (digital subscriber line) connection.

Some recently released operating system software (including Windows XP) comes with a built in firewall. Because it may be shipped in the "off" mode, check your online "Help" feature for specifics on turning it on and setting it up properly. If your operating system doesn't include a firewall, you can install separate firewall software that runs in the background while you use your computer and surf the Internet. Several free firewall software programs are available on the Internet. You can find one by typing "free firewall" into your favorite search engine, or you can buy a hardware firewall — an external device that includes firewall software. Like anti virus software, a firewall needs to be updated regularly to stay effective.

If you want to complain about a deceptive pop up spam message, use the FTC's online complaint form at: http://www.ftc.gov. Your complaint will be added to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database and made available to hundreds of law enforcement and consumer protection agencies. Be sure your complaint includes the name of the company or Web site advertised in the pop up spam.

The Washington State Attorney General's Office offers more tips and information on spam. The FTC also offers many useful tips on spam or other internet consumer issues at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menu-internet.htm.

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