Deceitful Clicking and Taking Advantage of Standard Conventions

I recently uninstalled Safari on a Windows machine.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Safari on my Mac. Despite the upcoming release of Firefox 3 and the claims of its improved efficiency I’ll probably stick with Safari because it feels more at home than Firefox on the Mac. But that’s also exactly why I uninstalled it on Windows – Safari just doesn’t feel right on Windows to me.

The uninstall had nothing to do with Apple’s practice of offering Safari as an update even if it’s a completely new application to the user, or its tie-ins with Google that keep Safari users from putting any other search engine in their toolbar. It just didn’t feel right on Windows.

Yet it made me re-examine the remarks from Mozilla’s CEO about Apple’s Software Update on Windows and how I got annoyed with the deceptive practices of another software vendor and a product they’re trying to promote: Microsoft’s Silverlight.

It’s generally accepted that if you want to go to the homepage of a site that you’re visiting, you click on whatever is in the upper-left corner of the page. Usually there’s an icon that takes you there. Lately on Microsoft’s sites they’ve been placing an “Install Silverlight” link there.

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Placed there, Microsoft takes advantage of that standard convention to get Silverlight on more machines. Unfair? Maybe not. Deceptive? I think so.

For a little while I used to run Adsense on this site. I had an Adsense block over on the sidebar out of the way of actual content. I think placing ads out of the way like that is important to do because I’d never know what you actually see – that’s the nature of Adsense. But, despite seeing ads for Logic Pro/Studio tools, sample managers, and things of that sort which are relevant to the content of posts on this site, I never actually endorsed them (although I’m sure some of them are great utilities).

But I didn’t make much money from ads, and rather than cheapen the brand of this site (like it has much integrity anyway) I took off Adsense entirely. Curious, I did some research on how people make money from Adsense and was put-off by the recommended practice of placing Google Ads directly in the body of your site’s content. This leaves no indication to the reader on when they’ve left the author’s content and are clicking on ads that generate income for the site owner, thinking that they are recommended reading material.

Here’s an example of this from a GTD article aggregator:

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The whole site in this example is completely built on the content of others. It’s just links for GTD and Google Ads waiting to be clicked as if they’re buried mines – they look very similar to the actual links. This site is in the top 10 Google search results for “gtd”.

I don’t have anything against selling advertising space on your site in an honest way, but you’ve got to admit there’s something slimey about this. Imagine if print publications started putting blocks of ads right in the center of an article, forcing you to read around the ad for the content. Or if print publications blurred the line between editorials and sponsored content – some of them already do with advertorials, but they’re not nearly as deceptive as the above example.

I’m curious about how successful these ads are at generating sales for the advertisers. My gut says that advertisers pay a lot of money because of people clicking on something they didn’t mean to. And in the same way, I’m curious of how successful Microsoft is with their Silverlight links, or how many Windows users installed Safari thinking that they were updating iTunes. Do people go through with the install, or do they cancel it and try to get back home?

If the latter is the case it doesn’t seem like anybody wins except the ones taking advantage of standard conventions.

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