Watch out for the web spies; Game - On : Internet Chat.
THE one thing you can be sure about with online adverts is that they will appear on a web page once their owners have put them there.
While we may install software to filter them out, they'll mostly appear in the right place on the page, and the advertisers who paid for them will be comfortable in the knowledge that they're reaching their target market.
But no longer. A new software package has recently emerged that turns the whole idea of banner advertising upside-down. It's called Gator, and what it does is monitor your browser, watching for banner adverts.
When it sees certain ads, it leaps into action and places one of its own in a pop-up window, neatly covering up all evidence of the original.
This has made a lot of people furious for several reasons. The first is that a lot of people install Gator without even realising it.
It has been made available in software packages, alongside other software like audio players and file sharing systems. Users of popular Napster replacement Audiogalaxy have found that Gator is installed by default, unless they choose the 'custom installation'.
Most people, of course, stick with the defaults because it makes life easier.
Critics of Gator, and similar programs, say they are taking advantage of most people's reluctance to delve too deeply into the inner workings of their computers.
Another thing that has made Gator critics angry is that some people who choose to download Gator do so for a different reason. If you look at www. gator. com you'll see the software is marketed as a helpful browser companion. It's designed to remember things like passwords and personal details.
This isn't the first row about advertising.
Fears have been growing for some time about so-called 'spyware' - software that discreetly sends information about you to its author.
Spyware has become a popular way of offering 'free' software. Although you don't have to pay to use the product, you do have to put up with adverts on screen. Selling these ads can be a good way for an author to make a living.
Strictly speaking, those products are 'adware', and not all adware is necessarily spyware. But there are some packages that don't declare their intention to spy on you.
Spotting them is the tricky bit. The best way is to contact the experts, in this case, the maintainers of the superb Spychecker website (www. spychecker. com).
Before downloading a free software package that just sounds too good to be true, it's worth finding out what Spychecker thinks of it.
KEEPING TABS: The Spychecker site