Web Informant #96, 18 December 1997
Truth in advertising?


I hate to be such a grinch before Christmas, but are you as frustrated as I am about the quality of high-tech advertising these days? I know that ads are supposed to present the product in the best possible light, but do they have to do such a good job of fear mongering?

Let's look at two of the more blatant ones, picked randomly from this past week. The NY Times business section on Monday ran an ad from CyberMedia, software makers of GuardDog, among others. Their ad brought the following scares to light, and I quote:

"When you're online, people can gather and share personal details about you with marketers, insurance companies, banks, anyone; track the websites you visit; read your email; wipe out files and applications; erase your hard drive."

Really now? It goes on to talk about cookies: "Chances are, you've already got DOZENS (their emphasis) secretly imbedded in your hard drive. Some cookies are harmless. But others actually track your Internet browsing habits."

Notwithstanding the image of cookie crumbs being ground to bits by the drive motors, this is pure crap. There are so many errors of fact here that it is hard to know where to begin. But let me try.

Far from being secret, cookies are readily readable to anyone who can take the time to bring them up in a text editor. Just open up Windows Explorer and search for the file name or folder cookies: Netscape keeps them in a single file called cookies.txt, while MS Explorer keeps them in separate files. BFD.

I've written about cookies long ago in WI#32, and really don't want to get started on that debate afresh. It is bad enough we have the normally level-headed Consumer Reports going after cookies -- I mean really, cookies save me lots of time. I like being identified as a previous browser of Amazon.com's site, and being able to buy my latest reading material with a minimum of mouse clicks. What is the problem here again?

But the cookie stuff is just a mere snack when it comes to dealing with the entirely of this ad, which by the way, has no URL or even an email address to contact the company. And quoting mistaken impressions about Internet-related privacy from the "experts" at Esquire and People Magazine (two places that I use to make my software purchase decisions, as I am sure you do too) in the ad only makes matters worse.

The folks at CyberMedia do themselves and our community a tremendous disservice with this ad. Let's be grown up about this issue and pull the ad. If you are going to sell protection, be realistic about what you are protecting.

Moving to TV, last night I saw the latest AT&T Universal card spot. You have your yuppie couple settling down for an evening of Internet shopping: she is at the keyboard while he reads the newspaper. The woman finds whatever it is she is trying to purchase and gets to the screen where she has to type in her credit card number. Then you see her hesitate. Should she expose her credit card to the millions of Internet hackers Out There? Well, not to worry: AT&T (as well as just about every other credit card company I know of) will protect her in case of fraud.

Such a nice holiday message. It is safe to go shopping, just as long as you carry the right kind of plastic. Again, what have we accomplished here? Do you think the millions of TV viewers that even can recognize that she is navigating a secure web page understand this message? How about showing that more people rip off credit cards sent in the mail or phone cards from watching people dial in the numbers over their shoulders? That's reality, baby.

Sigh. Happy holidays to all, and to all, a good night.

Site-keeping, self-promotions, and catching up dep't

My trip to Australia was wonderful, and thanks to you for all the nice comments on my last column. Apologize for the formatting, hopefully that won't happen again. In the meantime, I have had a few pieces published over the past month in various places:

In the 12/1 Computerworld, two reviews: "Web tool aids in design and navigation," on Trellix Corp.'s new software to visualize document structures. If you like style sheets, you'll love this product. I don't care for them myself. And a second article: "Web tools bulk up Omnis Studio release" about the latest database software to integrate web publishing.

In the January 98 Windows Sources, my NT Webmaster column is on Build Your Own Web Storefront, using the iHTML Merchant part of O'Reilly's WebSite Pro. This is a simple way to get payments going on your web.

In the 11/24 Infoworld, a review on Netscape's latest web server: FastTrack suffices for small shops. I still like IIS as my favorite NT-based web server, though.

In the January 98 Internet World magazine (which is to become the new name of the magazine previously known as Web Week), a review of Dayna's NetCenter Internet Station entitled, Connection Sharing for LANs.

David Strom
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