Ads nauseam from America Online, GAIN
By Gene Emery, Reuters, 01/22/03
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It's time for another edition of amazingly annoying software. Today's contestants are the latest update of AOL Instant Messenger and GAIN - a mini-program that floods your computer with pop-up ads.
AOL Instant Messenger - like instant messaging services offered by Yahoo and Microsoft - is a valuable tool for users who want to exchange quick messages. When I logged on to AIM recently, I received a notice that an update for the program was available. Because such updates can also correct glitches or security problems, I approved the download.
What I didn't realize was that AOL would take so many liberties with my PC: It threw a "Free AOL & Unlimited Internet" advertising icon on my desktop. It sneaked in a similar commercial on my "Start" menu. And then, I found that a third commercial - actually a link to an AOL offer - had been inserted into my Favorites folder in Internet Explorer.
I've complained before about companies that think they own your computer once you install their software. Adding icons and Web site links without expressed permission is just another example of that type of arrogance.
But the AIM update went even further.
The next day, while rebooting my PC during an important phone call, I was suddenly logged on to AIM and getting an instant message from another important person. I had to interrupt my conversation and explain to the person trying to chat via AIM that, even though I had just logged on, I really wasn't available.
AOL, it turns out, had changed my AIM preference settings, instructing AIM to load up every time I turned my computer on.
I went to the "Preferences" menu and deactivated that feature but then, when I started my e-mail program, AIM activated itself AGAIN!
I went back to "Preferences," and, only after some experimentation discovered I needed to un-checkmark a box with the misleading description "Make AIM my default instant messaging program."
At that point, the problems were fixed.
But AOL wasn't giving up.
When I restarted my e-mail, a message popped up: "Would you like to make AOL Instant Messenger your default instant messaging program?" At least this one explained that approving the change might affect my e-mail program. But unless you checkmark the "Do not perform this check in the future" box and then click on the "No" button, AIM will keep after you.
Admittedly, many AIM users like to keep their instant messaging program activated all the time. But the update is an enormous annoyance, especially for the vast majority of people who are not savvy about undoing changes made to their PCs.
AOL is smart enough to know that different users want to use AIM in different ways. That's why the company allows them to set their preferences in the first place.
When it wants consumers to update its software, AOL should respect those preferences and stop messing with other aspects of our computers.
But AOL is just a minor annoyance compared with GAIN, which stands for Gator Advertising & Information Network.
If you get an incredibly large number of pop-up advertisements when you surf the Internet, you may have GAIN or GAIN-type software on your computer.
And, in many cases, you may not realize it.
It showed up on my PC after my son downloaded free video compression software. The GAIN mini-program was flooding our computer with ads, and it took some effort to figure it out.
GAIN promised that when the video compression software is removed, the ads would disappear as well. It didn't happen.
The company's Web site had no directions for removing the program manually, so I had to e-mail Gator for instructions. (The company, to its credit, responded promptly.)
The real problem is that the request to download GAIN sometimes pops up when you're loading a Web site, making it appear that it's a mini-program like Flash, Adobe Acrobat or RealOne Player that must be installed to view the Web page properly. In fact, it's just a request, couched as an offer to give you some free software, to swamp you with ads.
Not only that, GAIN tracks your movements as you surf the Web.
Gator isn't the only offender here. Xupiter has a similar system and reserves the right to show you as many ads as it wants and requires that you give up control of which Web page you visit when you log on to the Internet.
(If you want to sue them, by the way, Xupiter says its agreement users governed by the laws of Hungary.)
Folks who read the fine print will learn what they're getting into. But few are likely to do that. (Gator's agreement is over 5,500 words.)
Let me save you some trouble.
Unless you love advertisements, any pop-up message that mentions The Gator Corporation or Xupiter should be declined.
Otherwise, you risk ending up in Advertisement Hell.
To correct the changes made by the AIM update, Windows users can click and drag an unwanted AOL desktop icon into the Recycle Bin.
To get rid of an unwanted icon in the menu that appears when you click on the Start button, click on Start with the right mouse button and select "Open;" highlight the item you don't want and hit the "Delete" key on your keyboard.
To delete the AOL offer in your Favorites folder, go to Internet Explorer, open the "Favorites" menu, select "Organize Favorites," highlight the link and click on "Delete."
To change the preferences on AOL Instant Messenger, activate AIM, hit the F3 key to get a menu, highlight "Sign On/Off" from the list on the left side of the screen, and choose your options.
To find out if you have GAIN on your computer, click the "Start" button, move your cursor to "Programs," and look for a line that says "GAIN." You can also search for a file called "gator.com." To remove it, you have to find and remove any GAIN-supported programs. Follow the instructions in the GAIN program or ask for help by e-mailing support+gatorcorporation.com.
To remove Xupiter, click the FAQ button at www.jupiter.com and look for the instructions to uninstall the program.