How can I determine when an error is actually just an ad?

Posted By : of Data Doctors on February 20, 2003

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I am constantly fooled by ads on Internet sites that look like real Windows error messages. How can I determine when an error is actually just an ad?

- Rod

This question was answered on February 20, 2003. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The Internet advertising industry is based in part on something called a ‘click-through’ rate for its advertisers If someone actually clicks on an ad, the advertising agency generally gets paid, so anything that can be done to cause users to click on an ad is determined to increase the ‘click- through’ rate.

A while back a study was published on how crafting ads to look like Windows error messages increased click- through rates and the onslaught of FUI (Fake User Interfaces) began.

Since effectiveness of advertising is largely based on the click-through rate and not necessarily on the generation of an actual sale, sneaky ad agencies and web site owners came up with thousands of ads to generate these unintentional click-throughs.

The most common ploys include messages about your Internet connection speed not being optimized, security issues related to the Internet or virus detection and infection.

One of the biggest abusers of this form of marketing is a company called Bonzi Software In fact, a class action lawsuit was filed against them in November of last year claiming that they engage in fraudulent and deceptive advertising that ‘impersonated computer error messages’ (To learn more about the lawsuit, visit

Most veterans of computing and the Internet can easily spot these ads now that they have been around for a while, but new users are constantly fooled by them and in some cases, take action on the ‘error messages’ under false pretense

Most that get fooled are not reading the actual message before taking action or they would be able to spot the obvious pitches like ‘Win $1000’ or ‘

One of the easiest ways to determine if an ‘error message’ is from the operating system or just an Internet ad is by moving your mouse over top of the message. If the mouse cursor changes from an arrow to a hand-type cursor (which is an indication of a ‘hyperlink’), then it is not an actual Windows message If the arrow stays an arrow, then it’s likely that it is an actual Windows generated error or message.

Another way to tell is checking to see if something on your TaskBar (the bar that typically at the bottom of the screen that has the Start button at the beginning) corresponds with the error message In other words, there will be an entry on the TaskBar complete with an Icon that corresponds to the actual error message

Internet based pop-up ads will generate an entry on the TaskBar that has the icon that looks like a web page Real error messages will have an icon that corresponds to the program that is generating the error, such as your word processor or e-mail client.

Finally, if an ‘error message’ moves up and down as you scroll a web page up and down, it is part of the site and not an actual error message from your computer.

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Posted by of Data Doctors on February 20, 2003

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