Deafaults ON, advertisements OFF

“Who’da thunk a firewall would be set by default to screen advertising?” – Stephen Mahaney, at

My friend Jim dropped me a note the other day asking if I knew of any reason why Google Inc. should suddenly stop showing links for its paid-for ads. I checked Google from my browser and nothing seemed amiss, so we tried to find the cause.

We checked browser settings, did a Google search for any content that might be related, switched off Symantec’s Norton Antivirus, rebooted, made sure his Windows patches were up to date, rebooted and were finally about to sacrifice a chicken to appease the gods when I had to leave him to it when other crises loomed.

I got a note from Jim this morning pointing me to a Web site (DocFinder: 2741) that explains it all. There you will find the comments of Mahaney, president of Planet Ocean Communications (that’s the company that owns the site).

Mahaney’s business is “permission e-mail marketing solutions” or “search engine promotion experts,” depending on where you look, which is to say he has attracted a lot of anger over his e-mail marketing tactics. For example, see the Internet Deadbeats’ Hall of Lame (DocFinder: 2742) and an exchange on a firewall discussion list (DocFinder: 2743). My point is he has a huge axe to grind on the issue of blocking advertising, and he is not one to favour the idea.

Mahaney’s discourse explains that “Norton Personal Firewall/Internet Security 2004 (NPFW/IS2004) ships with an ad-blocking feature — with the default set to on.”

Ah-ha. The swines. In my brief diagnostic/analysis/wild thrashing about this session with Jim via phone, I had neglected to jump to the totally unobvious conclusion that the problem lay in something a Norton product was doing. Now I’ve had my fair share of software that hasn’t had vital security settings switched on. For example, last year I tested a mail server that was configured by default as an open relay and two months later I was still trying to get my mail server taken off a couple of the more brutal black hole lists.

The decision by Symantec Corp. to default to screening advertising is definitely not as dangerous as defaulting to an open relay, but not telling users is simply a bad idea.

As for Jim, who is an online marketing expert, he wants to see the ads, and as a competent computer user he is perfectly capable of running his PCs – at least until a vendor does something like Symantec did. If it screwed up Jim, a smart user, just think what it will do to the legions of na

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