So you’re going about your business, happily browsing eBay in search of fine Victorian polished brass door knockers or assorted 1800th century cast-iron crockery when you notice near the bottom of the screen an icon alerting you to a new message. That could be important. Quick, better click it! Or maybe you shouldn’t.
Just looking at the image to right, you can probably tell it’s an advertisement. The little “i” symbol in the top right corner and the words “AdChoice” at the bottom right make it pretty clear that this is an ad. Then again, look at all that empty space in the middle. Why would an advertiser leave it like that? That’s wasting, like, 70% of the space the ad takes up. That seems like a pretty poor use of advertising resources, doesn’t it? Take a look at the picture below and everything should become a bit more clear.
Looking at that advertisement with the rest of the page in context, some of those odd design decisions become clear. The background color is designed to match eBay’s background color. The empty space in the middle of the ad is there to make it seem like the words “AdChoice” are unrelated to warning that you have an urgent message to read. Seems more than a little deceptive to me.
So where do you end up if you click on that ad? You’re taken to a website completely unrelated to eBay, that advises you to install their software because “You’re missing the tool to view private messages.” Interesting. And, oh look, it has a free download.
When you download their free software, which they reveal a little lower on this page is a browser toolbar made by MindSpark Interactive, the installer by default tries to set your default homepage and default search page to Ask.com. The reason they do this is because Ask.com and MindSpark are both owned by parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp. And you better believe IAC makes a boatload of money from people using their search software and search engine.
That’s really what this ad is trying to do. It’s trying to get you to install a toolbar and maybe change your default homepage and search page, all in the hopes that you’ll generate advertising revenue. Shame on eBay for allowing this kind of advertising. They should know better. And shame on IAC for trying to trick people into installing their software.