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Software for blocking banner ads, popup ads etc. on your browser & controlling privacy



Digital Coast Daily -- Wednesday, March 21, 2001


The Most Dangerous Piece of Software in the World - by Jason McCabe

by Jason McCabe Calacanis

No, it's not Napster. It's not Freenet, the anonymous, global,
non-traceable P2P system. And no, it's not the highly addictive "Age
of Empires II." The most dangerous piece of software on the Internet
today is built by a spin-off of Siemens, the huge German
conglomerate. It is called WebWasher; and simply put, it is awesome.

WebWasher instantly and seamlessly removes all advertising, cookies,
and pop-up ads from your browser with the promise to maintain your
privacy while saving you time and money by reducing all the bandwidth
taken up by online advertising. It is an undeniable value

Software like this has existed in various forms over the years, but
nothing I've seen is as seamless and user-friendly as WebWasher's
latest version. This is not to say non-techies are going to start
installing it, but in my estimation WebWasher is about two versions
and 12 months away from going mainstream.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been using WebWasher and seeing
just how powerful it is. The New York Times' site suddenly feels
clean and uncluttered: Gone are the talking skyscraper ads and
multitude of mini-buttons and banners all over the site. From home,
where I'm writing this today, I'm forced to use a 56k dial-up thanks
to my DSL provider suddenly going out of business (uggghh!).
WebWasher really makes a difference in this situation, making pages
load about 50-percent faster. I can't wait to use it the next time I
travel overseas and can only get a 28.8 or 14.4 connection.

Visiting CNet with WebWasher is one of the scariest experiences you
can have as a publisher, because its new "big box" vanishes without a
trace, leaving the text to flow seamlessly down the page like it used

How could you not love this software? Easy, if you're a publisher or
an advertiser; you're screwed, in the words of Dick Cheney, "big

The software is free for individual users and academics, and
available for a licensing fee for enterprises. That is when it gets
really scary. For a 100-person company, WebWasher will run $1,900, or
$19 a head. Organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees
have two great reasons to install this software.

First, companies can save a serious chunk of cash on the bandwidth
savings alone. Second, the software has the ability to keep hackers
and overzealous marketers (think: porn, gaming, etc.) from taking
over machines with pop-up windows and cookies. This will reduce
wasted time spent by employees, and even more importantly, wasted
time spent by expensive IT folks repairing machines screwed up by
viruses, cookies, and the like.

A recent survey at the kuro5hin.org site, which, granted, is
populated by the somewhat-wacky digital elite, had a survey on banner
ads recently. The survey asked, "What sucks most about ad
banners?" Most of the responses would not surprise you: The top
response, with 34 percent of the vote, was that banners advertised
products surfers weren't interested in. Coming in second, with 30
percent of responses, was the fact that banners used too much

However, the most interesting and compelling response to me, chosen
by 19 percent of respondents, was: "How should I know, I filter out
all ads." Now, these are admittedly a bunch of geeks, early adopters
with some intense anti-corporate attitudes, but they are also the
same people who were talking about P2P file-sharing systems before
Napster. They are the vanguard, and the masses follow, eventually.

WebWasher is technical, but it is getting easier to use with each
version. While it is still well under the radar, with CNet's
Download.com, a pretty good indicator of a product's popularity,
showing only a couple of thousand downloads to date, the company
boasts more than 4 million users.

Bottom line: This piece of software is about to break out.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but something that will impact so many large
businesses is bound to wind up in court. But is there anything
illegal about it? If it reaches critical mass, which I would say is
around 10 million users, you can expect AOL Time Warner or someone
like that to file suit, right?

The software has received little-to-no press here in the United
States, which the conspiracy theorist in me does not find surprising.
Software like this, if it catches on, could be a huge blow to content
providers who are generally teetering somewhere between profitability
and death today.

I've turned the software off at work and I turn it on at home
sometimes. Recently, I've started missing the ads, wondering what is
in the big, long, empty white space next to the business section of
The New York Times. As a person making his living in large part off
advertising, WebWasher scares me--a publisher who's fallen in love
with the software that could kill him. Now I know what it's like to
be a record executive.

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