Are Popups Ethical?

The most important fact to understand about the internet is it
is one huge communication device. Plain and simply, that is all
that the internet is and it is all that it does - communicate.

Thus, an effective website communicates to it's audience and,
oftentimes, the audience communicates back. In other words, an
effective website is defined simply in a single sentence: it
communicates well with it's intended audience. Period.

Now, if your intended audience is people who need a certain
kind of widget, and you get those people to purchase your
widgets, then your website is a success.

It does not matter if the "non-target" audience doesn't get
the communication (and hence does not purchase). They are not
the target!

Now, folded into this equation is the matter of ethics. In
order for a society to exist and it's members to prosper, rules
are agreed upon for civilized conduct. Thus, you can expect
that you can drive down the street without getting a rock
through your window or a bullet in your back (at least in
California). Civilized people have agreed that this is
inappropriate behavior.

There is an even higher plain of ethics, where you decide to
follow a code which is "higher" than that agreed upon by
society. It is very interesting that there is a direct
correlation between a person's ethics and his long term
success. More ethical people tend to survive better than less
ethical people (in the long term). I am not referring just to
money here (although that is part of the equation). This is
overall quality of life. While Howard Hughes certainly was
very rich, for example, I do not believe that in the later part
of his life anyone could claim he was happy - his final years
struck me as miserable. He was highly unethical, and this caught
up with him.

So the questions come down to: do you communicate effectively
to your target audience, and do you present this communication
in an ethical manner?

As an example, suppose you run an adult website. A person with
ethics would not show adult pictures on the splash page, would
require proof of age, and would advertise the site only to
consenting adults. An unethical site might plaster hard core
pictures everywhere without a care in the world, have weak
protection against viewing by minors, spam everyone and embed
every scum method of popping up, under, over and so forth that
has been invented.

The unethical site might very well make money faster than the
ethical site, but would these people be leading happy,
productive lives? Or would they wind up eventually with their
sites closed down, perhaps in prison, with their money seized
and so on? Would they be able to live with themselves or would
they consume vast amounts of alcohol and drugs to cover up the
pain they were feeling for the pain they were giving out?

In this example, both sites do communicate (and well) with
their target audience. The unethical part is the communication
that spilled over to people who may not desire it or who may
not be entitled to receive the communication (underage for

Another, more obvious statement, is that you don't want to
scream fire in a crowded theater, unless, of course, there is
indeed a fire.

Are popups, unders and so on unethical? It depends on how they
are used. If popups are blended with the site well so that they
help deliver the communication to the target audience, then
they do serve a purpose. If they are controlled so they do not
FORCE the communication upon people who do not desire it, then
they are ethical.

In other words, if I visit your site I might expect to see one
popup (or under) informing me of an opportunity or giving me
some other communication. I should be able to close this
without fear of additional popups opening up. The popup should
be related to the site somehow (otherwise it is an
interruption, which is considered rude in most conversations).
Under some conditions (the ad for the camera which appears all
over the place, for example), I should be able to opt-out, and
my privacy should be protected. There are certainly additional
ethical considerations to be taken into account.

By being ethical and communication well, I am delivering my
viewpoint to the target and not offending the non-targets. That
means the non-targets may return at some time and become
targets of the communication. In addition, they are less
likely to become offended or even become enemies.

That's my 2 cents (well, perhaps my quarter).

About the Author

Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets
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Richard Lowe