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AOL unveils pop-up stoppers

The Net giant is set to introduce new pop-up advertising controls that let members suppress spontaneous promotional windows while surfing the Web.

America Online on Wednesday will introduce new pop-up advertising controls that let members suppress spontaneous promotional windows while surfing the Web, as part of its bid to pacify customers frustrated with unwanted ads.

The Dulles, Va.-based company, the interactive arm of AOL Time Warner, plans to automatically install pop-up-stopping features onto the desktops of its 35 million members during the next two weeks. (Members can also download them directly.) The tool, called Web Pop-Up Controls, will let people zap most advertisements that pop up or appear under requested Web pages throughout the Internet, outside of the AOL service.

The controls are being introduced at the request of AOL members, many of whom listed pop-up advertising as one of the chief causes of ire while visiting the service and the Web, according to the company.

"AOL's new Pop-Up Controls will allow our members to explore the Web without being trapped in pop-up purgatory," AOL spokesman David Gang said in a statement. "With a single click, AOL members now have the power to stop the pop."

The move backs up AOL's pledge to cut back on the unwanted promotions littering its proprietary Net access service, the Internet and e-mail inboxes. In October, the company promised members that it would stop delivering pop-ups and pop-unders from third-party advertisers from its service. But up until February, members were still complaining about in-house ads that sprang up over pages on the proprietary server.

The service's in-house ads have been cut back "dramatically" in the last month, said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein. In addition, AOL has introduced new controls for members to block the mounting spam to inboxes.

The innovations match those of rival Internet access services such as EarthLink and comes at a critical point for AOL. The world's largest Internet service, with 35 million members, AOL has seen its rocketing subscriber numbers stall over the past year, and the company is aiming to stop defections from its dial-up service by improving the experience members have.

AOL Web Pop-Up Controls is available to subscribers of AOL 8.0, the company's newest Web access software. The tool, which will be distributed to 10 percent of AOL's members each day during the next two weeks, can be viewed as a button at the bottom middle of the Web browser window.

Members can modulate the controls or turn them off. And with each pop up blocked, there is an optional, audible notification. The tool blocks most pop-ups, except for those that people have requested or ones coming from secure sites such as banking and merchant Web pages. Web Pop-Up Controls will also not catch pop-ups created with Java or Macromedia Flash technology, which AOL estimates to be a fraction of those on the Web.

People can also download the tool directly from AOL Keyword: Pop-Up Controls.