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Firm pulls ad blocking software

ClearWay Technologies removes a beta version of its AdScreen software and asks Netizens not to use it following a barrage of protest email and calls.

When Web software firm ClearWay Technologies posted the final beta version of its ad blocking product to its site this week, it naturally hoped to create an industry buzz. What it got was more like a hornet's nest.

A community of small, independent Macintosh-oriented Web sites--ClearWay's base of support--bombarded the company with calls and email. They said the new product, AdScreen, potentially could help kill their sites by destroying their ability to sell ads. Many threatened a boycott of ClearWay.

In response to the outcry, Mark Kriegsman, president and founder of ClearWay, removed the AdScreen beta and wrote an open letter to the community.

"We have terminated the AdScreen software and we strongly recommend that Web users do not use any ad blocking software now or in the future," Kriegsman wrote. "Simply put: If you love free Web sites, don't block the ads."

ClearWay was not the first to develop such software. The controversy over ad screening technology killing the goose that laid the golden egg of the Net has been ongoing.

"What were we thinking was definitely the question of the week," Kriegsman said when asked why the company proceeded with development of the controversial software.

"I think the short answer is, we got caught up in the technological excitement with all the things you can do with proxy servers, like screen out pornography," he said. "Or, in our case, replace the ad graphics with plain text."

The boycott threat was not his primary motivation for pulling the product, Kriegsman said.

"We certainly enjoy an open relationship with independent Webmasters and this would have hurt," he said of the boycott.

But, he added, "I don't think it would have destroyed our business. In the final analysis it came down to what's the right thing to do. The right thing to do was to recognize that the Internet is all about the democracy of a lot of free and open Web sites."

ClearWay certainly will lose money since it pulled the software. And in the big picture, its removal is unlikely to have a major impact on the industry, as there are several other companies that give surfers the same capability.

But the move appeared to create goodwill among the sites that originally protested.

Bryan Chaffin, editor in chief of Mac resource site Webintosh, today applauded ClearWay's move.

"There are many companies in the world that would not have changed course when presented with a compelling argument," he wrote in an editorial today. "These companies would have pursued the short-term dollar at the expense of those better than they. ClearWay showed us that their principles are made of firmer stuff and I personally salute the company and its president."

Kriegsman said that while the site got dozens of complaints about the program, it has received about 100 letters and calls of praise today.