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Siemens enters ad-busting space

Ad-busting programs so far have posed only a minor threat to Web businesses, but now that Siemens is developing its own version, ad-driven sites may have more to worry about.

Some Net users have grown to love programs that wipe out ads on Web pages, but sites that survive on advertising revenues have been watching warily as such programs grow in popularity.

Up until now, ad-busting programs that can be installed on personal computers have posed only a minor threat to Web businesses. But now that a large company, Siemens, is developing its own version of the product, ad-driven Web sites may have more to worry about.

WebWasher, which eliminates ads for Net surfers frustrated with the time it takes to download them, will be available for purchase online in mid January, according to Siemens. It will be free to consumers, though corporations will be charged for the product.

The arrival of Siemens on the ad-busting scene could transform a controversial field that thus far has been dominated by smaller players.

"Siemens is a multibillion-dollar conglomerate and a major player in computer systems," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters. "Ad networks can no longer dismiss ad-filtering as a passing fad, a niche market, or a toy of privacy fanatics."

Only a small minority of the people online hate ads enough to take the trouble to download software that makes them disappear, but the potential market for ad-busting software is hardly limited. Businesses and schools, for instance, have taken an interest in eliminating banners while surfing the Web.

"Big companies are finding that removing banners improves their employees' productivity," Catlett added. "They're paying people to sit at their desks, and staring at flashing banner ads isn't contributing to anyone's productivity."

Most ad-busting programs eliminate the graphic elements of online ads, but leave their text intact. Still, advertisers and Web site owners say that is enough to damage their ability to generate advertising-related revenue.

Earlier this month, for example, Web software firm ClearWay Technologies pulled its version of ad-busting software after being flooded with complaints from small Web operations that it would kill their businesses.

But whether such software will kill the goose that laid the golden egg on the Net remains to be seen.

So far, the concept has not exactly caught on. Catlett estimates that only 0.3 percent of Netizens actually use ad-busting programs. Whether a company like Siemens changes that remains to be seen.