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Tool filters Net's bells, whistles

A new technology by an MIT start-up lets users cut ads, cookies, and multimedia content out of their Net diets.

For those who hate the Web's bells and whistles, a new product lets users cut ads and multimedia out of their Net diets.

When accessing a Web page, interMute lets customers block out banner advertisements, animated images, music files, and Java code. InterMute also filters out cookies, which store Net site passwords on a user's hard drive or can be used by a site to monitor where a surfer goes when she leaves.

The proxy-based shareware application costs $19.95, and was developed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology start-up, Internet Mute. The product aims to speed up access to Web pages--as do a slew of other similar technologies on the market.

But interMute doesn't compress files or cache frequently requested data.

The software works based on user settings to completely bar banner advertisements or eliminate just the graphic elements, leaving the word "AD" or one line of text describing the graphic, which site designers write when creating a page. When using interMute, a thin settings box remains at the top of Web pages so preferences can be changed at any time.

"Unlike most other Web filtering products, interMute does not mutilate the Web pages it filters: no 'broken image' links are left behind. Users can see the content they want and avoid the rest," said Barry Jaspan, the company's founder.

"When you go to a Web page, all the data flows through the program first," he added. "It's blocking mostly at the HTML level. Where there are references to images, Java, music, or cookies, it takes them out."

Animated images, for example, can be turned into a single frame or scrapped altogether. Customers can disable a filter for a specific Web site. A user who shops online regularly, for example, might want to take advantage of cookies so he or she doesn't have to reenter their name, password, and shipping address each time they visit a site.

Products such as interMute are likely to anger some Net content providers who earn money based on advertising. Net site producers argue that it's a copyright violation to alter images on their sites. Some have gone after technology creators--not the product users--to combat the activity.

The banner ad technology by a company called PrivNet was bought and discontinued by Pretty Good Privacy after Internet companies threatened to sue him for copyright violation.

But in February, the Net blocking software maker Solid Oak began offering its 1.2 million customers a filter to screen out banner ads.