It is possible, some believe, to make money by operating free Web sites and renting out ad space. However, in order for a site to attract sufficient traffic to attain significant ad revenue, it generally must host something that people are interested in -- in the jargon, some "content". Moreover, it must not go overboard on the banner ads, or users will become irritated and go away. Finally, it must actually make money -- it must draw in more in ad revenues than it spends on content, connectivity, personnel, and other expenses.

Suppose, however, that one could operate a banner-ad-driven Web site without any actual content -- and thus, without any content production or acquisition expenses. Suppose, furthermore, that one could prevent users from going away when they become irritated at excessive banners. And suppose that one could still maintain a flow of users through the site, and thus a flow of ad revenue. One could, in theory, get money for nothing -- one could get ad revenues by displaying banner ads to readers who think they're going to see content, but aren't.

It wouldn't quite be fraud. One isn't defrauding the readers, as they're not paying for anything -- they're viewing the site for free. Even though Web site operators can "sell" readers' attention to advertisers by running ads, readers don't seem to have a property right in their own attention. Moreover, one isn't defrauding the advertisers, as they are receiving what they paid for: their banners are being displayed to actual readers.

Thus, the basic operation of the fake porn site -- a form of Web-based get-rich-quick scheme that originated a few years ago, and remains common today. In brief, a fake porn site is a Web site advertised as containing free porn, but which actually contains only a maze of banner-coated pages linking to pay sites. Readers believe that by following links in the fake site they will eventually get to a large repository of free porn, but instead all they manage to do is look at a lot of banner ads and raise the site's revenues. Eventually, I suspect, they do click through to a pay site, justifying (in some sense) the pay site's advertising.

So far, so good -- or so bad, as the case may be. However, fake porn site tactics do not stop there. In order to draw hits in the first place, fake porn sites once relied upon search engine pollution -- tricks which exploited early search engines' indexing methods so as to cause the advertised site to appear among unrelated search results, or first in a group of related results. Search engine operators, however, quickly learned to suppress polluted results; some even drop pages with a high "pollution index" from their databases.

Once readers are on the site, a fake porn site can make the most revenue by showing them as many ads as possible. Many fake porn sites use abusive JavaScript to prevent inexperienced Web users from leaving their pages. Attempts to navigate out or to close browser windows just open more windows full of ads. Alternately, the site may spawn a small background window running a JavaScript that opens more ad-bearing pages after a delay, interfering with the reader's access to other Web sites.

Are fake porn sites a problem? Some say not. Many experienced users believe that anyone who falls for come-ons or abusive JavaScript deserves to have his or her time wasted. Others say that anyone who goes looking for porn deserves what s/he gets. Some, on the other hand, would say that fake porn sites are a form of fraud or false advertising. I'm not sure I agree with any of these views. I suggest that abusive JavaScript constitutes an exploitation of security holes in Web browsers, and should be treated like any other form of cracking; but that operating a non-abusive fake porn site is nothing more than the modern form of P. T. Barnum's "This Way to the Egress."

After all, there is free porn there, of a sort, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

It's in the banner ads.

There is actually an even worse kind of fake porn site: one that promises lots of porn and claims to be free - you only need an AdultCheck or similar ID. That's basically free, after all for only about $30 a month it will also give you access to tens of thousands of other porn sites, right?

Unfortunately, it seems that a significant percentage of those tens of thousands of sites does not contain any actual porn and exists solely to make money through the referral fees their owners get when somebody actually pays AdultCheck after coming from such a site. Of course, such sites use the same methods to attract visitors: search engine pollution and spam.

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