Belkin: Wireless router "sells" its own new feature to client PCs

by Guy Kewney | posted on 07 November 2003

He bought a Belkin wireless router. He installed it. He clicked on a URL - nothing strange about any of that. But then, instead of getting the Web page he expected, he was directed to an advertisement. It offered a six month trial of a new Belkin service. Belkin admits it: it does that. But it's not advertising. "It's ease of use," says Belkin.

Guy Kewney

<1/> This is not an advert. Honest.

The advert can't be mistaken for anything except an advert. "Free parental control" it says enthusiastically. "Activate it today" - and there's a big, luminous-purple button to press. "Activate Free Trial."

Our user, who calls himself "Uh Clem" was not best pleased, and went to his newsgroup to report it.

"A few months ago, I bought a Belkin wireless router and wireless PC card for our home school laptop. The router has worked fairly well, but [had a fault, so] I finally got around to calling Belkin tech support," he posted.

Tech support upgraded the software for him, which fixed the problem. "All went smoothly for the update, but then, marketing reared its ugly head. After the upgrade, on all our systems (wired or wireless), valid http requests are occasionally redirected to a Belkin ad page!"

At first, says Clem, "I thought Belkin had messed with browser settings on the machine which downloaded the router binary. But then other machines started putting up the ad."

Yes, says Belkin, it's the router doing it. It does it every eight hours. And it does it on every machine on the network. They thought we'd be pleased, they said. It makes it easier for us to buy a service from them, so why wouldn't we be pleased?

"Without trying to sound too stand-offish, we are not talking about SPAM here," insisted Eric Deming ( who claims to have been involved in the development of Parental Control. "Parental Control is a subscription service, and Belkin wanted to make registering for the service very easy. Traditional methods of registration, such as asking the user to go to a website or navigate to the Router's internal Web page to enter information didn't meet the ease-of-use goal."

Some might say that receiving unsolicited advertising - even for features you might want - instead of the Web page you asked for, was intrusive. Not at all, says Deming.

"We elected to re-direct one http request to the "Register Now" reminder page. This page asks the user to register for the service for a free 6 month trial. Now, granted this looks like an ad," he continues smoothly; "it should, it is intended to be informative and easy enough to understand."

That might also be because it is an ad, of course. It offers a service which is only free for a six months trial period, which generates revenue for Belkin. What else would you call it, except an ad?

Apparently, not. It's an opportunity. Not an advert, an opportunity: "We did this to make sure that any non-techy person (part of our target audience) would have ample opportunity to opt in or out of the free six month trial of the Parental Control feature."

Can you stop it? Well, yes, sort of. When the advert comes up, as well as the big, exciting purple button (left) to allow you to opt in, there's a way of opting out. Opting out? Well, if you look very carefully, (right) there's a rather less exciting grey button ...

"At this point, the user can register or click "No Thanks". Clicking "No Thanks" sets a flag in the Router to stop the Router from re-directing every 8 hours to the reminder page."

Does that stop it? Well, yes ... well, sort of. "If the user just closes the window without clicking "No Thanks", then the flag is never set, and the reminders will continue."

But if you click "no thanks" it stops? Yes, indeed. Well ... Maybe! "Admittedly, there is no controlling which computer on the LAN this message will pop up on."

But it will stop the pop up on your machine? Maybe not! It doesn't always work. You may have to configure the router itself, admits Cleming. "Now, if you are the type that doesn't want to click the "No Thanks" button, then no problem." No Problem? Absolutely.

"Navigate to the Router's internal web interface (default IP =, click on the Parental Control menu. In the Menu, select "Don't Remind every 8 hours" (This phrase actually varies a bit, but you get the idea) then click "Apply Changes". DONE. Nothing to it."

There will be some who might wonder, which bit of the "non-techy audience" is this procedure aimed at?

"By the way, this procedure might have to be done if your router is behind a firewall," added Deming. "Reason: sends a response to the Router to set the flag. Firewalls will block the response. This might explain the problem in a school for instance," the product guy concluded, airily.

By all means let him know what you think. That email is supposed to be a valid one ...

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