posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 28th May 2010 18:40 UTC
IconIf there's one thing several people are really, really good at, it's ruining the web. The latest attempt is something quite insipid, something that had me scratching my head a few times before I realised what was going on. When copying and pasting text from certain websites, content would be added to your clipboard without you knowing about it - something like "Read more at". John Gruber finds this just as insipid as I do, and investigated a little further - while also coming up with a way to block this nonsense. Seriously - this is right up there with those in-text underline ad things.

So, what exactly are we dealing with here? Well, as you'll most certainly understand, this OSNews thing I do requires me to copy and paste quite a few times every day. Especially the short items in the right column mainly consist of copy/paste content, but on the front page you'll see quite some copied content as well.

Recently, I've been confronted with some incredibly annoying JavaScript nonsense that inserts a few blank lines followed by "read more at [link]" to every piece of pasted text. I've seen it happen on TechCruch and several other sites, although I never kept track of which. For example, were we at OSNews to ever stoop this low, copying and then pasting some text from our site would look like this (that last bit in the link is a hash tracking code):

So, what exactly are we dealing with here? Well, as you'll most certainly understand, this OSNews thing I do requires me to copy and paste quite a few times every day.



Read more at http://www.osnews.com/story/23373/Title/#4734hgbt

There's some rule that governs this behaviour, as Gruber found out. "On the New Yorker web site, copying up to seven words from an article works normally - no attribution URL is appended. Copy eight or more words, however, and you get the attribution appendage," he details, "On TechCrunch, the attribution appendage again only kicks in for selections of eight or more words."

TechCrunch, however, takes the insipidity to a whole new level by adding an additional "feature" to the copy and paste routine: if you select one to three words and then invoke the copy command (menu or keyboard), a search pop-up will appear that covers the actual content of the article. Gruber has a screenshot showing how it looks.

The technology comes courtesy of a company called Tynt, and one quick glance at Tynt's homepage will tell you what kind of a company this is. "Drive traffic", "Improve search rank", "SEO benefits"... Basically, what these guys hope is that you leave the inserted link and hash code in place so that websites can track where the copied text ends up. Since most people will probably delete the inserted bit anyway, the tracking stuff won't work. Gruber believes that the eventual goal will be to add advertisements to the copied text.

"Whatever their justification for using Tynt is, I'll bet it involves repeated use of the phrase 'biz dev'," Gruber concludes, "All they're really doing is annoying their readers. Their websites are theirs, but our clipboards are ours. Tynt is intrusive, obnoxious, and disrespectful. I can't believe some websites need to be told this."

This is what we call user-hostile behaviour, and it must be nipped in the bud right away before it becomes as widespread as those in-text advertisement things (remember, for every single one of those ads, a unicorn gets shot). Luckily, there are two ways to end this stuff - you can install a browser plugin for Chrome, but in its current incarnation, it will display a warning (once) for each website with Tynt enabled.

A more permanent solution is to use your hosts file to block Tynt. Just append this at the end of the file:

127.0.0.1   tcr.tynt.com

Depending on your operating system, the hosts file can be found in different locations; on UNIX-like systems such as Linux and Mac OS X, it's /etc/hosts, and on Windows NT it's in %SystemRoot%\system32\drivers\etc. From the top of my head, I know the BeOS one (and thus, Haiku?) resides at /boot/beos/etc/hosts, but that's about all I can recall without diving into Google.

After adding the line, this Tynt nonsense will no longer work. A more preferable option would be better browser plugins, and as such, I hope some Awesome Developer takes up the challenge. You will be rewarded a thousand Tinkerbell kisses. And yes, I realise how incredibly wrong that sounds.

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