In Ethics Article No 22 we looked at how some people are using email marketing unethically by using subject lines that frighten you or make you think you have won a ton of money. In this article I’ll show nine more examples of unethical online advertising. They are all examples that deserve more investigation in the filed of the ethics of online advertising.

1. Unannounced add-ons. How many times have you downloaded some legitimate software only to find it adds a permanent advertising line at the top of your browser? This is unethical behaviour on part of the originators because they a) hide the exclusion tick box so it is difficult to see it and b) make it difficult to get rid of the unwanted add-on.

2. Surprise additional payment. Have you gone through a long purchase online, only to find at the end you have to pay an additional amount for something or other? The amount may be small, so after all that effort you go ahead anyway.

3. You are not told you need something else! I used to buy “special” stock market software that claims to tell you when to but and sell shares for profit. However, it is only when you have paid and get the instruction manual that you find out you have to subscribe to a data service at another £35 a month !!! Surely the ethics of online advertising requires honesty?

4. Sneaking in monthly payments. You buy and pay your £37 for something, but next month you find your credit card has been billed another £37. When you EVENTUALLY get someone on the phone you find out you have signed up for a monthly service. You re-read the sales letter and the warning is tucked away or made so small it’s understandable you missed it.

5. Lying about limited stock or time limits. It is laughable if it weren’t an example of unethical behaviour. The online sales letters says “this offer will come down in 4 days”  or “I will help only 200 people and you are no 179” or “order in the next 5 minutes (with a count down clock) to gain a 50% discount“. You don’t make a purchase but a week later you go back and the SAME lies are there.

6. Not really free. It is standard practice that one is offered a free report or book or something, but it is not free because to get it you have to subscribe to the monthly newsletter for £37 a month.

7. Take you money quickly but slow to refund. A “no-risk” purchase involves the vendor giving you a refund if you ask within 30 days. However, I have found it takes several emails over a week or more to get the refund. Sometimes you have to telephone and guess what – the phones are always busy.

8. Paying more than you have to. This unethical behaviour would make a great study in the ethics of online advertising. You don’t want what is being sold for £37 and when you click off a pop-up appears “stay on this page”. So you click “stay” and the vendor says “You are luck I have five copies to give away at £15″. Again you click to leave and another pop-up appears – “stay on this page”. The vendor says “This is your lucky day, I want you to see the value of wat I bhave to offer so pay only £5″.  How unethical is that?

9. A false offer ( another lie). A 7-page sales letter tells you to that a little known company has developed a cure for cancer an its shares will soar by 2000% or that a new cure for irritable bowl syndrome has been found using everyday ingredients in your kitchen. You are told “click here to find out who the company is or what the cure is“. However, when you click through you get a sales letter telling you how to subscribe for the service that will tell you the name of the company or the cure!

Some might say these are just examples of clever online marketing. However, they all seem in some way to be attempts at duping or defrauding people. The ethics of online advertising would make a great academic study.