Nov. 14, 2008 -- The Secret Service is investigating an Internet advertisement as a potential threat against President-elect Barack Obama, but the people who created it say a technology glitch was responsible, and they feel terrible about it.
Ads for a company that sells mobile-phone ring tones that appear on the Yahoo News Web site, teased viewers into taking an IQ test. But when viewers scrolled over the ad's picture of Obama, the words "When Will You Die?" flashed across the image.
The Secret Service said it had known about the ad for "a couple of weeks." Yahoo, on the other hand, as well as the company behind the IQ test Web site and the company that designed the ad, learned about it only when contacted by ABCNews.com
"We are aware of this Internet ad, and we are looking into it," said Darrin Blackford, a Secret Service spokesman. "We've had it for a couple of weeks."
The ad depicts a photo of Obama's head atop a cartoon body. It reads: "Barack Obama's IQ is 124!" and "Take the IQ Quiz Now." Some viewers noticed that when they scrolled over the advertisement with their computer mouse, red-colored text that read "When Will You Die?" briefly flashed across a picture of Obama.
Although clicking on the ad brings viewers to the Web site officialiqquiz.com, backed by Australia-based Mobile Messenger, the ad was created by a Chicago firm whose CEO is beside himself at the mistake and said he's a huge Obama supporter.
The company behind the ad, yixe.com, also designed another ring-tone ad that attracted people through a "death clock" Web site, a calculator that claimed to determine when someone would die based on his or date of birth and other factors.
The copy in that ad reads "When Will You Die?" According to Yixe's CEO Eduardo Viva, the ads were created on a single template and a glitch was responsible for imposing the text from the "death clock" ad onto the image of Obama.
"We designed the ad over a template and there was no intent whatsoever for that to happen," Vivas said. "We're huge Obama supporters.
"This is 100 percent our responsibility," he said. "It was a genuine mistake. We're taking this thing down as quickly as possible. The ad has been live for a while, and we didn't even know about it."
Yexi, he said, attracted viewers interested in mobile-phone services such as ring-tone downloads for other companies that provide those services.
ABCNews.com could find no information about Yexi in a search of Hoover's, a database that provides company information and business reports.
A domain name search of officialiqquiz.com to determine the owner of the site found that it is registered anonymously. But a phone number on the site connects to the California offices of Australia-based Mobile Messenger. Vivas said he worked with Mobile Messenger on the ad for the IQ test site.
A U.S. spokeswoman for Mobile Messenger would neither confirm nor deny that the company owned officialiqquiz.com and would not comment on the ad directly.
"Mobile Messenger is an industry-leading, global business-to-business service-technology provider of mobile entertainment products and billing," Bonnie Moss wrote in an e-mail. "Our primary services are to provide delivery and billing of mobile-phone content for companies that wish to offer mobile-entertainment products to consumers.
"As part of our service offering we have also taken on customer care for our clients. This provides the consumer with a reliable contact to manage any issues they may have."
Mobile Messenger inked a deal last month with EMI, one of the world's biggest record companies, to distribute content over cell phones.
Yahoo, which Vivas said was the only site to surface the ads, said it had removed them from its system.
"Yahoo is deeply committed to providing a high-quality experience for users, advertisers and publishers," company spokeswoman Kristen Morquecho said. "We expect our members to support and abide by our standards and guidelines around acceptable ad content and behavior. On the rare occasion that an ad is served that is in conflict with our expectations and guidelines, we take action to remove it as quickly as possible. We have identified the ad in question and it has been deactivated in our system. We are continuing to investigate this incident."