Google declares war on dodgy web ads

Google. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Google. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Google has declared war on unscrupulous advertising on the web as complaints rise about deceptive ads harming the internet browsing experience.

The search giant said that ad injectors are not only annoying, but can compromise security on devices connected to the world wide web.

An ad injector is software that inserts ads in web pages as you browse the internet. It can also replace old ads with new ones and can sometimes make viewing the content of a website impossible.

These ad injectors often proliferate on popular pages where ads are served well before the user sees any content.

"Ad injectors' businesses are built on a tangled web of different players in the online advertising economy. This complexity has made it difficult for the industry to understand this issue and help fix it," wrote Kurt Thomas, of the Spam & Abuse Research department at Google on the official blog.

Responsibility

"We discovered more than 50 000 browser extensions and more than 34 000 software applications that took control of users' browsers and injected ads," said Thomas.

The company received more than 100 000 user complaints about the malicious software in Chrome since the beginning of the year.

User details are also at risk because of ad injectors.

"Upward of 30% of these packages were outright malicious and simultaneously stole account credentials, hijacked search queries, and reported a user's activity to third parties for tracking. In total, we found 5.1% of page views on Windows and 3.4% of page views on Mac that showed tell-tale signs of ad injection software," Thomas added.

Google has removed malicious Chrome extensions. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

According to Google's research in conjunction with the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Barbara, despite the high number of ads injected into websites, relatively few companies are responsible.

"Ad injectors source their ads from about 25 businesses that provide 'injection libraries'. Superfish and Jollywallet are by far the most popular of these, appearing in 3.9% and 2.4% of Google views, respectively," said Thomas.

"These companies manage advertising relationships with a handful of ad networks and shopping programmes and decide which ads to display to users. Whenever a user clicks on an ad or purchases a product, these companies make a profit, a fraction of which they share with affiliates," he added.

Tactics

Ad injectors also harm businesses that advertise on the web. Because the software is based on views or clicks alone, it is difficult for companies to measure how traffic is being directed to sites.

"The ad injection ecosystem profits from more than 3 000 victimised advertisers - including major retailers like Sears, Walmart, Target, eBbay - who unwittingly pay for traffic to their sites," Thomas said.

Acording to Google, a whopping 77% of this click-bait is handled by just three networks: dealtime.com, pricegrabber.com, and bizrate.com.

Marketers need to take more responsibility to ensure that they are not abusing internet users, say experts.

"From an industry stand point, it is our responsibility to filter quality for our clients and do what is right for the brand and the end audience. Investment in time and money needs to yield experience, knowledge and results for us and the brand and businesses we help," Andre Steenkamp, CEO of the 25AM digital agency, told Fin24 recently.

He added that as consumers became more aware of the tactics used by unscrupulous marketers, they will eventually have a negative view of brands associated with click-bating.

"From a consumer stand point there will always be 'poorly executed tactics' which in the long run will impact the brand equity and sales. Users will vote with their click (or lack thereof) and the more brands don’t reward them with their ‘attention’ (In the form of content that is entertaining) the less favourable these brands will be in the consideration phase of a consumer's journey."

Google said its strategy to combat ad injectors with an update to its AdWords policies has seen a 95% drop-off in warnings of safe browsing.

"This suggests it's become much more difficult for users to download unwanted software, and for bad advertisers to promote it," said Thomas.

The search giant has also removed 192 deceptive Chrome extensions that infected 14 million users with ad injection software.

Do you think more should be done to tackle dodgy ads online? Tell us by clicking here.

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