This week we’re talking about . . . bad ads

And there are plenty of them about, trying to sell you everything from phone competitions to weight loss pills

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

How many times have you found yourself down the rabbit hole, lost in a maze of ads that refuse to go away? Often enough, it seems, that Google is fighting back. The company announced today that it had 1.7 billion bad ads from its advertising platform in 2016. That’s a lot of rogue ads, and it seems like the problem is getting worse.

What do you mean, ‘bad ads’?

We’ve all been hit by them. The ads that claim to be one thing, but but redirect you to something you weren’t expecting. Or when you are on Facebook or Twitter and you try to open a link to a new article but suddenly find you have been redirected to the app store to download some software. Those, along with the ones that tell you that you’ve won a free phone, are probably among the most annoying.

There’s also something called tabloid cloaking, where advertisers use fake headlines but what you’re really getting is the hard sell for weight loss products.

Are they harmful?

They can be. At best, they’re annoying. At worst, they can download some malware onto your machine - depending on what type of machine you are using. Regardless, no one likes them and they’re only lining someone else’s pocket.

So what has Google done exactly?

It has suspended more than 1,300 accounts for tabloid cloaking, kicked almost 200 websites off its ad network for misrepresenting who they were and took action against 340 websites for violating Google’s policies. It also cracked down on what it calls “trick to click” ads, those that look like system warnings but actually start to download harmful software to your machine. Google said it picked up 112 million of those particular type of ads.

Yeah, but I’m still getting them...why?

Google may have clamped down on bad ads using its network but that doesn’t mean they will quietly go away. It’s the usual tale: it generates money for the perpetrators, so as long as they can make money from it, they’ll keep doing it and trying to circumvent Google’s controls. For every advance Google makes, you can be sure there are people trying to figure out a way around it.

And Googledoesn’t control all the ad networks online, even though sometimes it may feel like it. It will take a concerted effort from all parties involved - users, companies, ad platforms - to even make a dent in the problem. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

So what can I do in the meantime?

Be careful about what apps you download; sometimes they come with unwanted passengers. It might be worth bringing it to the attention of the websites that are (sometimes inadvertently) running the ads. After all, if you can’t get to their content because some dodgy ad is taking over your mobile device, how likely are you to go back again?

Or you could download an ad blocker for your device and try to tackle the problem at source.

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