Google announced yesterday that they’re ending the practice of allowing advertisers to use deceptive “download” or “play” styled advertisements in AdSense ads, dubbing it a form of “social engineering”.
If you’re an Internet user that has ever tried to download or watch anything on an ad-supported site, you will have seen these stupid annoying ads. On some sites they’re styled carefully to match the look and feel of the rest of the site, so they can look like actual native content – but they’re not, of course.
They’d look something like this:
(Even worse, often they seem to link to third party versions of popular free/open source files – Adobe Acrobat Reader was always a popular one. I can only assume these third party versions are wrapped with adware or malware to justify the adverts.)
Here’s an example I just pulled off AusGamers right now:
If you’re a user, these make browsing the web irritating at best, but really they’re outright deceptive and can even be dangerous.
It’s obvious why these ads exist – there are enough users out there clicking on them to make them profitable. The cost of running the ad is less than whatever profit the advertisers are making from selling whatever the hell it is that they do.
As a result, it’s obvious why they end up on sites like AusGamers. AdSense rewards site operators on a per-click basis. Ads that perform well reward them more. On sites that offer a lot of downloads where the user’s brain is already in “GIVE ME THE DOWNLOAD BUTTON” mode, it is pretty easy to see how they work.
I have always hated these buttons for this reason. I was massively embarrassed when I started seeing these on AusGamers – putting AdSense on our download pages was something we did only relatively recently. So I decided to try to turn them off.
After figuring out the AdSense control panel I discovered that you could in fact block certain types of ads. However, each ad needs to be blocked individually in the Ad Review Center. This is what it looks like right now:
If you click through you’ll see there are 12 ads there – several of which are stupid download ones – but that this is only page 1 – 12 of about 106,961! Now, Google anticipated that you might not want to click through hundreds of thousands of pages of ads, so you can actually block entire ad accounts.
I went through several times when we first had these ads turn up and started blocking ads and accounts. Here’s a screen capture from a couple years ago:
This is just one page of many (… many) which contains all the ads I’d blocked. Further, I’d blocked all the accounts I could find responsible for these kind of ads. But it made basically no difference to the number of these ads that showed up on the site.
It was an unstoppable tide of bullshit ads that – despite spending many hours manually blocking ads and blocking accounts – I could do nothing about. It made me sad.
I’m relieved to see Google taking action on this. It will make the web better. It will make users safer. And it will make site operators that run AdSense feel less like jerks for having these deceptive ads on their sites.