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About Those Insidious Mobile Ads That Hijack Your Phone and Redirect You to the App Store

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | January 9, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | January 9, 2016 |

(If you are receiving a link to this post, I apologize, but it’s unfortunately not something I can respond to in full on Twitter, Facebook or in an email every time it occurs. Posting this link along with an apology is the best we can offer).

By far, the biggest complaint I get from readers are those persistent, annoying mobile ads that you sometimes get that hijack your smart-phone browsers and take you to the App store to buy Candy Crush or some other irritating iPhone or Android game that you have no interest in. Like everyone else, I despise them, and I get them as much as anyone else on my own phone.

But it’s not just Pajiba; they show up on The Awl, Imgur, AP, AV Club, HuffPo NBC, Uproxx, and scores of other sites, and they drive me f**king bananas. I’ve notified our ad networks on several occasions to try and rid this site of them, but these ads are just as irritating for the ad networks as they are to us. WE DO NOT EARN MONEY FROM THOSE ADS. THE AD NETWORKS DO NOT EARN MONEY FROM THOSE ADS.

It’s not the publishers’ faults. It’s not the Apple or Google Play or Android stores’ fault (entirely, anyway) either, and it’s not even the ad networks’ faults. Those ads originate with insidious little pissants who sneak bad code into large ad networks, and they’re very difficult to detect and root out.

In short, this is how it works: We the publishers enter into a relationship with an ad network. In addition to their own ads, those ad networks run ads from other third-party ad networks. When an advertiser inputs an ad, the ad network checks to ensure there are no spam or malware or phone hijacking ads. However, once the ad has passed inspection, some of these shady motherf**kers come in and add the hijacking code into the ad. They’re hard to detect because there are scores of third-party ad networks within each ad network with hundreds of ads being delivered all over the Internet.

In other words, they sneak these ads into legitimate respectable ad networks (even Google’s own ad network), against the policies not only of the ad networks, but against the policies of the Apple/Android/Google App stores, and even the clients disapprove of these ads (King, the maker of Candy Crush — where I’m redirected more than any other place — is also trying everything they can do to prevent the ads).

Ad networks do eventually locate the ads and remove them, but there’s a lag time in which users can be affected. That hurts the end-users’ experience, and makes publishers look bad because it seems as though we are trying to profit off of a stupid Candy Crush redirect. We are not. We hate them just as much as you, and maybe more, because we not only have to deal with trying to get rid of them, but also embarrassment when someone on Twitter or Facebook calls us out for annoying ads. We don’t benefit from these ads. We are not paid any extra amount of revenue; in fact, we lose a visitor every time these redirects take them away from our site.

It’s a problem with the mobile ad industry as a whole, and while they are working to improve the situation, it’s clearly a slow process. The problem is huge for both ad networks and publishers, because when these ads occur, users are more likely to use adblockers, which hurts the bottom line of both publishers and ad networks. In other words, these ads not only do not benefit us, they hurt our bottom line.

In the meantime, all we can do is apologize and hope that our ad networks become more efficient at whack-a-moling the problem away.

Background: Readwrite, Techcrunch, MediaTrust