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Nefarious Browser Apps Are Placing Ads Over Your Ads

Internet behemoths like Facebook and Google are starting to get miffed about the increasing trend of browser apps that are effectively stealing their adspace out from under them by giving their own ads a priority spot. Adception, if you will. It seems that the prime culprits are applications from the Sambreel suite, namely PageRage and Buzzdock. Ostensibly, the purpose of these applications is to do stuff like make your Facebook page look pretty by slathering it with hearts, stars, and horseshoes or whatever. You know. Important stuff. As it turns out, however, a big part of the plan may involve pushing ads.

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Big surprise, right? “Oh no, the adwarey adware I downloaded is pushing ads! How unexpected!” The real issue is that they aren’t adding ads, they’re replacing the originals, or at least sliding them down the page. That’s a big deal. Advertisers pay big money for those high traffic spots and now they aren’t getting them. Facebook and Google and such get a lot of their money from selling that adspace, and they aren’t getting any revenue from the app ads. It’s not good for anybody, except Sambreel, which is raking in the dough. It’s also worth pointing out that a lot of ad complaints Google and Facebook get is about this stuff, not official ads.

They aren’t just advertising weird Russian stuff either, Sambreel applications push some big name companies with their questionably acquired adspace. Companies like Gap, American Express and AT&T. Facebook has sent cease and desist letters to Sambreel about the subject, which is where we get into the other half of this thing: Sambreel doesn’t think it’s doing anything wrong.

Company spokespeople insist that their software just allows users to “view the Web the way they want the Web to be viewed.” They also aren’t fond of the term adware. “It is a nasty term to call us adware. The term we prefer is ad-supported software,” Sambreel’s chief financial officer Kai Hankinson told the Wall Street Journal. Yeah! Ad-supported software! Also known as adware! Wait.

Facebook is bracing to take legal action, but it’s a bit of a grey area, so there’s no telling how it will actually play out. Sambreel is quick to point out that they’ve done nothing wrong, as you might expect they’d say. After all, they argue users agree to terms of service that prepare them for the ads, and if they don’t want them, they can buy an ad-free version (yeah right) or uninstall the software. The legal grounds this is all based on largely depends on whether or not consumers are confused by what they are agreeing to when they use this software. In essence, it’s hardly different from Adblock, it’s just its twin from Bizarro world. The companies whose ads are being pushed largely claim ignorance. Due to the weird matrix of third party companies that broker adspace, it can be hard to tell where some of the ads are going.

It’s unclear how it’ll all play out, but chances are what Sambreel is doing is legal. Facebook and Google could try and block the apps, but it’s an annoying chore and leads to a software update arms race. Perhaps the best solution is just getting the truth out there. I’m going to do my part right now: Ad-supported browser addons are just awful. They look awful, they perform awfully, and they help you do things that are awful. No amount of hearts and glitter is worth the indignity of using an ad-supported browser addon. Tell your friends.

(via Wall Street Journal)

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