Disguised Ads

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Adverts that are disguised as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to get users to click on them.

Example: Softpedia.com (July 2010)

Softpedia.com is a free-to-use software download site. According to alexa.org, it’s the 356th biggest site in the world (at roughly the same ranking as bestbuy.com, slideshare.net or ikea.com). You’d hope that to get to that sort of size in today’s world, they’d have to behave responsibly. Not so. Check out this download page below (26-July-2010). Can you work out which is the correct link to click to download the file? (Hint: It doesn’t include the word ‘download’.)

Softpedia Disguised Ads: example submitted by @andybak

Example: zdnet.com (October 2010)

Clicking anywhere on the orange background down the sides of the page will take you to the SAP site, as if you had clicked a banner. This applies for the full space of the orange area, even 6 to 7 screens further down the page.

Of course, clicking on an empty page background is a common trick users employ to restore focus to a browser window.

ZDNet.com: advertisement disguised as page background: example submitted by @alphabux

Example: thechive.com (November 2011)

Similar to the znet example above, clicking anywhere on the background opens up a page with an advert.

Of course, clicking on an empty page background is a common trick users employ to restore focus to a browser window.

thechive.com: advertisement disguised as page background

Example: protect-pcu1.com (January 2010)

Explained in some detail in this forum post, this website uses a third-party ad provider who provided some highly deceptive ad content. The ad pops up a message box using Javascript reading: "Warning!!! Your personal computer needs to install antivirus software! Personal Security can perform fast and free scan of your computer ."

Antivirus warning.jpg

Clicking either "OK" or "Cancel" will take you to the vendor's webpage. It pretends to be running a virus scan, then pops up a "Windows Security Alert" saying it found a virus. The fact that it did not request permission to run or install special software should be the tip off that in reality, it is a simple animation, and is not in any way affiliated with Windows. The pop-up window cannot be closed (the entire window is a bitmap linking to a software download). Google has since labelled it as a malware site, and the website has been taken down, but similar deceptive tactics are often used by actual antivirus software vendors, who will claim you need to buy their software to eliminate fictitious viruses.

Example: userstyles.org (November 2011)

Userstyles.org is home of the popular Stylish extension for Firefox and Chrome. It hosts user-submitted styles which, once installed, will be automatically applied to targeted sites. Unfortunately, its use of disguised ads leads many in the wrong direction:

userstyles.org: advertisement disguised as download button for user-submitted style

Ironically, Stylish is popular with many people who identify with the Dark Patterns project and write styles to hide deceptive ads/interface elements found on many sites.

Example: sourceforge.net (March 2012)

sourceforge.net is a popular download site for open-source, public domain and demo software. It is now running ads which are disguised as the download link for the desired file.

What is most misleading about them is that the ad download link on the right is much larger than the actual file download link, and the text describing what will be downloaded (“Download Gimp”) is far separated from the button itself, clearly intended to deceive.

userstyles.org: advertisement disguised as the main download link

Even more distressing in this case is that the ad is ostensibly to download Gimp, a well known and very reputable open-source image editor. However, following the link leads to a different download site: www.download-21.com/gimp-Free-Photo-Editor-20625c/?gclid=COvK-tXa-q4CFQdN4AodnHzSwQ (link deliberately made non-live) which is a good example of a Misdirection dark pattern.

Very fine print below that download link states: Clicking this Download button starts InstallIQ™, it manages your Gimp installation. Learn More. Gimp is also available for free at the manufacturer's website.

The fine print at the bottom of the download page states:

Download-21.com is distributing modified installers which differ from the originals. The modified installers are compliant with the original software manufacturer's policies and terms & conditions. InstallIQ™ is an install manager that will manage the installation of your selected software. In addition to managing the installation of your selected software, InstallIQ™ will make recommendations for additional free software that you may be interested in. Additional software may include toolbars, browser add-ons, game applications, anti-virus applications, and other types of applications. You are not required to install any additional software to receive your selected software. You can completely remove the program at any time in Windows' Add/Remove Programs. At the time of downloading you accept the conditions of use and privacy policies stated by Download-21.com. The download will be executed through a download manager that belongs to InstallIQ™. The mentioned download manager doesn´t have any relationship with the author. It can be downloaded as well freely from the author's website. Download-21.com aims to offer downloads free of viruses and malwares. The download manager is part of our virus and malware filtering system and certifies the file´s reliability. Additionally, the download manager offers the optional installation of a toolbar. Free Microsoft Word, Free Microsoft Word 2010, Download Microsoft Word Free

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2012-10-05 / 09:30:25 UTC