Shady app install ads automatically redirecting mobile users to App Store, Google Play

“For many weeks now, mobile users on both iOS and Android have been encountering a problem where visits to certain websites and apps have automatically redirected them to the platform’s app store to download various games,” Sarah Perez reports for TechCrunch. “The issue involves errant ad networks, which should be blocking these shady ads, but aren’t. Meanwhile, mobile consumers simply trying to use an app or read an article are treated to a poor user experience.”

“The ads promote games like Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Game of War, Zelda Dungeon, and other titles,” Perez reports. “Affected sites and applications have included Imgur, the AP, NBC, Hearst properties, various newspaper sites and blogs, eBay, Perez Hilton, SomethingAwful, WeatherUnderground, TwitPic, Cheezburger.com, Slickdeals, Twitchy, NHL, and many others. This kind of issue has arisen in the past — many times unfortunately. In Imgur’s case in particular, Reddit users have been complaining about the problem for at least two months now. Over a week ago, the company responded on the site, saying that it was trying to figure out which ad network was at fault, but it was hard to pin down.”

“These auto re-directing ads have been affecting both Android and iOS platforms, on both apps and websites, and come in through various third-party networks. The ads move around, too, making them even more difficult to track down and block. It’s unknown at this time which networks have been involved to date, but the ‘auto-clicking’ ads could have a source that gets changed after the ad is first approved, which would make them hard to spot, it has been suggested,” Perez reports. “In addition, networks sometimes buy inventory from other networks, blurring the line as to who’s responsible.”

“For some, like NBC, the solution was to block the entire mobile gaming category from its on-site advertising,” Perez reports. “The company confirmed to TechCrunch that its issue originated from remnant ad inventory controlled by Google, and it has now resolved the problem.”

“Reports, like this from Digiday, have suggested that the problem stems from the gaming companies, like King or Supercell, whose apps are being promoted. But more suspect are the ad networks themselves. Many of these companies have bad practices, and in the past, some on Android have even gone so far as to push co-installs (when you install one app, they install another) or hijack your default search engine,” Perez reports. “What’s more likely is that some networks have directly – or without knowing, because they buy from others – organized this in order to get better performance. Game makers like King and Supercell may not even be aware, because they buy so much media across multiple networks and affiliation platforms, explains Appsfire CEO Ouriel Ohayon, commenting on the issue.”

“Apple also has a responsibility, Ohayon notes, saying that they could randomly sample ads from various apps for quality and communicate regularly with networks, asking them to comply with certain rules and regulations. They could also fix it so that their Safari mobile browser would block automatic redirects. Of course, this would be a difficult undertaking on Apple’s part, but the way it stands today is that these kinds of redirects are ruining the user experience and consumers end up blaming the publisher, the promoted app, and the platform, like Apple or Google,” Perez reports. “We know Apple is aware of the problem, but the company declined to provide a comment today. Google has not yet responded to our request for comment. Stay tuned.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: So, as many of you know from our discussions via email, we have been dealing with the problem for awhile now – and it’s been getting progressively worse. Finally, blessedly, we came across this article!

Tracking down the rogue ads isn’t just hard, it’s pretty much impossible. Many users have been helping our efforts by providing code, URLs, and screenshots. These rogue ads are purposely trying to hide their origins. Normally, with most ad networks and responsible advertisers, when you get an ad you don’t want to display, you can use the end URL to block the ad within the ad network’s controls and it’s done. Not with these. Also, the names of the apps themselves do not show up in any of the ad networks’ tools for blocking unwanted advertisers. On top of it all, we weren’t (and are still not) getting these ads on MDN on our iOS devices while running Safari, so we didn’t even know that there’s a problem until the emails started pouring in.

Again, to clarify, this issue only affects mobile users who are running mobile browsers to access websites, including MacDailyNews. Mobile users who access our site using the MacDailyNews app are unaffected. Mobile users can, as always, visit us via MacDailyNews app, where these ads do not occur.

For weeks now, we’ve been literally turning off entire ad networks trying to track down these things and exterminate them. They just keep coming. So, thanks to Perez’s article, we’ve just followed NBC’s lead and blocked the entire mobile gaming category from remnant ad inventory. Fingers crossed that this works! If it stops this scourge, we’ll take whatever revenue hit results.

This situation needs to be addressed! We’ve been spending many hours on this, trying everything and blowing quite a bit of hard-to-come-by January income, to no avail.

Please understand that we do not want to run these shitty ads, pardon our French. We want nothing more than to block these ads forever. And we’ll continue trying. We’d like to send whoever’s responsible for this crap sandwich to a small jail cell with a TV they can never turn off that just keeps automatically switching channels every minute to the next commercial.

We’re begging Apple, the ad networks, and whoever else to do what they can to resolve this vexing scourge. We apologize for not being able to turn off all of our ads (if we could, we would, but we need them – the good ads from our valued sponsors – in order to survive) and for the poor experience that some idiot somewhere so stupidly thinks is a good method to promote app downloads. Seriously, making users hate the name of the app you’re supposedly promoting is a bad idea, marketing genius.

Thank you for your patience and thanks to so many of our readers who have helped and continue to help us track these things down and exterminate them.

Again, we apologize for this situation and thanks for your patience and help.

62 Comments

    1. And MDN, thanks for the effort go you and is. Hang in there and keep providing such a great service.
      😜 even when I disagree on your specific opinion 😄

      EN

    2. I’ve NEVER had a problem and didn’t know this existed, until this article because I use the MDN App. My solution, just download the MDN app and be happy that the App uses the iAd Platform, that has never had this problem and is user-friendly because of its light banner-style nature that doesn’t take over and hi-jack the whole screen.

      – D

      P.S. This seems like a GREAT opportunity for Apple to expand their iAd Platform for people / companies that are having to deal with these issues and market the fact that these auto-hi-jacking issues don’t exist on their platform

    3. I too have been annoyed by this problem when reading MDN. I tried some advice on the Internet to reset location in iOS settings but that is a very temporary fix.

      While the MDN app works to eliminate this problem, I am a fan of the browser as much as I am a fan of apps, and prefer MDN in the browser.

      So, to fix this problem, I use the Puffin browser, which gives iOS (and Android if you use it) devices a proper desktop class browser on smartphones and tablets.

      The redirect problem does not affect Puffin.

      I still try with Safari and am typing this comment in Safari but when I get these redirect things pissing me off (as it does for MDN and everyone) I fire up Puffin to continue reading there.

      While I do love Puffin I wish MDN every success in finding out the ad networks concerned and I hope the companies doing this cosmically pay somehow alongside Apple smacking them by figuring out how to block their shenanigans permanently.

  1. Could Apple kick apps that are the “beneficiaries” of these re-directs off the app store? Are the app developers a part of this? If not, who benefits from the re-directs? Asking, because I don’t know, although I have certainly been the victim of them.

  2. Was going to point out how ironic it was this article was here until I saw MDN’s take.
    I have removed MDN from my bookmarks and try once a month to come back since I can’t actually see any content here due to the constant redirects to the app store.
    If it happens again I am permanently gone.

    1. I always use the MDN app, didn’t even realize there was an issue until reading this.

      nekogami13, downloading the app for this site would solve all your issues.

          1. Don’t be stupid he is absolutely right why should h have to go between various apps to read different articles if he has a varied reading risk. After all I is the whole purpose of MDN to bring all the various sources of Apple News together so people do t actually have to do similar at the sharp end. So you might a well tell people to go to all the various sites rathe than get it agrigated through MDN. It’s choice and it should not be dictated by spammers.

            1. He was told of a simple remedy to get around the problem until it is resolved. If he can’t handle having another app then he can just go elsewhere. Throwing a temper tantrum like a five year old won’t get him anywhere.

    2. It’s clearly not MacDailyNews fault, so why would you punish the victim?

      Download and use the MDN app. Patronize their good advertisers. Support MDN!

      1. Because none of the other sites have this issue.
        I can not see anything on this site because of the issue, so why come here?
        I refuse to download an app for every site I want to visit when I have 1 Web browser that does it more conveniently.

      1. Can we please STOP relating tech related issues like these to RAPE. These type of metaphors are in no way close to each other, let alone in the same ballpark or in that case UNIVERSE. It’s an insult to true victims of rape and other hideous-like crimes and makes you look like a dim-witted moron.

        1. Words can have multiple meanings.

          Rape: The wanton destruction or spoiling of a place or area: the rape of the Russian countryside.

          MacDailyNews and their users, and many other sites and their users, are being raped by a hidden assailant.

          Be careful before you throw around “dim-witted moron” disparagements lest they boomerang.

  3. Finally someone is reporting on this issue. I was wondering what was going on when I suddenly was sent to the App Store. I had this happen twice today on your site and once on another. I’ve also been having it happen on a social networking app.
    Hope you can find out who this is and block them.

  4. Just got two redirects on my iPhone from two separate pages on MDN.

    The sad part is that when I see the games flash up again and again, I get progressively bitter towards them. I might have downloaded and enjoyed some had I not been so rudely introduced!

  5. When I see redirects like this, I make a note of the offending app/game/company and go out of my way to promote their competitor. I encourage others to do the same.. it lets them know they won’t get away with this.

    I don’t fault the innocent website that displayed the redirect, often they don’t even know it is happening.

    Thank you, MDN, for this news!

    1. Another thing we can do is to contact the developer of any apps we are redirected to and tell them what is happening. Then say if it is a deliberate ploy by them that we will boycott them or if they know nothing about it they should contact their ad agencies and tell them to stop the practice.

      1. To the App Store. This time is was for the open table app, and not for the usual game apps. Apparently getting rid of ad categories isn’t the complete solution as apparently the offending ad network will drop in other ad categories. Thanks for the efforts in trying to track this down.

  6. “On top of it, we weren’t (and are still not) getting these ads on MDN on our iOS devices while running Safari, so we didn’t even know that there’s a problem until the emails started pouring in.” – MDN

    Wow, these crooks are thorough. It sounds like they are detecting your network and hiding the malicious ads from you (and other website owners) so you stay unaware of the ads for more time.

    Have you tried using a proxy to hide your IP address? I’ve never done that on iOS, but it’s easy to set up on Macs. You might see different ads when your browser is pretending to be from another location.

    1. That’s not how it works. MDN’s iOS browsing history simply did not trigger these type of ads to be served. I use Safari on iPad to access MDN and I haven’t seen any of these ads, either.

      1. I also access MDN with Safari via iPad and these ads are SO constant. I actually DID blame MDN for a while until I read this, also thinking like others, how ironic it appeared. I’m still a little skeptical (“We didn’t know” is rarely an excuse I buy), that being said I hope they’re being honest and if the community at large is aware that MDN is doing everything they can than that’s enough for me.

        I almost left MDN for good, glad I got to see what may have really been going on.

  7. Ironic that before I could read this, I was automatically directed to a soft porn app, Ashley Madison (though the url was ashleyrnadison…). Oh, and I’m using Safari on iOS.
    Good luck with your efforts to eliminate these morons.

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