No one really likes online ads, but they keep the lights on at our favorite sites. In return, we tolerate ads flashing across our screens and getting in the way of what we're trying to read.
But there is a darker side to online advertising, and it's when ads deliberately mislead, antagonize or even scam users. Google will no longer tolerate this kind of ad behavior in its Chrome browser, and as a result, offending website operators could find themselves without any visible advertisements on Chrome at all.
In order to protect yourself, you don't actually have to do much. Google will roll out Chrome version 71 in December, and since Chrome updates itself automatically, all you have to do is use the browser as you usually would. The update will add filters for abusive ads, but if you prefer to take your chances, you can disable the option in the Settings menu.
This news comes from Vivek Sekhar, a product manager for Chrome. He explains that Chrome had already implemented countermeasures for "abusive experiences": auto-redirects, fake cursors, phony error messages such as "Your computer is INFECTED!" and so forth. However, while these protocols protect users against misleading behavior on websites, they didn't tackle the same kind of behavior in ads, pop-up or otherwise.
"This approach did not go far enough," Sekhar wrote in a blog post today (Nov. 5). "More than half of these abusive experiences are not blocked by our current set of protections, and nearly all involve harmful or misleading ads."
If you've spent any amount of time online outside the confines of walled cities like Facebook, Google, Netflix and so forth, you're probably familiar with what Sekhar is talking about.
He cites two common examples of misleading, abusive ads in his post. The first appears to be a "play" button that starts a video, but then sparks a totally unrelated download when clicked. The second looks like a "close" button for an unwanted ad, but actually launches another popup window.
Installing garbage on your system or filling your screen with popup ads is bad enough, but Sekhar points out that it's not the biggest problem with misleading ads. Much more problematic is when these abusive ads lead directly to phishing attempts, tech support scams or flat-out malware. Once you trap users in a never-ending cycle of threatening popups, it becomes much easier to trick them into giving up their email addresses and passwords.
In addition to filtering abusive ads, Google will also be sanctioning site owners who host them. If the Chrome team discovers misleading advertisements on a website, it will give the site owner 30 days to clean them up.
If the owner does not comply, Chrome will block all ads when it displays the site, no questions asked. Given that about 60 percent of web users have Chrome as their default browser, this could theoretically bleed a site's revenue dry pretty quickly.
In the meantime, no matter how good Chrome's filters get, using some common sense online will still keep you safer. Steer clear of shady websites, don't click on a link that isn't explicitly the one you're looking for, use a good antivirus product, and if all else fails, Alt + F4 is your friend.