It’s not our fault! Really!

We’re getting a lot of complaints about ads redirecting people to the app store — and I agree, they’re obnoxious and spammy and we’re killing them as fast as we can find them. But it’s not our fault! We really don’t want them either. But apparently, spammers are currently ahead of the spamblockers. It sounds like it’s going to take OS updates to purge us of this plague.


  1. brinderwalt says

    Try browsing in incognito mode on Chrome. I don’t know if that works on iOS, but on Android, it’ll at least ask you whether you want to leave incognito mode before redirecting you to the app store, and you can cancel it without it redirecting.

  2. narciblog says

    I hate to say it, but if “shady, third-party ad networks” are injecting this kind of ad, one solution would be to stop doing business with those networks.

  3. robro says

    The best recommendation I can offer is to use the AdBlock extension, available for Chrome and Safari. My web life is much happier since I installed it. When I do occasionally have to turn it off and forget to turn it back on, then visit Pharyngula I see lots of ads and pop-up windows that I don’t normally run into any more.

    I also switched to Duck Duck Go as my default web searcher (available in newer versions of Safari) so I don’t get spooky ads for things I’ve looked for on Amazon and so forth.

    There is Private Browsing in Safari on either OS X or iOS…don’t know about Windows, but I would guess that it’s available there. I’m not sure that prevents ads and I know it doesn’t block cookies (another setting), though it may reduce websites tracking ability.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    A solution is to subscribe to the ad-free version of FtB for $30/year. If I see ads, I know it is time to login again. Then no ads, even on the iPad.

  5. jacksprocket says

    But if you give them $30 a year, they’re not Freethoughtblogs, just Cheapthoughtblogs.

  6. lb says

    I have AdBlock for my desktop, but it’s not available for my Android tablet. So unfortunately, I have stopped accessing this site when I’m using my tablet. :-/ It always redirects me to the Playstore and then my tablet freezes when I try to get out of it. I end up having to reboot. :-( It’s very frustrating.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    On my iPad, the admonster opens a new tab, which I immediately close.
    Thankfully no freezing.

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But if you give them $30 a year, they’re not Freethoughtblogs, just Cheapthoughtblogs.

    For me, it was to be able to block ads at work. All computer programs at work go through our IT department, including addons for IE. The answer is usually “no”.

  9. Anri says

    What I can’t figure out is how those evil spammer bad guys somehow got access to the servers FtB is hosted on. Must be malware or something.

  10. mynax says

    It would be nice if the FTB login page had a link back to FTB, for simplicity’s sake.

  11. says

    Your ads get more and more invasive as the years pass. There’s always a handwavy explanation about it, too. There really has to be an atheist ad expert out there willing to advise you pro bono.

    I have no problem viewing ads to support everyone’s work and I know this site is not your full time job. But your ads make it really difficult to actually view the content.

    Mobile redirects. Ads that push content all over the page…not to mention all the crappy ones using women as eye candy for whatever.

    I’m surprised someone like Federated Media isn’t all about you guys.

  12. says

    I had this whole comment ready to write about how the further you go “off Broadway” with advertising networks, the more likely these sorts of malicious ads are to turn up. The Big Guys ought to have tighter standards for the ads, but be more controlling over the site content they’ll allow. The more hands-off the network gets, the worse the ads tend to be… networks willing to completely turn a blind eye to the site content seem to do the same with their ad content.

    But I checked the FTB page source, and was surprised to see these are being served by Google Ads! My whole thesis goes out the window. I wouldn’t have expected such low standards from a major provider.

    Right now I’ve got a banner for an NGO (fine), a banner advertising adblock removal (hilarious), that awful “around the web” ad collection (‘doctors hate this!’), a slide-in ad on the left that pushes site content off screen until closed, a broken rect. ad that I think is supposed to be a video (it was last page load) that is nested 4 iframes deep, a leaderboard ad space that seems to be missing altogether half the time, and some embedded script that pops up a window on first interaction (in this case, when I right-clicked to view page source).

    (I have to be honest — I run an ad blocker, mostly because of stuff like this. I turned it off to verify the above, but I’ve had to re-enable it because my browser has crashed twice while composing this message.)

    Frankly I’m stunned Google are serving this crap. I wonder if there are different levels of service you can buy from Google, because it doesn’t seem to be this bad on most other sites.

    And to be honest, I’m not sure Google is a good partner for FTB anyway. Shamus Young ran his site with Google ads for a long time, but got pulled up on a terms of service violation for an eight year old post (about weird perceptions of foreigners, referencing a breast-grabbing American in an anime show). This was incredibly tame compared to the “Roman orgy” styled free-to-play game ads he was constantly blocking, but he had to pull the post or lose all ad revenue.

    Given the nature of the topics FTB often deals with, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a few posts that could be targeted by your opponents for potential ToS violations. It wouldn’t have to be legitimate, just barely plausible. Then you’d be stuck with taking down the post, engaging in a protracted (and likely futile) battle over the accusation, and/or losing ad revenue.

  13. says

    Kagato, Google can be the service used to traffic the ads without actually providing them. You can plug third party ad networks directly into DfP (their ad service).

  14. robro says

    I would happily subscribe to FtB…ads or no ads…but the only payment method seems to be PayPal. The only time in my 20 odd years of Internet browsing that I came close to being ripped off it was through PayPal. Plus, I find their system to be confusing. Give me an alternative payment method and I’ll subscribe in minutes.

  15. leerudolph says

    I see absolutely no ads on freethoughtsblog blogs, and I do not use AdBlock. What I do use is NoScript, which allows (fine or coarse, at choice) control over what sites can run scripts when; I presume that (at least) the pop-up ads here require scripts to run.

  16. Holms says

    Nerd of Redhead
    For me, it was to be able to block ads at work. All computer programs at work go through our IT department, including addons for IE. The answer is usually “no”.

    I spotted a problem in and of itself right there :(

  17. says

    I wouldn’t have expected such low standards from a major provider.

    AAaaahahahahahahhahahahahahahahah!!!! What planet do you live on, again???

  18. auntbenjy says

    On firefox I use ghostery and noscript. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any ads here.

  19. says

    I expect awful ads themselves to come from just about everyone. I knew Google were responsible for the aggregate ad sections (ie. ‘you won’t believe this one crazy trick!’) but I didn’t expect the page-breaking ad placements to come from them. Like I said, I just haven’t encountered them much elsewhere, outside of less reputable sites like certain download portals.

    (…and is preview broken again, or is it just me? I thought it was due to mucking about with browser settings, but it’s not working in any browser for me now)

  20. kc9oq says

    I use NoScript on Firefox both on windows & android and recommend it highly. It prevents malicious scripts from running, stops cross-site scripting exploits, blocks iframes and makes Firefox much more stable. It does have the “unfortunate” side-effect of blocking ads, however.

    BTW, I would happily subscribe to this site if someone would tell me where to send the check. I tried to donate but FTB only accepts PayPal, which I have ceased using because I have irrefutable proof it is not secure.

  21. says

    I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing any of these annoyances at FtB. I’m a subscriber; I guess, this is why. But I have seen it several times at Wonkette, when browsing via phone. One I got a few things was this spammy, mispelled thing, the message being ‘Your Android may be infected by (13) virus’ or somesuch nonsense, this app ad thing, with a popup dialogue that effectively made actually reading the content impractical for a while. Dunno if Wonkette or the service pruned them, or the Chrome update rolled in to fix it, but anyway, it’s stopped, now.

    They do seriously piss me off, though. I think it’s the sheer insult to intelligence involved that makes me see such red over these things (right, look, badly spelled popup on the web… Here, take my money). Or maybe I’ve been in network security and associated work too long (done a lot of secure VPN stacks in my time, other stuff around intrusion detection, so on). Or it’s seeing a certain parallel with phishing jerks who scam gullible seniors out of five and six figures at a time, telling them they’ve won a lottery or something. I get to picturing more innocent users getting scared by these stupid, spammy things, getting suckered, giving these sleazeballs money, installing their junkware…

    Anyway, whatever it is, something about this schtick makes me very cranky. And I start fearing I’m beginning to understand vigilantes. Sort of. I mean yes, yes, Batman’s still kind of a loser–I mean, seriously, a billionaire chasing street crime? Bruce, guy, have you no concept of treating symptoms versus cause? But these spammers, damn. And so I begin get why the cape and the ears and the masks and all might have been so attractive to fans of that stuff…

    As, were I a billionaire with nothing else to do, apparently I’d be using my vast resources to find these bastards, and hunt them down. Yes, fine. Bill Gates, you can deal with AIDS and global warming and all that stuff. I’ve got these popup spam guys…

    Just what I’d do when I found them? Well, seein’ as these probably aren’t even so much crimes as violations of various contract terms, I suppose all I could actually do is glower through the mask and tell them, sternly: no one wants your stupid crap! But, seeing as that’s all I really want to tell them anyway, maybe this would be enough…

    (/I guess a more sensible strategy for a vengeful billionaire would be some kinda targeted military grade worm thing, which hoovers out their bank accounts and sends all the money to a fund set up for victims of phishing scams, or automatically refunds anyone who sent them anything. But, then, I sorta assumed the glowering through the mask thing was mandatory for vigilantes.)

  22. Infophile says

    And we see in this thread the results of the arms race between ad providers and ad-blocking users.

    Advertisers see that few people are actually paying attention to their ads, and more are blocking them, so they make the ads harder to ignore and more likely to trick people into clicking. We go from text and image ads to animated ads. People get fed up with intrusive ads, and more turn to ad blockers.

    Now even fewer people are paying attention to ads, so advertisers feel they have to make them even more intrusive. We go from animated ads to popup, popunder, and slide-in ads that steal focus from the screen. Even more people get fed up and go to ad blockers.

    Advertisers see click-through numbers dwindling further, so they resort to forcing people to click through. Ads start to hijack tabs when you click a link on a page, or automatically redirect users. Even more people start searching the web for solutions, ending up with ad blockers.

    In the final phase, websites start selling their souls to ad providers, letting them embed ads exactly as if they’re real content so that it’s impossible to block. The result? People lose trust in the sites and stop going to them once they realize they’ve been bought out.

    Thankfully, some sites and advertisers seem to have realized what’s going on. I’m seeing more and more sites that make a deal with their users: “Please turn off ad-block to help support us, and we’ll promise to keep the worst ads off of our site.” Hopefully once advertisers realize that users have the power to block all ads, more and more will start to back off.

    It also wouldn’t hurt if a few advertisers who are blatantly breaking the T&Cs of ad providers got hit hard with breach-of-contract penalties, but for some reason, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    (Honestly, in the current US judicial system, I’ve actually surprised there hasn’t been a bigger push from corporations to get ad blockers made illegal.)

  23. says

    Extending the rant a bit: I don’t aways use ad blockers myself. I do at work, don’t generally on my own gear, on the notion that on my own gear it’s usually sites I wish to support I’m reading. So I do see a lot of the stuff the ad networks are carrying.

    And sometimes, it does seem to me, in a nod to Chomsky and Co., that a whole lot of the economy is engineered to make people more dumb–or, more precisely, less engaged with anything actually important. That outbrain junk always jumps out, especially. The message is, generally, something like: ‘Hey, we see you’re reading something wonky about climate change… Can we suggest instead you read about celebrity wardrobe malfunctions? Look: scantily clad bodies and improbable money-making schemes! Click here, please. We feel the need to see you waste your time…’

    (/Amusingly, at some point, speaking of this and Wonkette, said site (or I guess I’m just guessing it was their end) added a little banner above the outbrain box that said, simply: ‘Look! Sex!’ Just so it was properly labeled. To which I can only say, yep, well played.)

  24. says

    There’s always the claim that it somehow isn’t your fault, but I don’t have this kind of trouble on many other websites. I can surf most of the web from tiny indie websites to big conglomerates to struggling blogsites trying to make it big (much like FtB) and never get this level of almost-malware advertising.

    It’s on your network, it IS your fault. I’d love to turn off my adblock and noscript on this domain to help support FtB but there’s no way I’ll do it until your advertising is at least marginally normal. That means no redirects to app stores at the bare minimum.

  25. says

    To those who want to blame FtB: Someone above already mentioned this happens to them at Wonkette, and this happens to ME personally all the time at HuffPo and a few other sits. It’s NOT just FtB.

    Read The Fucking Article.

  26. says

    We did, and it’s still the fault of the site running the ads to police what is being run on their site. There are numerous examples of other sites (like your favourite and mine, Skepchick) that do not have these issues. I think those sites Read the Fucking Manual.

  27. Trebuchet says

    @29: Why not support FtB by going ad free? Best $30 I ever spent. I actually chipped in $100 so it wouldn’t expire as soon.

  28. Who Cares says

    how can you defend against Google reselling space on their network?
    That is what you are telling FtB to do.

  29. John Horstman says

    @lb #6: Firefox Mobile for Android has AdBlock available, which is good becasue I’ve found web browsing to be all but impossible on my resource-constrained smartphone without it (also helps with 3G browsing, since ads may constitute a significant portion of page content that needs to be sent over the network).

  30. says

    @33 Who Cares:
    I’m not sure that’s at all what I’m telling them to do as it’s not clear to me they are getting their advertising through AdSense at all (and AdSense offers all types of options to adjust what advertising your site receives).

    It’s clear they are not getting their advertising exclusively through AdSense. So far as I can tell FtB are getting ads through the following networks or exchanges:
    Atlas (Facebook’s answer(ish) to AdSense)
    eyeReturn Marketing
    Legolas Media

    And those are nine that I recognize as ad vendors. There are several others popping up I’ve never heard of before.

  31. Who Cares says

    @Captaintripps(#35): I take back my previous comment that are a whole lot more networks then just Google.

  32. Ysidro says

    What happens is the ad networks sell space to each other. All it takes is one or a few bad apples to ruin it. I get redirects on all sorts of sites, you really can’t predict what website will get you a redirect ad.

    I believe the WSJ lessened things by banning all ads for mobile games from their site. I don’t know what sort of agreement FTB has with it’s ad provider, but I know there have been requests to block other sorts of ads.

    That won’t fix things, but it might help. The only way it will be fixed is if someone finds a way to hold advertisers responsible. And as long as their all in collusion, it won’t happen.

    This isn’t even new. Here’s an article on techcruch from a year ago about this very issue:

  33. says

    Publishers share fault as well. It is up to them to monitor who they are doing deals with, who those people are trafficking, and what gets onto their sites day-to-day. It’s also their responsibility to ensure advertising is non-abusive/intrusive.