Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re browsing your favorite website on your phone, and without realizing it you’ve clicked on an ad. Oops! Guess your finger slipped, and that’s why you’re now in the App Store being told to download Candy Crush Saga (even though as a Gamezebo reader, you probably already have it).
Maybe your finger slipped… but maybe it didn’t.
Sites all around the web this week (like Digiday, TechCrunch and Valleywag) have been reporting on a strange and somewhat sleazy phenomenon: ad networks that are automatically sending you to the App Store to download the game they’re pitching. Games that have been mentioned as part of this scheme include Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Game of War – Fire Age.
In other words, the three top grossing games on the App Store.
Figuring out who’s to blame is where things get a little murky. Websites use different ad networks to sell ad space, and knowing which one is at fault can be surprisingly tricky. Adding to the confusion is that one ad network might buy ads from another ad network, making the trail almost impossible to follow.
The catch-22 is that even though it leads to a terrible reader experience, there’s still a pretty big incentive for publishers to let these ads continue: many ad deals are built on a cost per install basis.
Still, that hasn’t stopped most publishers from wanting to put an end to ads that auto-click. TechCrunch reports that NBC blocked mobile game ads completely until the culprit could be nailed down – in their case, the ads seemed to be coming from ad inventory controlled by Google.
Even if you can trace the ad back to its related network, there’s still the question of who’s to blame: the network, or the game developer that’s placed the ad? There’s no clear answer, but a hell of a lot of finger pointing. Digiday argues that game publishers are at fault, “apparently using redirection to generate more downloads.” TechCrunch suggests that it’s the ad networks: “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.” And in speaking with Valleywag, King’s senior director of communication Susannah Clark said that “this is a practice we don’t condone but we do everything in our power to try and prevent it.”
Regardless of who’s at fault, it seems that auto-clicking ads are a growing problem. Should Apple and Google step in to put an end to this? Could they even if they wanted to? Whatever the future may hold, one thing’s for certain: the next time an ad opens up that you didn’t click, you’ll know you really didn’t click it.