A new generation of controversial advertising software is wreaking havoc on the ad businesses of Web giants including Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., inserting a layer of ads on websites or covering up other paying ads.
The software comes in the form of applications that allow people to customize their Facebook profiles with, say, special borders of snowflakes or colorful designs or turbo-charge Web searches. But in downloading the software, computer users open up a door to ads that the big Internet companies complain are rogue.
Once people download the apps, with names like PageRage and BuzzDock, extra ads can appear on Facebook and search-engine results pages. On Facebook, for instance, big splashy ads appear along the border and in the middle of the pages, pushing content—and the advertising actually sold by Facebook— further down the page. The applications can similarly interfere with search results, placing new sets of ads above the ones bought, say, by Google advertisers.
Facebook and Google don't see any of the revenue from these ads, which often are for big-name companies including Gap, American Express and AT&T. The vast majority of user complaints that Facebook receives about advertising are because these ads, according to people familiar with the matter.
The ad revenues go to the firms behind the software applications. These include Sambreel Holdings LLC of Carlsbad, Calif. Sambreel, founded in 2008, makes about a dozen Internet browser applications. It counts more than 21 million users of its applications and says it is growing by more than two million a month.
Sambreel's applications include PageRage, which lets people jazz up their Facebook profile pages with hearts, flowers or sports logos, for instance. Another of its applications, BuzzDock, lets people use multiple search engines at once. Both insert ads.
Facebook has sent Sambreel cease and desist letters, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Sambreel says the company has "no contractual relationship with Facebook and is therefore not bound by their policies."
Sambreel Chief Executive Arie Trouw, a serial entrepreneur, says that the company's products allow Internet users to "view the Web the way they want the Web to be viewed." Sambreel has no relationship with Facebook or other Internet companies, he said, adding that consumers choose to download the software and that ads inserted onto Web pages are clearly labeled as coming from an outside firm.
Many of the Sambreel applications are bundled together so that when a person chooses to download its much-publicized Drop Down Deals application, for instance, they also can agree to download the BuzzDock application, to "see unobtrusive digital ads on Facebook." Sambreel has received publicity for its Drop Down Deals application—which automatically displays coupons on shopping websites—in magazines including InStyle, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle.
Facebook executives are concerned that its users don't necessarily understand the tradeoff when they download such applications, according to people familiar with the matter. As a warning to members, Facebook lists 13 programs on its website as "adware" that give users "special Facebook powers," such as customizing a profile page, but cover up portions of its site with ads. Three of the programs listed are operated by Sambreel.
Kai Hankinson, Sambreel's chief financial officer says.
"It is a nasty term to call us adware. The term we prefer is ad-supported software."
A Facebook spokesman said the company is "reviewing all possible legal, technical and policy options to address this situation and ensure the best possible experience for our users."
Sambreel executives say that its applications appear on people's computers only if they choose to download them and that in doing so, users agree to the terms and conditions that include seeing additional ads. Consumers also have the option to buy an ad-free Sambreel product for $1.99. They also can delete the software if they want.
The ads are sometimes for major brands, such as Gap Inc., American Express Co. and AT&T Inc.. Multiple ads promoting Gap's holiday sales, for instance, appeared on the left and right hand sides of a user's Facebook profile page. Gap said the company doesn't work directly with Sambreel media. American Express said that the company isn't doing any business with Sambreel either directly or through its business partners. That indicates that the ads likely appeared through a third-party advertising company. AT&T said it is looking into the matter.
Sambreel says it sells ads in its browser applications through its three online advertising companies. Those companies either sell ads directly to advertisers or work with more than 200 third-party digital advertising companies that broker ad space.
The Internet companies' ability to technically block applications and ads from companies like Sambreel is difficult and can turn into a game of cat and mouse software updates.
The technology represents a gray area of the law, legal experts say. The strength of an legal case would depend on whether consumers are confused about the tradeoffs for downloading the software and also how the technology actually works to alter the websites people see, says Terence Ross, a partner at the Washington office of Crowell & Moring who specializes in intellectual property, media and technology law.
A Google spokesman said "applications that are installed without clear disclosure, that are hard to remove and that modify users' experiences in unexpected ways are bad for users and the Web as a whole."
Microsoft said it is investigating the activities. A spokeswoman said.
"We do not support adware that irresponsibly displays advertisements in ways that fail to respect the rights of users, advertisers and web service providers, and we will take action where appropriate to protect our customers and platforms."
Yahoo declined to comment.
Asked about the complaints, Brad Miller, chief revenue officer at Sambreel, says,
"If anything, we are probably increasing user engagement or increasing the enjoyment users have on their sites."
COMMENTARY: I find it difficult to believe that Zuck and his army of hackers cannot defend against adware ads appearing on Facebook.
If you believe that your computer is infected with adware, follow these steps to remove the culprit software that is causing those popup ads:
How-To Remove Adware From Your Computer
- Identify the source of the software you want to delete. This can be done by going to "add/remove" in your control panel. To find your control panel, go to "Start", then "Settings" and you should find "control panel"
- Look for software listed that you do not recognize. This is your culprit. Make a note of the company name. This could be useful.
- Disconnect from the internet. You do not want to give the software anyway to connect with it's home site as you remove it from your computer.
- If your start page is has been set to an adware site, reset it to a blank site.
- Reboot your computer and return to add/remove.
- Begin to uninstall the suspecting software. Read the prompts carefully to ensure that you are not telling it that you do not want it removed.
- Once the uninstall is complete, reboot your computer.
- Windows Defender - Very effective in removing adware and spyware programs from your computer. It can be downloaded for FREE from the Microsoft website. Once Windows Defender has been installed on your computer, it will run in stealthy in background, watching for adware and spyware. It also blocks those annoying popups.
- HIPAA Compliant Hostingwww.FireHost.com - HIPAA Compliant Website Host. Specialists in Compliant Hosting.
- Fix Your PC Problems FreeComputerCheckup.AOL.com - Speed Up and Fix Your PC with Smart PC Care from AOL Computer Checkup.
- HubSpot™ - Get A Demowww.HubSpot.com - Inbound Marketing Software. Easy to Use, No Hardware. Free Demo
- Norton™ Antivirus - Freewww.Norton.com - #1-Ranked Online Protection Suite. Download Latest Version for Free.
Tips and Warnings
- The simplest way to remove adware is to purchase software designed for adware removal. This software is different from anti-virus software, however many of the anti-virus software has adware removal software included.
- When you identify the offending adware, search the web for information on the suspecting company. This will help you to know what you are dealing with as you begin the actual removal process.
- Avoid responding to pop up boxes that show up when you enter websites. This can unknowingly be a source of adware downloads.
- Some adware can be self starting and stubborn to remove. This may require additional assistance to avoid damage to your computer.
- Avoid file sharing. It puts you at higher risk for viruses and other unwanted downloads.
I hope the above helps you eliminate your adware issues.