Careless clicking leads to deceptive ads

You’re reading an interesting article, engrossed in its content. When you arrive at the end of the story on that page, the article tells you to continue to the next page. As soon as you click on the large right arrow to keep reading, the page becomes something entirely different from what you expected. What happened? You encountered a deceptive ad and it’s a more sinister animal than typical advertisements.

Advertisements are everywhere. Television shows, radio programs, Internet videos, podcasts and web-based articles all have one thing in common – the need to keep the rent paid, lights on and Internet access flowing. Besides selling coffee mugs, t-shirts, and baseball caps with a nifty company logo, the most productive way to earn enough money to pay the bills is to sell advertising space.

Advertising is what compensates content creators for their time and the infrastructure costs that allow a reader to flip to the next page in an article, watch an interesting video, or listen to an engaging podcast discussion. If an ad resonates with someone consuming content, it presents an opportunity to connect with that resource. If not, then the viewer moves on to continue enjoying content unrelated to the ad. When an ad attempts to disguise itself as a part of the content, however, that’s when deceptive practices begin.

While many Internet ads are easy to identify, some are not. An advertisement for a product or service may attempt to inject itself directly into the consumed content in creative ways for two reasons. The first is to make sure you see them. That might be annoying, but it’s not deceptive. The second reason is to fool you into clicking it.

When the ad is designed to be deceptive, it will attempt to mimic the content around it. In online articles, the ad may have elements that will make a reader think it’s part of the main content. The ad’s text could look similar to that of the article and will contain an embedded hotlink to something else entirely. It could also feature:

  • A large arrow to fool someone into thinking it will take a reader to the next page in an article, but takes a person to a different website.
  • A large “Download Here” link to fool someone into thinking it will lead to the desired download, but instead, takes a reader to an alternative download.

When it comes to spotting these deceptive tricks in an article, keep one thing in mind – they’re usually larger than the real McCoy. These types of bait and switch ads want you to see them before the real thing, so they’ll increase the size of the icon, making sure it’s larger than the icon you’re seeking. When you want to move to the next page in a story or download software from a file sharing site, take a look around for the smallest next page or download icon. That’s usually the real link to what you’re seeking. Another way to tell if the icon is the real deal is to hover your mouse over it without clicking it. If the link address, usually displayed on the bottom left of your web browser, is something other than the website address you’re on, it’s an ad. Don’t click it, unless that’s where you want to go.

Deceptive ads also populate smartphone applications. When an advertisement on a smartphone app is designed to be misleading, it will pop up with a control icon or other content similar in design to the app. Don’t become so engrossed in the activity of an app that you unintentionally click on a misleading ad.

Unintentional clicking could lead to undesirable content and take away from the enjoyable experience you thought you were getting. Always pay attention to what you click online and avoid misleading advertisements unless it’s truly your intention to explore the content of a deceptive ad.