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January 20, 2014

Several Chrome Extensions Cause Ad Furor for Google

There is no denying that seeing an ad on your webpage has some e-commerce and m-commerce benefits. However, there are people like myself, who believe that having unsolicited ads appear all over your webpage is not something that some be the norm.

It seems that I may not be alone in this way of thinking. Google had to remove two Chrome browser extensions from its Web store. It turns out that the software for these two extensions included code that caused ads to pop up on webpages. This violated Google’s terms of service, so of course, this raised some issues.

The two extensions in question are “Add to Feedly” and “Tweet This Page” and they were discovered this weekend. It appears that once they were noticed Internet message boards lit up like a Christmas tree. At least it would have if it was an old fashioned phone system, but I think you get the point!

People were in an uproar over this. It was only a month ago that Google revised its policies to prevent software developers from using extensions to insert advertising on more than one part of a page. This is a form of malware. It is called adware and it introduces ads on multiple spots of a web page.

The problem is that adware places these unsolicited ads where they wouldn’t normally be. One reason that I like using Google Chrome as opposed to Bing or Yahoo is that I like the clutter free home screen. Unfortunately, some of these extensions even cause ads to appear on that screen.

Another problem is that the people who install an extension are most likely not even aware that the software can be silently updated to include code that serves ads or reports back browsing habits. Something that Google does not do is review changes to the code of Chrome extensions.

These extensions are allowed to be updated and pushed to users’ computers automatically. Perhaps it is time to re-review this practice. The owners of a lot of popular extensions say that they have been offered money to incorporate ad code into their extensions.

Extensions are small bits of code that alter a browser by adding new features or removing others. AdBlock is an example of a popular extension. It is designed to automatically block advertising on websites.

It appears that there is nothing improper about developers accepting payment for putting ad code into extensions. The fact of the matter is that these codes must adhere to Google’s terms. However, if Google is not keeping track of these extensions, then who is responsible?

Users have a tendency to get quite annoyed when they find themselves exposed to ads from an unknown source. I feel that they have a perfect right to be upset. I know that I, for one, fall into this category.

What started this furor this weekend was the fact that Amit Agrawal, the developer of “Add to Feedly,”described on his website how he sold the extension to an unknown buyer for a small sum. He said the new owner added code that injected invasive advertising on users. Something really bothers me about the phrase, “unknown buyer!”

This is not a practice that is solely limited to Google Chrome. About a year ago, it was pointed out by Martin Brinkmann while writing on that an extension for the FireFox browser had been purchased as was used to track users’ browsing habits after a software update to the extension.

It does seem that it is difficult for companies like Google to monitor each and every extension to their browsers, especially since ownership can be transferred to another party without users ever knowing about it. It is also apparent that something should be done to curb adware.

According to Ars Technica, Google stated that Chrome’s extension policy is due to change later this year in June. The new policy will require that extensions can only serve a single purpose.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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