Earlier this week, a number of Associated Press readers reported that accessing AP stories from their smartphones "automatically redirected" them to the download page for games like Candy Crush. Even readers who hadn't clicked on the ad, ended up in Apple App Store anyways.
The redirect, which appears to have been fixed, also routed would-be readers of Cosmopolitan, NBC Sports and Perez Hilton to the download pages of Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and Game of War, among others. The "glitch" even affected users of one of the most lucrative properties in all of mobile media: Facebook.
This kind of shady tactic to drive downloads is becoming more common. NBC Sports blamed a "nearly identical" issue from the same day on "ad inventory sold by Google." The Associated Press told Digiday the January redirects were unintentional and caused by an ad network partner, but wouldn't say specify which partner.
Websites that redirect on page load to App Store games: please die. You should never switch apps without user action. (Apple, fix this.)
— John August (@johnaugust) December 28, 2013
Welcome to the bizarre world of online advertising, where ad-buying and delivery systems are so convoluted that pretty much any skulduggery can be papered over with plausible deniability. This has long been a problem with the desktop industry, so it's little surprise that the opacity has moved to mobile, where publishers make a fraction of what they do on desktop.
So, then, how do they occur? The culprits would then appear to be the mobile game publishers themselves, who are apparently using redirection to generate more downloads. Redirection took users to download pages for Candy Crush (created by mobile gaming shop King), Clash of Clans (created by Supercell) and Game of War – Fire Age (Machine Zone, Inc.). King, Supercell and Machine Zone did not return requests for comment.
The ad networks and publishers are paid on installs, which incentivizes them to serve these trickster "app install" ads. Former CBS Interactive exec Jason Kint, who spotted the questionable Candy Crush ad, told Digiday:
"We all know there's a dark world in the ad tech complex that users and publishers don't even know exists," Kint said. "The users have no idea who the ad networks are, so the blame will come back to the publisher."
Update: Susannah Clark, senior director of communications at King, the maker of Candy Crush, told Valleywag: "This is a practice we don't condone but we do everything in our power to try and prevent it. I won't be able to give you details on partners involved, I'm sorry."
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