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Opinion

Big-Tech's “Ad-Pollution” and Online Scammers Poison the Holiday Shopping Experience

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The holiday season truly is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many Americans. Friends and family gather in celebration and catch up with the aroma of turkey and pumpkin pie in the air while the sounds of American Football games provide a soundtrack to these unforgettable get-togethers.

During this season, it is commonplace to receive a knock on your door and be greeted by relatives or friends bearing gifts, many of which were likely to have been purchased online. With retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Apple, growing their respective online market shares as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce is now accounting for a staggering 21% of global retail sales as of 2022, with 2.14 billion people shopping online in 2020, and total digital sales reaching $4.9 trillion in 2021.

Online shopping may very well offer consumers an immediate savings by reducing the number of fill-ups needed at the pump, but there are still numerous drawbacks to limiting your holiday shopping to the internet.

Firstly, in recent years, cybercriminals have taken to creating websites bear a strong resemblance to many of the popular and legitimate online retailers that consumers regularly visit to purchase goods. Although these sites can be hard to differentiate from the ones that they mimic, one way to identify them is to look for a slight misspelling in their name, so be wary of the URLs you may visit while shopping online.

Another easy way to investigate a questionable looking website is by checking how long the domain has been registered by entering it on whois.icann.org and typing in the website’s address. Most scam sites that rip-off consumers tend to be newer and only stay active for the holiday months.

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Another drawback to shopping online is the way that the Big-Tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Facebook enable the ad networks that fuel their profits to engage in behavior that misleads consumers. This kind of behavior may include displaying advertisements in ways that may be indistinguishable from the website’s content. These kinds of ads trick web surfers into clicking on them, leaving them frustrated and annoyed.

This may have a particularly negative effect on older internet shoppers, many of whom may be living on a fixed income. The camouflaged ads can easily lead them to unwanted downloads and purchases as those kinds of solicitations can be particularly difficult to differentiate for even the most seasoned internet users.

But perhaps the most bothersome marketing tactic we see today is when advertisements automatically generate in new tabs or windows that randomly pop-up on your screen. Despite the fact that these behaviors are reminiscent of annoying apps that are referred to as adware that are notorious for spamming consumers with unsolicited advertisements and are associated with shady websites, unfortunately these business practices are leveraged by many lesser than reputable online profiteers that exist in the dark corners of the web.

With these tactics unfortunately becoming more common, consumer protection advocates have begun calling out this kind of malicious online profiteering. One organization in particular known as AppEsteem has recently created an online list of Ad Pollution Indicators that define these nefarious advertising tactics and have named over thirty ad networks that engage in these practices, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

According to the President of AppEsteem’s, Dennis Batchelder, “Big-Tech companies are fully aware of how these misleading ads can be detrimental to many consumers, but they still perpetuate these practices. It pollutes the web browsing experience, and we want them to stop. That’s why we’re calling them out.”

AppEsteem is currently engaged in a pressure campaign against Big-Tech’s questionable advertising practices. Over the next few months, they will be assembling an industry-wide coalition as well as developing software that is designed to protect consumers against the rise of rampant ad-pollution.

Shopping online can be precarious enough without Big-Tech enabling questionable practices by ad networks. Hopefully as pressure against these practices rises, big players like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, will eventually look to work towards creating a safer online shopping environment for all internet users.


Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, President of JMI Strategies and JMI Strategies Global, Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by many of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world. 

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