Combating annoying mobile pop-up ads - Here's what to do

The aggressive ads frequently flash across users’ displays even on reputable websites. They often send these users on a detour to phishing sites that collect personal data. We explain how you can protect yourself.

mobile pop-up ads

Björn GreifEditor

Many Internet users have already experienced this by now: While surfing the Internet, a pop-up message suddenly appears on their screen bearing a riveting piece of news: You have just been selected to play a sweepstake game or quiz. Such pop-up ads are increasingly turning up on mobile sites as well. They appear in mobile browsers or apps that have a browser built into them such as the Facebook or Twitter app.

These pop-ups are truly annoying, as some consume the entire screen and even block the back button, in addition to keep redirecting users when they try to close them. Frequently, users have only one recourse: restart the browser or app – and even then, the ads may reappear.

Why do pop-up ads appear on reputable sites?

Over and over again, users run into these ads while visiting more trustworthy websites that certainly are not interested in having their visitors rerouted to dubious addresses. But how do they find their way onto these websites?

A brief look at today’s advertising market offers some valuable insight: Most websites no longer sell advertising space directly to advertisers, instead opting to work with advertising networks. The servers of these networks automatically aim ads submitted by advertisers at particular target groups. As a result, the ads will show up on all sorts of websites, without the advertiser or operator of the page knowing where which ad will exactly appear.

Advertising networks usually do not check the ads submitted to them for JavaScript code that facilitates redirects. Most networks simply sell the advertising space to the highest bidder. This way, redirecting pop-up ads can quickly spread.

One example is aggressive sweepstakes advertising that usually pretends to be run by legitimate providers. In the end, though, users will land on a phishing website where they have to submit personal data. The data collected in this operation are shipped to data brokers and then resold.

In the same way, ads could redirect users to pages containing malicious code. Today’s users are virtually trapped because such pop-ups are increasingly showing up on reputable websites.

How can users protect themselves?

The only way out is an ad blocker that prohibits pop-up ads and other advertising from the beginning on. The Cliqz browser contains a built-in ad blocker. Its anti-tracking system, which is based on artificial intelligence (AI) and includes dynamic recognition ability, also offers protection from the increasingly sophisticated ad trackers. A key weakness of most other ad blockers and anti-tracking tools is that they exclusively use block lists that have to be manually adjusted to address modified and new processes.

In the Facebook app, links open in the integrated browser by default. In this case, pop-up ads can also redirect users to dubious sites. This also applies to other apps with an embedded browser. Some apps like Facebook for Android can be configured to automatically open links in an external browser such as Cliqz. Via this detour, users can again benefit from an ad blocker.

The Cliqz browser is available free of charge for Android and iOS as well as Windows and macOS.