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IE and Edge to block dodgy ads, but will Bing do the same?

David Ludlow
6 May 2015
dodgy ads according to Microsoft
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Internet Explorer's Smart Screen filter will block adverts that prompt users to download software, but can Bing do the same?

Microsoft has put up a blog post explaining how it's going to use Internet Explorer's SmartScreen Filter to crack down on misleading advertising. The changes, which come into effect on the 1st June 2015, will target adverts that mislead users and attempt to get them to download files or software. According to the new rules, adverts "Must not mislead or deceive, or confuse with the intent to mislead or deceive. Must be distinguishable from website content. Must not contain malicious code. Must not invoke a file download".

According to Microsoft, the changes are there to protect users, with the types of advertising as seen in the image below tricking users into performing actions that they don't fully understand. Specifically, Microsoft wants to combat adverts that automatically download files when clicked, usually by appearing as a dialog box, and to block adverts that make themselves look like proper content. An update to the Internet Explorer SmartScreen filter will enforce the new rules, and will also work in the new Edge browser, which is available with the current build of Windows 10.

dodgy ads according to Microsoft

While we applaud Microsoft for this change, we have to question if the same kinds of rules will be applied to Bing. As we found out recently, searching for common free software using Bing displayed dubious download sites as the top hit, via the sponsored box. As we pointed out in our article, the difference between a real organic search result (the proper download page) and the sponsored links, isn't automatically obvious to every user. In effect, advertising can result in Bing users clicking a link and ending up on an unofficial download site.

We found that using these download sites to get free software, such as Internet Explorer and Chrome, resulted in a third-party installer being downloaded. As well as not always having the latest build of the software, these installers also tried to install additional tools, including adware. After acting like a naive user and installing everything, we ended up with some ad-injector software displaying pop-up adverts telling us to call a number to get security help with our computer. Calling the number we were through to a scam company that wanted to remote control our computer and sell us security software that would, at best, do nothing and, at worst, infect our computer further.

We have asked Microsoft to clarify if the proposed changes will affect Bing's advertising, but we have not yet heard anything back.

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