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Bing ads now allow dodgy download sites to spoof Google

Michael Passingham
4 Jun 2015
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Despite cracking down on misleading ads on third-party websites, Microsoft's Bing is still showing adware-infected sponsored search results

More than a month after Expert Reviews discovered that Bing ads linked to dodgy download sites, the Microsoft-run search engine has, if anything, gotten worse. Now, as well as blatant links to dodgy sites, we've discovered that Bing ads are allowing advertisers to spoof legitimate sites, including Google. 

Searching for Google Chrome on the UK version of Bing, we were hit with large ad box. While the top two hits were clearly for dubious download sites, it's the third link that made us pause: it showed a link that appeared to be from Google.com and listed the link as www.Google.com/Chrome.

Although the site looks legitimate, the URL is actually spoofed and clicking it leads to a completely different site (csoftonline.com). This is incredibly misleading and, while the main Bing search engine shows legitimate results, the differences between the sponsored and organic search listings won't be obvious to everyone. This means that people could end up on this site by mistake.

This download site is one of the worst we've encountered, with an exceedingly misleading installer that is designed to get users to install as much adware as possible. Clicking the Next button on each stage of the installation process results in another piece of software being downloaded, while the greyed out "decline" button actually takes the user to the next step anyway, only without installing the piece of software displayed on that part of the installer.

This is hugely misleading and while it doesn't technically breach Microsoft's misleading content rules, in our books there's no excuse for this kind of installer when Google has a clean version of Chrome available.

As well as installing annoying software, we found that this website also tried to install some potentially dangerous applications. One application, Launch One System Care, opens web pages that pop-up persistent dialog boxes that inform the user that their PC has a virus, asking them to call a phone number. Unsurprisingly, this number will put you through to scammer who will try to make you pay for software you don't need.

A Microsoft spokesperson wouldn't comment directly on our findings, but instead released this statement:

“At Microsoft we are committed to a safe online experience for our users. Bing Ads policies already disallow advertisements that are misleading, deceiving or harmful to users.  Efforts such as this one simply reinforce Microsoft`s ongoing efforts in consumer safety and protection. We continuously monitor our marketplace and employ a variety of detection mechanisms and processes, proactively and reactively, to ensure a safe online experience for our users. We welcome feedback on ads that may be violating our policies. Advertisements can be reported to us via our online escalation form for prompt consideration.”

Our initial investigation conducted in April found that searching Bing for well-known bits of software yielded unofficial download sites loaded with adware above a link to the official Internet Explorer download page, meaning searchers were exposing themselves to misleading, ad-laden installers when a safe, free alternative was available. A week after we published our investigation, Microsoft announced that it was altering its misleading advertisements policy, although this only appears to affect visual ads and not sponsored content on its own search engine.

Interestingly, Bing currently doesn't display ads when you search for Internet Explorer search term. Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, the two other most popular web browsers, are still hidden below ads from adware-hosting sites. We've reported the matter to Microsoft and will update this article if the problem is fixed.

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