In an effort to make the web a safer place, Google maintains a list of abusive sites that display misleading ads or other nastiness. This list is used by Chrome and other browsers to ban all ads on these sites. Thus far little was known about the targeted sites, but a recently published list shows that pirate sites are disproportionately targeted.
Online advertising can be quite a nuisance. Flashy and large banners, or intrusive pop-ups, are a thorn in the flesh of many Internet users.
These type of ads are particularly popular on pirate sites. Many users tackle this by installing an ad-blocker. People who don’t, often have to navigate through a maze of fake download buttons and other misleading ads.
Increasingly, Google is trying to hide such ads from the public. Not just on pirate sites, but everywhere they pop up. The company, which derives most of its income from adverts, is generally not a fan of ad-blocking. However, it does employ various blocking initiatives that target third-party advertisers.
Two years ago Google announced that its Chrome browser would start to automatically block ads that don’t adhere to the Better Ads Standards, for example. This was implemented early last year in several locations, including the US and Europe.
In a separate effort, Google has also started to banish abusive experiences. In Chrome its begun warning users about various deceptive practices, such as fake download and play buttons, while blocking unwanted redirects which are prevalent on some pirate streaming sites.
This wasn’t enough though, in December Google upped the ante when it decided to block all ads on a curated selection of sites with persistent abusive experiences. This includes the aforementioned fake download buttons, but also ads that promote or link to unwanted software.
This is a big step, as sites that have all ads blocked will certainly notice a significant dip in revenue. Thus far, however, little was known about what sites are targeted by Google, or how many there are. That changed recently.
The latest release of the Vivaldi browser, which is based on Chrome, also implemented this blocklist. This was announced in a blog post by its CEO Jon von Tetzchner.
“We’ve improved security by blocking advertisements on sites with abusive ad practices,” he writes. “We want you to be safe while on the web, and worry less about who’s abusing you with dangerous ads.”
Google’s list of abusive sites is available through an API, but not accessible to the public. However, Vivaldi has access to it and maintains a copy on its servers, as highlighted by Techdows which highlighted it in a recent report.
We should stress that this list of “abusive” sites is separate from the list of sites that violate the “better ads” standard, which Chrome’s built-in ad-blocker uses.
A quick review of the list reveals that it’s dominated by pirate and porn sites. At the time of writing, there are a total of 7,059 sites on the list including hundreds of pirate sites such as thepiratebay.rocks, eztvtorrent.net, filmytorrents.com, gostream.nu, songsmp3.org, and watchonlinemovies.net.
The targeted pirate sites are mostly smaller proxy sites or copycats, often designed to generate revenue. Interestingly, there are also several Blogspot sites on the list, such as the pirate release blog 4howcracked.blogspot.com. Blogspot is, of course, a blogging platform maintained by Google.
In addition, we noticed that many domains are no longer operational, such as tehmoviez.download, and various others redirect to new URLs, as 0123movies.io does.
When we first saw the list the relatively popular torrent site TorrentDownloads.me was listed as an ‘abusive’ site as well. The operator confirmed this and told TorrentFreak that he noticed a decline in revenue when that happened.
“Revenue dropped a few months ago when they put us on the abusive list. That’s why we are thinking to move our domain to new TLDs. I will also send a request for Google to review the site again and hope they will unblock it now,” the operator said.
Apparently, this worked, as the site was unlisted a few hours later. No surprise perhaps, as the site doesn’t display any ads at the moment, so we must wait and see if this holds when the ads are put back.
Another site owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, informed TorrentFreak that his site was listed previously, but that the issue was resolved after he removed what Google flagged as ‘abusive’ code.
With billions of sites on the Internet and just a few thousand on this list of abusive sites, the impact of this measure is relatively minimal. And even on sites that are listed, some ads are still coming through, such as on the adult site 007zeed.com and pirate site Stream-Island.su.
While the measure may not be perfect, Google sees it as an attempt to keep the web safe. While that’s an honorable motive, there may be a self-serving element to it as well.
As said before, Google doesn’t want people to install ad-blockers. So, if its own browser blocks flashy ads on sites by default and bans ads on abusive sites completely, fewer people may see the need for a separate ad-blocker.
As a result, Google’s gains more revenue.