A pair of Chrome extensions has been removed by Google from its web store after marketers purchased the software from their creators and used them to insert adverts into the browsers of users.
The said extensions – “Tweet This Page” and “Add to Feedly” – had somewhat small audiences, with less than 100,000 each. The two extensions were updated without users being informed and started placing ads throughout the internet, even bringing some on the famously spartan home page of Google.
The developer behind the extension Add to Feedly, Amit Agarwal, said on his personal blog that an unknown buyer had bought his software, adding that it was a four-figure offer for a project that had taken him one hour to create and so he agreed to the deal.
Once the deal had been concluded, the new owner exploited Chrome’s automatic update feature that permits the browser as well as its extension to be updated without the user knowing.
Although it is still uncertain if the “Tweet This Page” extension was also purchased by marketers, it was also updated to serve users’ unwanted ads, even changing the results of Google searches, redirecting links to the wrong page.
Ron Amadeo, a technology journalist, indicates that these are only two examples of an extensive practice. Independent developers build useful software in a brief period of time and are tempted by the benefit of a quick sale. However, the buyers are not interested in the software and only want to capture the extension’s audience, inject the ads and collect the revenue from the ads.
A developer of a Chrome extension called “Honey” with almost 300,000 users, following the news about these two apps, stated that this was common practice. He added that they’ve been approached by adware companies that have tried to partner with them, as well as data collection companies and malware companies to buy the extension, but turned them all down.
Although it is not unheard of for extensions to bring adverts to users, it is expected that developers be upfront about it and not try to trick users into clicking on ads.
It appears that there is no clear method of stopping this practice, and Google and its users will have to be observant to altered software.