Don’t take part in pop-up sweepstakes on Chrome!

The ominous Google sweepstakes keep going around on the Internet. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON reveals how you can recognize the fake competition and how to counter it.

Google gives back: The long-term “membership” should be rewarded. Just answer three questions correctly and you get an iPhone 11, 1000 euros on Amazon or a Samsung Galaxy S20. But quickly, otherwise the profit will be passed on to the next user in line. Anyone who has ever seen this pop-up competition in their browser on their smartphone has been a victim of “AdCloaking”. This is a scam that is supposed to sell multiple advertising subscriptions to ignorant users.

What is AdCloaking?

The word AdCloaking is made up of the word “ad”, in German: advertising, and “cloaking”. That means something like “camouflage” or “mask”. The name is pretty good: it is advertising that pretends to be “normal” advertising for advertising delivery systems such as Google and Facebook. The “camouflaged” advertising then places a pop-up in the browser over the page that you actually want to visit and lures the user with a promising competition. 

Often fake Facebook comments can still be found on the competition page. This should confirm that the competition is real and that the prize “arrived in the post yesterday”.

The problem: The advertising providers can hardly or only poorly recognize in advance which advertisements are camouflaged. There is little control in the advertisements from Google and Facebook anyway, since the premise applies that in general any type of advertisement can be shown. But even with a check in advance, advertising could still be changed afterwards. The companies therefore rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify harmful advertising in good time and remove it from traffic. Often, shrewd developers manage to smuggle their camouflaged advertising through the security precautions.

Also interesting: Alleged Android update installs new types of malware

What does the sweepstake do for the fraudsters?

If you then want to claim your prize on the competition page, you must provide data such as name, email address, address and telephone number. In some cases it is actually a competition, but the solutions are often only months later and a win is not guaranteed by answering the questions, as the original pop-up wanted to lead you to believe.

The data that the operators of the flimsy competition site then collect is passed on to third parties, mostly companies, who then shower the victims with advertising.

You have to do this now

First of all, you should be immediately suspicious of pop-ups on pages you actually want to visit. If these pop-ups promise competitions, vouchers or other prizes, the alarm bells should ring right away. If you inadvertently click on such a pop-up and are redirected, do not enter your details under any circumstances. As long as you are careful, nothing can happen to you and you can simply close the browser window to get rid of the page. If it doesn’t close, go to the settings of your smartphone to clear the browser cache. On Android, go to Settings> Apps & notifications> Show all apps> Chrome> Storage> Clear cache .Settings> Privacy> Clear browsing data and click Clear browsing data.

Unfortunately, there is no way to take preventive action against the pop-up windows. However, if there are always websites on which the annoying windows appear, you can prevent the opening of windows on the page itself. To do this, click on the three dots and then on the round info symbol and then on  Website settings. Then click permissions and disable the  notifications for the website.

Virus scanners are unfortunately useless because the supposed competitions run as verified advertising.

Also watch out for fake virus warnings

Another scam is a virus warning, which is intended to trick the user into thinking that viruses have infected the smartphone and damage the SIM card and delete data. The user should download an app for protection, a corresponding link also refers to the entry in the Google Play Store.

Such sites are quite easy to recognize as fake. The address is not a Google domain, the text has been translated with Google Translate and the formatting with free-standing lines such as “undefined” prove the fraud.

If you download the app, you actually first get the malware onto your smartphone instead of a virus protection program. The app nests in the background and continuously plays advertising, which is then displayed during normal use. Since it cannot simply be stopped, it also constantly consumes battery.

Also interesting: Autofill functionality in Chrome and Safari can be dangerous

Google is taking rigorous action against AdCloaking

At the request of TECHNOLOGY BUTTON, Google spokesmen were unfortunately unable to officially state how the company is proceeding against AdCloaking. However, in a May 2018 post on the official Google blog, Scott Spencer, Director of Sustainable Advertising, explained what Google is doing to create a safe advertising ecosystem. According to Spencer, Google removes 100 malicious ads every second. That is 144,000 deletions per day, 4.3 million per month and over 50 million per year. In 2017, 320,000 advertising counters were banned from the Google advertising network. The company also trains its artificial intelligence to recognize malicious advertising in advance. This is because advertising is often only recognized as malicious when it has already been played out and shown to users.

TECHNOLOGY BUTTON means

“Google promises to do everything against the so-called“ AdCloaking ”, but in reality that is hardly enough. The advertising fraudsters are always finding new ways to circumvent Google’s precautions by disguising their data collection software as legitimate advertising. So what really helps is always to be very careful with competitions or lotteries that just pop up in the browser. ”

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