Big-tech enabled ‘ad-pollution’ and cyber scammers are poisoning the holiday shopping experience

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

For many Americans, the holiday season is truly “the most wonderful time of the year.” Family and friends gather together to celebrate and catch up on their lives with the aroma of turkey and stuffing in the air while the sounds of NFL and College Football games provide the soundtrack to memorable get-togethers.

During the months of November and December, it is not out of the ordinary to receive a knock on the door and be greeted by friends or relatives carrying gifts, many of which were likely purchased online. As online retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Apple, grow their respective market shares on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce now accounts for a staggering 21% of global retail sales as of 2022, with at least 2.14 billion people shopping online in 2020, and e-commerce retail sales reaching $4.9 trillion in 2021.

Although shopping online may offer consumers an immediate savings by reducing the number of fill-ups needed at the pump, there are still multiple drawbacks to limiting your holiday shopping to the vast expanses of the internet. First off, a new wave of cybercriminals has taken to publishing websites that look identical to many of the more popular and reputable online retailers that consumers visit to purchase goods. Although these sites may be difficult to differentiate from the genuine article, one way of identifying them is to look for a slight misspelling in the name of the site, so be wary of the URLs you are visiting while shopping online.

Another good way to try to investigate whether a questionable looking website is legitimate is by
checking how long the domain has been registered by entering it on and typing in the website’s URL. Most of the scam sites that bilk consumers out of millions of dollars every year tend to be newer and only stay active through the holidays.

Another major drawback to online shopping is the way that Big-Tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Facebook regularly enable the various ad networks that fuel their mega-profits to engage in behaviors that mislead consumers. These behaviors include displaying ads in ways that are indistinguishable from the website’s content. These ads trick web surfers to click on them, leaving them annoyed and frustrated.

For older internet shoppers, many of whom may find themselves living on a fixed income, the
camouflaged ads can lead to unwanted downloads and purchases. These kinds of solicitations can be particularly difficult to differentiate for even the most seasoned web surfer.

But perhaps no other marketing tactic is as annoying as advertisements that automatically display in new tabs or windows that randomly pop-up on a web surfer’s screen. Although these behaviors are consistent with annoying apps that are referred to as adware that are known for spamming customers with unsolicited advertisements and are associated with less than reputable websites, unfortunately these practices are promoted and monetized by some lesser than reputable online profiteers that lurk in the darkest corners of the world wide web.

As a result, consumer protection advocates are calling out this kind of malicious online profiteering. One organization known as AppEsteem has created an online list of nine Ad Pollution Indicators that define these kinds of nefarious practices and have called out over thirty ad networks, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

According to AppEsteem’s President, Dennis Batchelder, “Big-Tech companies are fully aware of how these misleading ads can be detrimental to many consumers, but they still perpetuate these practices. It pollutes the web browsing experience, and we want them to stop. That’s why we’re calling them out.”AppEsteem plans on creating a pressure campaign against BigTech’s questionable advertising practices over the next several months by assembling an industry-wide coalition as well as developing software that will protect consumers against this scourge of rampant ad-pollution.

Online shopping is dangerous enough without Big-Tech scattering digital landmines in the cybersphere. Hopefully with enough pressure, the biggest players, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, will eventually work towards creating a safer and cleaner environment for all internet users.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, President of JMI Strategies and JMI Strategies Global, Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by many of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world.


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