Do Mobile Websites Deserve To Die?

The difference with iOS 9 Content Blocking is so huge, we shouldn’t blame anyone for adopting it

Today, Sunday 9/20/15, Mashable is being hit by the same ad fraudsters that I told Mashable about a week ago. And Mashable is using a LOT of my bandwidth!

I visited two pages on their mobile website and my iPhone was made to download 38.1 Mb from 627 HTTP calls. When I used a content blocker, this fell to 12.4 Mb from 58 calls— of which over 9mb was a huge animated GIF delivered from giphy.com.

That’s 38.1 megabytes, in 2 minutes and 40 seconds on the Mashable site

This was mainly thanks to a “video” ad (probably a series of images loading into an HTML canvas tag, with muted audio at the bottom of the page, that I only saw when scrolling all the way to the bottom).

These two pages were the homepage and I then navigated to the same article in both cases, ironically, “12 ways to get more battery life from your iOS device running iOS 9”. They don’t mention not visiting Mashable as one of their 12 strategies, BTW. Here’s the article.

The mobile page also crashed after all this excitement

But the AppStore redirect was far more visibly annoying to me than the bandwidth and battery drain which are harder for users to see.

Last week, Heidi Moore, Business Editor from Mashable who’d seen one of my tweets, put me in touch with their ad operations manager over email, and I sent them my mobile browser log files that showed how a rogue advertiser or ad network was redirecting some portion of their weekend iOS traffic to the AppStore, to the DraftKings installation page (ad fraud is always much much worse on weekends and holidays).

I asked that they please tell me what they learned, who in the ecosystem was responsible for this URL showing up on their site (it’s often a series of people, often ending up with a lack of due diligence on the identify of an “advertiser” and their ad tags — like this huge malware investigation showed recently). But this is all they told me:

Email from Mashable ad operations after I sent my log files to them

Unfortunately again today, Sunday 9/20/15 I noticed with the new iOS9 content blocker off while trying to simply measure the size of the iPhone loads I would get visiting Mashable, that their site was trying to redirect my phone to the DraftKings (again: aren’t they advertising enough on TV??) app install page. It was the same originating URL, a similar tracking URL, and while on my phone it basically left a blank page (see below — not sure if this is a new iOS 9 countermeasure against popping up an AppStore page out of an ad).

But when I tried the URL on my desktop, it was going to the DraftKings page.

Apple/Draftkings people — can you please look at these URLs and let everyone know what piece of shit ad network, affiliate or someone is doing this? It can’t be good for your brand! Here it is (I pasted them as images; be careful if typing them in):

yeah, you made a really shitty deal!
the tracking URL that shows up in multiple apple forums as leading to appstore pops

And here is the AppStore URL it created, don’t know if this helps you: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/draftkings/id710535379?ls=1&mt=8

All this leads me to a few quick conclusions:

  1. Content blocking on iOS 9 mobile Safari is very compelling, and not just for saving bandwidth. It cuts down on annoyance for the user, as this simple example shows.
  2. Fraudsters and bad actors are hard to find, and are not going to stop trying to do what they do — and publishers are totally ill-equipped to deal with them. There are a bunch of “anti-fraud” vendors’ tags running on Mashable.com probably to no avail. The whole ad ecosystem is a leaky sieve and thus content blocking has a legitimate non ad-blocking use case that people SHOULD take advantage of.
  3. The future for advertising in mobile websites is very much up for debate, period. Remember, that (mostly) unwittingly, publishers will be making some amount of additional revenue from the fraudvertising that’s going on — so blocking will not only choke off legitimate advertising they may rely on but also they’ll see a much quicker drop-off when the bad stuff goes away too.