back to article Devs slam Microsoft for injecting tech-support scam ads into their Windows Store apps

Application makers are crying foul after some of their programs distributed via the Windows Store popped open tech-support scam ads on users' desktops. A thread in Microsoft's support forum, active since April 28, details the scandal: programmers who use Redmond's Advertising Software Development Kit (SDK) to display ads in …

  1. Shadow Systems

    "Avoid Redmond..."

    Best. Advice. Ever. =-)

    1. Insane Reindeer

      Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

      Try it. Go an entire, normal life, week without having any thing to do with anything from Redmond. Then get back to us.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        I understand some chaps in Cupertino make a jolly nice fruity computer

      2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        My most common use of Windows is the self-service checkouts at the super-market (I know they are Windows because I have seen them crashed). Next on the list is probably ATM use. They were (are?) XP. Once every five years I tell a Windows device that I have arrived for my regular check-up at my local surgery. It is possible there are some other Windows machines I use less frequently that have successfully hidden their OS by not crashing when I see them.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          It is possible there are some other Windows machines I use less frequently that have successfully hidden their OS by not crashing when I see them.

          You clearly need to improve your glare a bit.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          The checkouts at my local supermarket are Linux - I know, because there is a smiling Tux in the corner of the lock screen.

        3. Joe Montana

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          Some self service checkouts are linux based, like the ones at B&Q... You don't usually see because they rarely crash, although i have seen them reboot once during a power outage.

          Most ATMs nowadays are running windows 7, XP ones have largely been phased out.

          Many devices use windows because its easier, and developers to write the frontend software are easily available, but its stupid to have a full featured os on a device intended to provide a very limited subset of functionality.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

            Windows Embedded is modular - you can avoid to install a lot of pieces.

            And anyway we have seen how many devices using some versions of Linux were full of outdated and vulnerable code... IoT just made it worse.

        4. pyhoff@gmail.com

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          I see dead people OK so a business poor maintenance is a Microsoft problem, so if push my car 3 years with out an oil change thats the manufactures issue or my idiocy?

        5. Test Man

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          Your train timetable screen will be Windows.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

            No problem. I'm not in Blighty nor do I use trains as there are none other than freight where I am.

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

            Who is this "'your" you're speaking of?

        6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          "It is possible there are some other Windows machines I use less frequently that have successfully hidden their OS by not crashing when I see them."

          The trick is never to look. Sort of like Schrodinger's Cat.

      3. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        I have done that for over a couple of decades. Unix & now Linux do everything that I need without having ever suffered from malware or a system update unexpectedly interrupting my work.

      4. RogerT

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        ATMs and railway ticket machines are windoze so it's impossible to have nothing to do with them.

      5. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Linux

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        Hmm, don't know if that's possible now. There is nothing at all in my house that has any connection with Microsoft - and that's been true since the days of Windows95.

        How am I supposed to avoid something I have no contact with?

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: How am I supposed to avoid something I have no contact with?

          I'll add a common reply. [see icon]

          You really do need to get out of Mommy's basement a bit more often.

          [see icon]

          There are a lot of us who have avoided using anything bearing the MS logo where we have control over the choice for years. Linux, Android and the Apple world make it easy to do it where we are in charge.

          OThers have made the IMHO mistake of going with Windows Embedded for a variety of reasons but most of them really don't hold up to serious examination but as the saying goes, 'There's Nowt as queer as Folk'.

          Software from Redmond ? Snog, Marry or Avoid? And the answer is Avoid like the plague unless there really is no other choice.

      6. cob2018
        Linux

        Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

        No problem. Last month I visited some relatives and got my VERY FIRST contact with the Rubbish from Redmond in calendar year 2019.

        Yes, I'm a Linux head. Been one for 20+ years now, and DAMN PROUD OF IT.

        1. Kiwi

          Re: "Avoid Redmond..."

          No problem. Last month I visited some relatives and got my VERY FIRST contact with the Rubbish from Redmond in calendar year 2019.

          You're well ahead of me then. None thus far, none on the horizon.

          Most likely place I'd even see it is at my Doc's office, and I haven't been there in quite a while and don't expect to visit any time soon.

      7. Shadow Systems

        At Insane Reindeer...

        I've currently got an HP tower on the side of my desk reformatted from the Win10 it was sold with & given a copy of Ubuntu instead.

        It cost me a pretty penny to have that done, I'm totally blind else I would have done it myself, but I hope it will be worth every penny.

        Because it's got Orca (the screen reader) installed & running which allows me to interact with it.

        I am slowly, painfully, baby steps at a time, tip toeing my way through how to use it at all, hopefully eventually becoming proficient enough with it to use it as my primary computer.

        It is not an easy task, the hurdles seem infinite in quantity & Sysifisian of quality, and my Windows knowledge does me little to no good in the world of Linux.

        But I am learning, I'm making progress, and the end goal is being able to ditch Windows all together.

        I sure as hell won't be "upgrading" my current Win7 system to Win10, down that rabbit hole I refuse to go.

        As I've said many times before, MS wants me to upgrade & they've done everything in their power to convince me to do so, but they've convinced me to upgrade right the hell off the MS Infinite Treadmill(C)(TM).

        1. jtaylor Bronze badge

          Re: At Insane Reindeer...

          Shadow Systems, how is Orca working for you?

          Friends used to use Window-Eyes and JAWS, but Apple's Voice Over has been much easier (and good lord, much less expensive!)

          I tried Emacspeak long ago. That was too...too much like EMACS. Blinux looked promising but is gone. Is Orca easy to learn?

          1. Shadow Systems

            At jtaylor, re: Orca.

            It's great at some things, utterly sucks sweaty monkey poop at others.

            I'll be trying to figure out what a set of menu icons^1 are supposed to do only to have Orca hiccough & start reading bits that make no sense & may not even be part of said menu.

            ^1: When icons include some form of AltText or Description that allows them to be read aloud by a screen reader. Most do not include such bits & are thus "invisible" to Orca.

            Or I'll ask it to read the entire page to me, sit back to listen, & wonder WTF when it starts repeating itself. Why is it starting over from the beginning? Fast forward back to the last place I can remember prior to the twerk & restart... Only to have Orca read as if nothing were wrong.

            It's all hit & miss - even if/when Orca works like it needs to there are programs (even bits of programs) that give it fits, cause it to shit itself, or otherwise make my life hell. What might have been a simple act to visual folks turns into an hours long freescale climb of Mount Whatthefuck over something(s) that the program coders missed, didn't care about, or actively created in such a way as to intentionally fuck with your head.

            An example is taking a right-mouse-click Properties view of something. In Windows+Jaws it's the right application key. In Orca it's supposed to be the same but often doesn't work. Finally get it to work & the Properties screen comes up. Except the folks that made the widget are using images of the buttons instead of text, no text descriptions, so I have no way of knowing WTF any of the buttons do. I have to get a sighted helper, borrow their eyes, & memorize what the buttons at each position do. ("Button 1 is for disc clean up, button 2 is for defrag, button 3 is for compressing the drive", etc.)

            Now multiply that kind of crap by every program on the computer. NONE of them were written with Accessibility in mind, all of them have quirks to learn & learn to get around, and I can't get proficient with the computer until/unless I learn all those quirks. That's hundreds of things to memorize. I'm already so old my brain leaks, so trying to cram it full of a whole new OS worth of data?

            *Holds skull in both hands & sways woozily*

            Ow ow ow ow owwwwww...

            1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: At jtaylor, re: Orca.

              FWIW some of us try to help. I have a couple of blind friends, and ask their advice about my website and the softsynth I work on - it's possibly unique in having a full command line interface. I've also tried to promote the topic at the Linux Audio Conference for a couple of years.

  2. Dwarf Silver badge

    Whilst at the same time ad slingers wonder why we do everything we can to block them ...

    Surely attempting to scam someone must be illegal or at the very least immoral

    1. Joe Drunk

      Websites>We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going.

      Me> My Granny got scammed when visiting your website by an ad that claimed her PC was infected and paid $500 for a dubious service she didn't need nor ill afford on her fixed income!

      Websites>Shrug then grimace.

      Me>Activate ad blockers/content blockers on all PCs I am responsible for.

      Websites>We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going. Please disable your ad blocker.

      Me>Shrug then grimace.

      1. Fatman

        RE: "We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going."

        <quote>

        Websites>We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going. Please disable your ad blocker.

        Me>FUCK YOU!!! Shrug then grimace. Closes browser window.

        </quote>

        FTFY

        Now where is that finger icon???

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: RE: "We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going."

          >Now where is that finger icon???

          What we actually need is the: "Give The Finger (GTF) mechanism that communicates a user's opinion of an ad received (and tracking details of the relevant ad) to ad delivery network owners and arbitrage service. Ad's that have received a GTF shall be blocked (ie. not served again) until the ad has been reviewed by an independent assessor."

          It shouldn't be too difficult as basically we have the main elements of this system with the Do Not Track (DNT) and DCMA take down notices. However, doubt it will happen, unless it can be sold as a profit earning stream to ICAAN.

      2. GnuTzu

        Websites>We rely on ad revenue to keep this site going.

        Users> But, I enabled ads; why can't I get this content.

        Web Proxy Admin.>To ensure that this organization and its customers are protected from your risky browsing behavior and advertising services who are apathetic about infected content--advertising services have been blocked for the entire organization, and there is nothing you can do to unblock them.

        Hacker>Ha, used a Javascript blocker to disable the Javascript that detected that ads were blocked, and now I can get to the content (most of the time).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    I'm so angry!

    Generic anti-MSFT rant

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: I'm so angry!

      I ceased to be angry with Microsoft when it became possible to claim back the Microsoft tax on laptops. They are a bit like Trump - do you laugh or worry that there are people who still believe what they say.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the Windows Store popped open tech-support scam ads

    ah, a nice, green, safe, walled garden where sheep graze and their fleece is gently trimmed by invisible shears... Shame about wolves digging a hole (or parachuting), but never mind, just a bump on a long road to the the wall-building nirvana :)

  5. Hans 1
    Windows

    Are we sure it is NOT Microsoft support, this time ?

    According to the developers, netizens who downloaded their apps are being interrupted by their browsers opening up new tabs displaying an alarming message that wrongly claims their PC is infected or damaged, and are directed to a scammer-owned website that offers to fix the supposedly broken machine for cash.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Are we sure it is NOT Microsoft support, this time ?

      The "scammer-owned website" bit certainly isn't conclusive.

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Are we sure it is NOT Microsoft support, this time ?

      a scammer-owned website that offers to fix the supposedly broken machine

      I think it's called Windows Update*. And it doesn't offer, it insists.

      *OK, not actually a website.

  6. SVV

    Their support team ... then suggest you open a paid for support contract

    So, the technical support offered to fix a tech support scam is to offer paid tech support?

    Ouch.

    1. Billa Bong

      Re: Their support team ... then suggest you open a paid for support contract

      This made me laugh despondently too. Who's to say that the whole thing isn't perpetrated by Microsoft trying to drive up their own tech support rev.?

  7. sitta_europea Silver badge

    So you dig a hole in the sand, stick your head in it, and then shit happens, and you're SURPRISED???

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      "So you dig a hole in the sand, stick your head in it"

      I was wondering where all the cat poop came from.

  8. Jusme

    I see the problem right here...

    "programmers who use Redmond's Advertising Software Development Kit (SDK) to display ads in their apps"

    Pot, meet kettle...

  9. Captain Scarlet
    Coat

    MS has an App store?

    Oh yeah since WIndows 10 was out thats in my powershell script to remove.

    And middle finger to linking my local user account to an online Microsoft.

    I don't see the point in downloading software or games for the PC that have any form of ad, there is decent enough open source software for most software needs (Gimp, LibreOffice, etc...) and paid options for anything else (dbPowerAmp, Vegas Movie Studio, etc...).

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    alarming message that wrongly claims their PC is infected or damaged

    If the PC is running Windows 10 the word "wrongly" is debatable.

  11. Robert Helpmann??
    Childcatcher

    Just close your browser

    In my experience, whenever someone makes a technical request or provides a technical solution that starts with the word "just", that person is talking BS and should be regarded as an idiot concerning the subject. For example, "Just open the firewall so I can download this app that isn't allowed here at work" was a real request I got. It seems MS is playing to this and it makes it even more obvious what we are dealing with.

  12. AndrueC Silver badge

    Similar to when people use the word 'simply'. I remember many moons ago the Haynes manual for the Austin Metro had this as the first step for gapping the distributor points

    First: Simply drain down the cooling system and remove the radiator as described in...

    Far better advice would be 'find someone with small hands' :)

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Joke

      Far better advice would be 'find someone with small hands' :)

      But do you seriously want a certain president to work on your car?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "But do you seriously want a certain president to work on your car?"

        He'd just declare the fact that's broken as fake news and it will magically start working again.

  13. Milton

    Back to reality

    Here's a crazy idea:

    Produce an app that is so useful that people would be willing to pay for it.

    If folks are not willing to pay for it, maybe, in truth, it isn't really any good, since it demonstrably has no value for the the users?

    What does it say of your wonderful product that no no one will even stump up the price of a sandwich to use it for a year?

    Do you think that weighing it down with a bunch of (the internet's universally terrible) ads is adding value to your app? Making it better?

    Are you proud of having users whose estimation of your product's value is ... zero?

    The Internet: where free stuff is worth every penny you pay for it

  14. Wolfclaw

    As the supplier of the SDK and the ads themselves do they not have a duty of care and possibly open themselves up to a lawsuit.

  15. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    New Revenue Stream for Slurp?

    Maybe Slurp is looking for a new revenue stream; a cut of the 'support site' revenues. </snark>

  16. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    '"Microsoft does not send unsolicited messages to request personal or financial information, to provide technical support to fix your computer, or to send intimidating alerts with threats to take action,"

    In fact they apparently do send exactly these types of unsolicited messages -- it's Microsoft's ad SDK, and so Microsoft's responsibility to filter exactly those types of messages out of the ad stream it provides.

  17. Dr.Flay
    Stop

    Adware is Adware

    disgruntled coder at GameFace.LLC. "How do you expect users to trust using any app on the Microsoft Store when they keep having a browser popped open with an obvious scam site?"

    disgruntled user at Home. "How do you expect users to trust using any app on the Microsoft Store when they keep having adverts in them ?"

    Ummm, so if you download software from a developers own site and spams you with adverts, that is called Adware and blocked by AV.

    But if you download it from an official appstore where they take a cut of the revenue, it is not Adware and so AV should not block it.

    Isn't that called anti-competitive practice ?

  18. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Skype is one of the apps that does this

    I guess MS don't want to help those developers either.

    Or the developer of the "Start" app that pops up bottom-left and puts adverts around people's programs.

    If Microsoft can't be bothered to properly vet adverts deployed by their advertisement platform, then that affects Windows 10 itself.

    The worst part is that blocking these ads needs firewall configuration, and average Joe can't do that.

  19. soflawill

    Re Avoid Redmond

    At work I have no choice but to use Microsoft. At home on my desktop and lappy I am a peguinista (male version whatever that is) and have been for over 20 years. Micros**t can kiss my rosy red rectum. They put out garbage software and charge monster licensing fees for the end user to be their beta testers.

  20. Fortycoats

    Even Solitaire was at it

    I had those annoying malware ads using Microsoft's OWN Soltaire Collection App. Just finished my game of FreeCell and BEEEEEEEEEP! with a browser window opening saying "you have been infected". And they kept popping up, until I closed Solitaire.

    It seems to be fixed now. Just the regular annoying ads, which can safely be ignored (no I won't cough up just to remove the ads, that's bloody ransomware)

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