Malware on CNN.com

This morning I checked the day’s headlines on the CNN homepage, as is often my wont. I saw a story that interested me, and clicked on the article’s hyperlink.

The article page was a legitimate page on CNN’s website. But the page was loaded down with autoplay videos and obtrusive ads.

Almost immediately, a “Flash player” piece of malware began downloading onto my MacBook Air. I closed the browser immediately.

For the record: I don’t believe that CNN—or any major news outlet—is deliberately distributing malware. They are, however, so filled with ads from various ad brokers and networks, that invariably a bad apple or two slips through.

Some news sites are now almost completely filled with ads. (Local news sites seem to be the most grievous offenders in this regard.)

I’m not opposed to ad-supported online content. Since the beginning, ads have been the tool that have enabled most of the content on the Internet to be free. Without online advertising, the Internet would become a pay-as-you-go space. The only free content would be content from the government and public agencies, or cleverly disguised infomercials.

But online ads are not what they used to be. Online advertising started out as banner ads above and below, and to the right and the left of content. People who complained about that (and there are always people complaining) usually did so on ideological grounds. They didn’t like the idea that someone was making money from their online content.

Things have changed. Nowadays, many sites are more ads than content. And we’ve all uttered a few choice curse words at those full-screen drop-down ads that won’t go away.

Particularly odious are the autoplay video ads. I’ve noticed an annoying tendency toward autoplay videos of all kinds on news sites in recent years, and these videos invariably are preceded by ads.

I’m not here to encourage anyone to visit online gambling dens or Russian porn sites. But if you were avoiding such websites for fear of malware, well….you might be taking just as big a risk when you visit CNN.com.