Google has reportedly removed two Chrome Web browser add-ons from its store after the extensions were found to be serving adware to users.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Google removed the “Add to Feedly” and “Tweet This Page” extensions on Sunday, after the newspaper contacted the company about widespread user complaints. Customers said both programs suddenly began serving link-embedded ads and pop-ups all over any websites visited — which reportedly happened after the developers sold the extensions to new owners.
An extension is a software program , sometimes created by a third-party developer, that changes features on a web browser. Examples of extensions include translation buttons, password managers and ad-blockers.
Selling extensions is perfectly fine under Google’s rules, but it’s a transaction that went terribly wrong in the case of the Feedly and Tweet extensions.
In Chrome, developers can update extensions automatically, so users aren’t alerted to changes in the programs they have downloaded (nor of a change of ownership). In the case of the Feedly and Tweet extensions, the new owners added the type of invasive ads that apparently violated Google’s terms of service.
A Google spokesperson noted that users are notified if an extension update asks for new "permissions": access to data like users' browsing history or physical locations.
Amit Agarwal, a developer and tech columnist who created the Add to Feedly extension for the Feedly RSS reader, blogged about his experience in a post last week titled “I Sold a Chrome Extension but it was a bad decision.”
In the post , which was first spotted by blog OMG Chrome, Agarwal explained he received an email from someone offering him four figures” for something that had taken an hour to create.” Agarwal agreed to sell Add to Feedly, and one month later the new owner pushed through an adware-filled update to the extension.
Tweet This Page’s story is similar, according to Computerworld.
Google is updating its extension update-policy in June, according to a company blog post last month. Starting then, Google will "enforce our original single-purpose design goal" and make changes that should prevent extensions from serving ads on more than one section of a page.
Meanwhile, at least one developer is taking advantage of the holes left by the fallen extensions. An entirely new extension called "Add to Feedly" – created by developer Marcos Besteiro, not Agarwal — popped up. In the program’s description Besteiro promised no pre-installed, annoying extra software: “This version is ADWARE FREE, it doesn't modify any link, nor loads any crapware in your visited websites. Period.”
Note: This story was updated to include the comment from Google.
Julianne Pepitone is a senior technology writer for NBC News Digital. Previously she was a staff writer at CNNMoney, where she covered large tech companies including Apple and Google, as well as the intersection of tech and media. Follow Julianne on Twitter at @julpepitone or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.