Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Don't believe it! These popups are malicious attempts to get personal information from you. We are working to stop them.
Don't believe it! These popups are malicious attempts to get personal information from you. We are working to stop them.
Published Feb. 22, 2018

Dear readers, I hope that you are able to see this and that a popup saying you've won a gift card hasn't taken over your phone. We have heard from many of you that these popups are preventing you from reading our news coverage.

We hate them as much as you do, and we're battling everyday to wipe them out. Here's an explanation of this industry-wide problem and what we're doing about it.

First, a little bit about how ads are sold on websites. We can't sell every spot available for advertising on and to our local advertisers. When we have extra spots available, we let ad serving companies know, and those companies put the spaces out for bid. The business with the highest bid wins, and its ad is displayed on the web page. This is all done nearly instantaneously using computers and strings of computer coding.

Sometimes bad actors slip through cracks in the networks that place the ads and add malicious code. That code takes over your phone and displays the popup saying something like, "You've been selected for a chance to get the $1000 Amazon Gift Card, Apple iPhone, etc."

There's a little good news: Your device hasn't been hacked. These malicious sites want you to think you've actually won something, and they hope to collect personal information about you when you click to claim your prize. Whatever you do, do not fill out a form. Try to exit the page.

We hate these popups more than you do. They are affecting many websites, and publishers everywhere are working to stop them.

At the Tampa Bay Times, the issue is being addressed at the highest levels.

We use an automated service that constantly searches our site for malicious ads and blocks them. It's tough, because the scammers are just as vigilant in trying to get around the blocks. We alert the companies that sell our extra ad positions whenever we find a popup so that they can also ban the fake advertisers. And we are partnering with other publishers and key players to find permanent solutions.

Internally, members of our IT team, the news staff and the advertising staff have joined forces to find ways to prevent the popups on our end.

We understand how they harm your reading experience and we want you to be able to view our site with no problems. We'll keep working on it.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or suggestions, please email me at

Ron Brackett is deputy managing editor for and presentation. Follow @rontimes.