Sponsored news stories — or what are more politely known as "native ads" — are becoming a fixture of the web, yet it isn't always so easy to tell when an article is sponsored. Google engineer Ian Webster is now trying to solve that problem with a browser extension called AdDetector, which searches out native ads and drops a bright red bar over the top of the page announcing that what you're viewing is a paid promotion. The extension doesn't work flawlessly, but it did detect most of the sponsored pages that I tested it on. It's been set up to work with a close to 50 sites already, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, several Gawker Media sites, and two Vox Media sites, including The Verge.
Advertisers are drawn to native ads because they fit in with the rest of a site's content and are, to some extent, less obtrusive. The problem for news organizations is that, without prominent labeling, sponsored stories can be easily be confused with actual articles from the publication, especially if a reader doesn't know to look for them. Making the situation worse is that different sites handle labeling in vastly different ways, so it isn't always clear where you should even be looking. AdDetector's huge red banner probably isn't the solution that any site will decide upon, but it'll certainly make native ads very hard to miss.