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Advertisers Run Amok, Sparkpeople Abandons Users of Free Service

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

I know it's a long shot that Chris Downie or any of his employees will ever see this blog entry. But sometimes it's better to shout into the void than to stay quiet. This is one of those times.
I'm sad to say that I'm being forced to leave SparkPeople and have to find a new app/site/community to keep me focused on my health goals.

I've been a member of Sparkpeople (SP) on and off since around 2009. Sometimes I'm very active in the community and other times I'm kind of a lone wolf. Either way, I've found SP to be extremely beneficial to my health and well-being. I actually ENJOY tracking my food, figuring out how to get the nutrients I need and learning from the fantastic articles, member blogs and forums.

Way back in 2006, Chris Downie (AKA "Sparkguy") shared a blog about needing to start allowing ads to keep the site running. (You can read that in the link below, wherever the blog editor chooses to put it.) www.sparkpeople.

"To support our mission of helping millions of people, we're starting to add advertising to the site. We’re trying hard to balance the placement of advertising so advertisers get their money’s worth without the ads being too obtrusive. The emphasis will be on quality—trying hard to work with companies that support our philosophy."

The ads quickly became inappropriate. For example, "Loose belly fat by using this ONE simple trick!" or "Love gooey brownies? Come to Denny's!" It was annoying to see those ads, but they never got in the way of doing what I'd come to the site (or app) to do.

To support SP, I started using the SparkCoach/paid version as soon as it was offered. Did I love not having to deal with the annoying ads? OH yes I did! The cost is low, and I think pretty fair. I don't know if Chris Downie is making money off the site or not, and frankly I don't care. I see no problem with him turning a profit.

Earlier this year I lost my job and my income dwindled to what unemployment pays me - $1,600 a month. I live in a large, expensive city; this income doesn't get me very far. So I unsubscribed from Netflix, the New York Times and everything I was paying for that wasn't 100% necessary for survival. Unfortunately, that means my paid subscription to SP had to go too.

The ads started showing up immediately after my subscription lapsed. I can deal with the ads on the full website, especially now that I use a popup blocker.

On the app however, the ads aren't simply annoying. They are flat out obtrusive, and as I found out today, they're also unscrupulous. I have a popup blocker installed on my phone, but SP advertisers can get around them now. Anytime I try to track a food I get a popup. Sometimes they have loud music that plays even if I have my sound very low. Sometimes they don't let you close them and end up crashing the app.

This morning I was served an ad that is completely unacceptable. It popped up as I was trying to track my breakfast. When I clicked on the "x" to close it, it took me to a site that immediately tried to download a virus. I know this, because windows with messages asking if I wanted to download and install some file started popping up like crazy.

I couldn't even close out the app. I had to shut down my phone and restart it to make the popups stop. What part of this experience fits in with "trying hard to balance the placement of advertising so advertisers get their money’s worth without the ads being too obtrusive?" Is SP still "trying hard to work with companies that support our philosophy?"

Is disabling people's access to the app or keeping them from using its tools part of SP's philosophy? It's clear to me that nobody is reviewing the ads I see or how they behave.

Being unemployed has meant exclusion from a lot of things, like fun activities, useful tools, health care...and now the SP app. It's so upsetting - I really felt like this community was the one place I'd always be welcome. But I guess that acceptance only goes so far. If you don't pay up for the service, they'll let the advertisers destroy your device.

Since the full site hasn't started attacking my computer, I will continue to use it while I look for another free service - and I'm sure there are many out there - run by a company that cares enough for its customers to make sure their advertisers are legitimate companies and not hackers. (Any tips are welcome)

When I do find a job, I'm not sure if I'll start paying again or not. It depends on whether what happened to me is an anomaly or the rule. Has the Spark app been hacked? Or does Chris Downie, or whoever is in charge of how SP is run, just not care anymore? I suppose time will tell.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone using the free version of the app to be careful. Thanks for reading and for 10 years of great community!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • RAVEN145
    I'm sorry to hear of your situation, I've been there. I am a paid member of sp for the same reason, I honor you article as it has merit. Best luck on turning ur situation around.
    36 days ago
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