Developer says it's fighting back against rogue ads plaguing popular year-end feature.

Update: Supposedly things have been cleaned up.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, and as we're seeing with the online fad-of-the-day "2015BestNine" website, there's no such thing as a truly free tool for grabbing your most-liked Instagram photos of the year. The site has gained popularity this week as a quick way to scan your Instagram profile and pull out the top nine liked posts of the year — just visit the site, enter your Instagram account name and it'll generate a nine-panel image to share.

Ain't open APIs great?

Visit the website — 2015bestnine.com — on a desktop, and things seem pretty benign. Sure a good number of trackers are loaded, and you get a handful of banner ads, but there's nothing out of the ordinary — everyone has to make money, and there are definitely costs involved with running the site.

But visit the site from your Android phone, and before you can get anywhere near the process of entering your account name you'll be redirected to a massive pile of spam webpages (some of which impersonate Google's own pages) and pop-up dialogues indicating that your phone is infected, damage, needs repair and should download all sorts of apps to fix it right away. One of the recommended fixing apps, ShareCloud, has plenty of downloads in the Play Store but a great number of reviews that are dubious about its intentions.

2015BestNine spam2015BestNine spam

While these are scary alerts and pages you're sent to, there's no reason to believe what they say; odds are, your phone is perfectly fine and you don't need to download any of these things. But this practice goes far beyond a simple pop-up, interstitial or even takeover ad — this is downright misleading and prays on less-sophisticated users who believe what they've just been told: their phone is actually infected, and are thus led down a path where they could have their data compromised. Further, even if you do play along with this scheme of scaring you into installing its apps, you can never actually get back to 2015BestNine to get your Instagram photos.

2015BestNine's privacy policy seems on the up-and-up, and even mentions how its advertising works, what data it collects and that it regularly scans for vulnerabilities. Its Twitter account has also responded to a handful of concerned users. That's a good thing, and it's not entirely Nine Press' fault. Folks who use online advertising like this often are at the mercy of the ad exchanges. (See this excellent post from iMore on how that works; goodness knows we've had to deal with our fair share of frustrating ads.)

So hopefully it'll be getting better soon. But for now, if you really want to see your top-liked photos from Instagram to ride the #hype, do so from a desktop and proceed at your own risk.