Google’s current methods to keep the Internet safe from the harmful spread of malware may be doing more harm than good.
Google blocked access — through both its search engine and Chrome browser — to a wide array of sites it flagged as potentially harmful to its users in early February. Several websites — including The Daily Caller, Google’s own YouTube, MercuryNews.com, The Verge and several other smaller sites — were flagged.
Several major tech sites had also reported that they were hurt by a similar instance in January, when Google falsely identified them as problematic.
Google sees its warnings as a service to keep its users, and the Web, safe from the spread of malicious viruses. In issuing these warnings, Google blocks off Web access through its search services to the flagged website often for several hours at a time, causing the websites to experience a drastic reduction in traffic.
Even if larger sites might be able to weather the drought, the loss can be critical to smaller websites. For example, alternative news site BeforeItsNews.com publisher Chris Kitze told TheDC that the malware warnings had been a significant problem for his company.
“With the malware warnings of course, you lose probably about 40 percent of your traffic,” said Kitze. “We had one earlier in the week that lingered for probably four or five days,” he added, noting that at times he isn’t convinced there’s even a real malware threat.
“Even though our site reads clean on Google Webmaster Tools, it still tells people that there’s malware,” he said. “Google is in a very powerful role.”
John Ekdahl of Ace of Spades HQ, which was also affected by the warnings, told TheDC that he works with Google’s products on a daily basis for clients. While generally positive about Google’s overall product experience, he was critical of their response time for when issues, like the warnings, suddenly arise.
“Even as a free service, they’re not that attentive to small business,” said Ekdahl. “For them to bear this whole responsibility, they need to be quicker to rectify some of these mistakes.”
“I don’t think that they allocate their services and their support staff to people who are using their products for free,” Ekdahl added.
In June 2012, Google reported that dedicated attack sites are on the rise, making the stakes even higher for websites.
At the time, the company reported that they “protect 600 million users through built-in protection for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari” and that “approximately 12-14 million Google search queries per day” show Google’s malware warning.
Kitze worried, however, that in Google’s attempt to do something good, they are unintentionally training their users to ignore the warnings.
“I got a lot of emails from people this last time saying, ‘Ya know, I got this malware warning, and I just clicked right through it,'” he said.
Kitze said he thinks that Google should just block the ad, instead of blocking the whole page.
A Google spokesperson told TheDC that people can adjust their browser settings to manage the warnings. Kitze, however, isn’t buying it.
He stated that Google is control of rendering the page in the browser and that he didn’t think most users would go into their browser settings to make a change.
“If they can detect that a page has something that was malware on it, what they should be doing is to render the page, they iFrame that has the offending add, put the red malware notice on the ad.”