Ethan Zuckerman has a fantastic post up about Google’s response to scams by hackers who hijack other peoples’ blogs and wikis: it lists the link with the warning message, “This site may harm your computer.” They do so based on analysis by the Berkman Center’s rapidly growing “Stop Badware” project, which analyzes malicious code on the web. This project is an attempt to use “code” instead of “law”, a la Larry Lessig, as a means of preventing a massive badware problem. No surprise that Berkmanite Jonathan Zittrain, who worries about just such a system meltdown and its pernicious ripple effects in law, business models, and individual behavior, is a founder of Stop Badware and a booster of similar code-based responses. (Zittrain’s important article about the internet’s “generativity” and therefore vulnerability is here; I posted a response here).
As Ethan explains:
Google identifies sites that they believe are spreading badware and registers them with Stop Badware. My colleagues with Stop Badware have the unenviable task of managing the Google review process – if a site is tagged as spreading badware, the site’s administrator has the option of protesting and having the site reviewed by a team that includes folks at the Berkman Center. This is a very emotional issue for site owners, as having your site de-listed by Google can have very serious consequences for your traffic, your reputation, etc.
That may not be the sort of self-governing cyberspace that some luminaries envisioned fifteen years ago, but it may be a pretty interesting example of a private resolution process that is nevertheless open and principled. You should go read Ethan’s post.
[UPDATE: And read the commenters at Ethan’s post too. Some of them say they too have been tagged with this “harm your computer” notification and are having trouble getting rid of it — even after they fix the problem. A definite challenge for the Stop Badware model, but I am optimistic that they will work through it.]