Hackers, Badware, and Google

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.]

4 Responses to “Hackers, Badware, and Google”

  1. I wonder whether there is a defamation risk for wrong flags.

  2. is it legal for google, or any other search engine, to brand a url as being “badware” or “malware”? isn’t this the electronic equivalent of slander?

  3. they say that it’s better to have out of jail 100 guilty people than to imprison one innocent.

    our site, http://www.gma-nitsa.gr, has been flagged as a badware source. we have check and recheck it. we have also open a discussion in stopbadware.org group – http://groups.google.com/group/stopbadware/browse_thread/thread/097ace758f5607f3/13151903ffac1274#13151903ffac1274 . none can find any problems with our site.

    but, after 2 requests for rescan, google insists that we are a badware source.

    gma-nitsa.gr is a site dedicated to food recipes and techniques and is named after my grand mothers name, Nitsa. i have it online since 2001 and it is highly reputable with very warm friends.

    in the image http://www.gma-nitsa.gr/images/google-stopbadware/visits.png
    you can see the decrease in traffic since google marked our site as a badware source.

    if *anyone* can provide me with a contact information, someone in google who can explain the problem it will be a great help.

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    gEorgE sTaThis

  4. Well if they didn’t ban the sites, they would be endangering their users. I believe google can do anything they want.