Google’s adding a new weapon to its Safe Browsing arsenal to fight back against dodgy websites. As of Tuesday, sites can be labeled as “repeat offenders” if they repeatedly switch between operating a clean site and one filled with malware or unwanted software.
Why would a website do that? Simple. Unscrupulous sites can make money with deceptive practices such as forcing unsuspecting downloads on users. Eventually Google flags these sites as unsafe, which reduces site traffic since users see giant red warning signs in their browsers with no obvious way to continue. To get around that problem, sites clean up their act, apply to Google to get the site warning lifted, and then—once the warning is gone—the malware or unwanted software returns.
Google didn’t say how often sites use this strategy, but it must be often enough that the search giant felt compelled to take action. From now on, if a site gets caught reintroducing unsafe elements Google will flag it as a repeat offender. Once that happens, the sites will be flagged with the big red warning screen once again. On top of that, the site owners will not be able to apply for a repeal of the harmful site warning for 30 days. During that time, the large red warning screen will remain.
It’s a response that will hopefully deter some sites from continuing their shady behavior. Google also says the new measures won’t affect sites that have been hacked. The new measures are only for “sites that purposefully post harmful content.”
The story behind the story: Google’s harsh stand on harmful sites will undoubtedly protect many people from being unwitting victims to malicious software. But I wonder if it’s an approach that is truly fair. It’s one thing to enforce a thirty-day waiting period for sites that deserve it, but what if a second offence is explicable? Perhaps it’s too little too late for those sites, but a 30-day sentence to purgatory without any chance of appeal seems almost guaranteed to ensnare sites that don’t deserve it.