UPDATE: Google has lifted the malware advisory!
We have run the Mister Poll web site for the last 8 years, and it’s been mostly a joy. We have a large and loyal user community, and we enjoy providing a valuable service. I was shocked to discover yesterday morning that all we have worked for is now suddenly in jeapordy.
Our web site traffic is very regular and predictable. Yesterday I noticed that it had plummeted to about half its normal volume. Something serious was amiss, but I had no clue what it was. After some digging around, I discovered that every Google search result pointing to our web site now bears this Google-sponsored advisory:
Warning – visiting this web site may harm your computer!
Excuse me?! What is this about? We received no notice. No complaints. No opportunity to disprove or correct any issues. Just WHAM … cut our legs out from under us. Digging further, this seems to be related to an organization called StopBadware.org. Their self-appointed mission is to rid the world of “badware” – evil software that may install itself on your computer and damage things. A decent goal, but their methods are downright thuggish.
From what I can glean, it works this way. If they receive an anonymous complaint about a web site, they will put you on a “bad” list which is then supplied to Google, who is also one of their financial investors. Google immediately blocks all search results to that web site with that horrific, and in my view libelous, warning. All of this is done with no investigation into the validity of the complaint. So overnight, at the whim of anybody who wants to file a complaint, an entire business can be shut down. Unbelievable. For a company whose motto is “Don’t be evil“, this feels downright sinister.
We are very responsible with our web site. The only ads we run are from Google AdSense. We hand-review every user-created poll before it’s published in the Mister Poll directory. Our web site screens out harmful HTML and scripting before displaying any user-created content. Could there be a hole that we haven’t found which some unscrupulous user is exploiting? Sure. I can’t find one, but every piece of software has bugs. If somebody had notified me of a problem, I would have fixed it immediately. It could also be somebody who was pissed off that their poll wasn’t approved and decided to file a false report. The problem is that nobody bothered to check, and we weren’t given a chance to fix any real problem that might exist. We were convicted and sentenced without even being notified first. Guilty until proven innocent. Shoot first and ask questions later. Apparently this is the Google way.
The only recourse we seem to have is to file an appeal with StopBadware.org. Their appeals process takes at least 10 business days. In the meantime, Google continues to badmouth our web site to the entire world, labeling it as dangerous and poisonous. Tell me that won’t leave a lasting negative impact, even if we are able to work this out in the end.
I’d love to stage a “call to arms”, but I honestly don’t know how to bring about change here. Google rules the world. If you are a Mister Poll user and would like to help the site, I would suggest emailing Google at firstname.lastname@example.org to complain. They seem to think this is a security-related issue, and they aren’t very free with their contact info, so this is the best email address I could find.
For others that find this overall situation disturbing, I hope that raising awareness will help. It could be your business or favorite web site that is hit next. Please pass a link to this blog entry along to anybody else you think might care. Also, I plan on filing a StopBadware.org complaint against StopBadware.org itself, and possibly against Google.com, for hijacking and blocking my personal search results without my permission. If you feel like helping, perhaps you could do the same. Let’s see if their systems are automated enough to actually block themselves.
I’m open to other suggestions as well. Please leave a comment if you have other ideas on how to fight back. A vote at digg wouldn’t hurt either. We would greatly appreciate your support.