The study is based on thousands of searches using the most-popular search queries and providers. It shows that the search results pages include links to sites that can infect consumers’ computers or expose them to nuisances such as spamming e-mails.
The study says that almost 5% of the search listings appear on the first five results pages link to risky websites. That includes about 3% of the normal web search results and 9% of the paid advertisements the engines display alongside them.
The company reported, about 2% of the total of 3.3 million websites rated in its database, accounting for 95% of all web traffic, expose consumers to risks or nuisances.
SiteAdvisor’s business is based upon rating site safety and distributing browser-toolbar software consumers can use to screen sites, giving the company a vested interest in playing up the dangers online, reports The Wall Street Journal. There is however some industry disagreement about what site behavior should be classified as dangerous, which could lead some companies to challenge SiteAdvisor’s research.
Still, the research raises questions about whether Search Engines (SE) should be more strict in their search results and advertising policy. The SE generally say their results reflect what is on the web, which includes some maleficent sites.
Google Inc. states it prohibits ads that promote spyware, viruses and removes such results when it becomes aware of them. Microsoft Corp. said that it has introduced tools, including features in its own web browser toolbar, to help protect users and continues to work on its search service to reduce the impact of malicious sites. Yahoo, Ask.com and Time Warner Inc.’s AOL refused to comment the case.
Based on average usage patterns, SiteAdvisor made an estimate that consumers will click through to an unsafe site from a search engine once every 2 weeks. The research says that for some popular queries, the results are even more risky. 57% of websites appear in search results for “free screensavers” in all major search engines expose consumers to risks. Other seemingly safe searches, such as “birthday cards” and “care bears,” delivered by Google results bring one site per five sites that might be qualified as risky, says the report.