One More Reason Not To Blindly Trust What A Computer Tells You

from the this-site-is-sooooooo-dangeorus dept

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that Google had a bit of a “glitch” this past weekend, whereby it warned people that every single site in existence (including Google) was rated as potentially dangerous and could put malware on your computer. It lasted for about an hour Saturday morning, causing amused chatter around the web. But, of course, it does highlight one key issue: whenever we end up with various “automated” warning systems, we tend to start believing what the systems tell us — even when we know they’re fallible. It’s something worth remembering — not to say that computer models are bad, just that we almost always underestimate how much weight people put on them once they’re in place, no matter how much we intuitively understand that it’s just a model.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “One More Reason Not To Blindly Trust What A Computer Tells You”

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hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

“Getting a warning about a harmless sight isn’t going to be damaging.”

Not to you, no. But, to the site, it can be devastating. When Google itself is not on the list, they are not nearly as quick to respond, either.

Take, for example, Gamepark Holdings, makers of the GP2x handheld game console. The company markets to a niche, enthusiast group of homebrew/emulator fans. They market purely online and via word-of-mouth. Several months ago, their site got listed with Google as potentially harmful for no known reason. It was a mistake. However, Google left it that way for OVER A MONTH. Just imagine if you are a company who has little brand recognition and whose primary sales portal is your own website. Suddenly, everyone who tries to get there is told they’re going to get malware if they go to your site. That not only damages sales for that month, but permanently destroys credibility with a lot of potential customers.

So, yeah, a false positive can be extremely harmful if you think beyond your own selfish interests. says:

Not a (brief) shining moment in corporate responsibility...

The glitch was at least a little disturbing considering’s strong self-assumption of expertise in all matters search related. I was also disturbed by’s brief attempt at finger-pointing elsewhere to the 3rd party non-profit ( as the root cause of the problem.

Xyro TR1 (profile) says:


I thought this was caused by human error? As in, someone put a ” / ” into the blocked sites list, and effectively blocked every website? I don’t see how this was automated.

Google also did something worth noting, which was admitting the mistake, as well as admitting that they were the cause (and not their malware filtering company). It’s rare that companies do that…

Dave says:

Firefox uses Google's data

Another point to mention is that if a site is listed as potentially dangerous by Google, it will give you a big warning when you try to browse to that site in Firefox.

So if you have a corporate website and it gets hacked, Google will effectively shut down your site with no warning.

Plus the fastest way you can get past it is to log in to webmaster tools and have the site rechecked. Could take a day or longer.

Whatever happened to tech support??

sniperdoc (profile) says:

Ummm no.. not infallible...

Interesting that the author writes

“whenever we end up with various ‘automated’ warning systems, we tend to start believing what the systems tell us — even when we know they’re fallible.”

It’s not the system that was fallible. It was a user programming error. It’s humans that are fallible (despite what the Pope may believe). Computers just do what they’re told. They do not make decisions without user input.

JustMe says:

#13 & thoughts....

“i don’t directly or easily believe on such news most especially if it comes from an unreliable website.. It should have been on the headlines already or we should have been warned if it was really true.”

Are you saying you would disregard a malware warning if you hadn’t seen or heard about the suite being hacked in the news?
If so, that’s a REALLY bad practice. A site can be hacked to include malicious code at any time and you might be among the first people to hit it.
It;s also highly unlikely a single hacked site would make headlines and there is several hours delay between hacked and reported.

Or are you saying you wouldn’t believe Google’s malware warning?
In which case disregard my above comment 😛

Either way I tend to look at such warnings as more of a “Proceed with Caution” sort of sign.
As a tech I have a ton of “infected” files on my home PC that my anti virus would love to sanitize. I’m not about to let that happen (as it would destroy perfectly good software I need for work) but I still run my anti virus to makes sure I;m not legitimately infected.

I would still browse such a site if I saw that kind of waning I would just be a bit more careful about it.

Just my $0.02

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the “automated warning system” in this article is about the end-user, not Google itself. In other words, Google’s users are relying on the warnings to be there and be accurate, not whether or not the malware URL update is updated automatically or not.
What this does point out is that as computers and the Internet become less of a tool and more of an appliance (the assumption being that tools require some amount of skill or knowledge to operate efficiently) anything that inconveniences any quantity of non-technical users it going to be newsworthy.

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