Daily Archives: 2007-08-12

Poor advice from SiteAdvisor

As an offshoot of our work on phishing, we’ve been getting more interested generally in reputation systems. One of these systems is McAfee’s SiteAdvisor, a free download of a browser add-on which will apparently “keep you safe from adware, spam and online scams”. Every time you search for or visit a website, McAfee gets told what you’re doing (why worry? they have a privacy policy!), and gives you their opinion of the site. As they put it “Safety ratings from McAfee SiteAdvisor are based on automated safety tests of Web sites (including of our own site) and are enhanced by feedback from our volunteer reviewers and insights from our own analysts”.

Doubtless, it works really well in many cases… but my experience is that you can’t necessarily rely on it 🙁

In particular, I visited http://www.hotshopgood.com (view this image if the site has been removed!). The prices are quite striking — significantly less than what you might expect to pay elsewhere. For example the Canon EOS-1DS Mark II is available for $1880.00, which frankly is a bargain : best price I can find elsewhere today is a whopping $5447.63.

So why is the camera so cheap? The clue is on the payments page — they don’t take credit cards, only Western Union transfers. Now Western Union are pretty clear about this: “Never send money to a stranger using a money transfer service” and “Beware of deals or opportunities that seem too good to be true”. So it’s not that the credit card companies aren’t taking a cut, but it is all about the inability to reverse Western Union transfers when the goods fail to turn up.

Here’s someone who fell for this scam, paying $270 for a TomTom Go 910 SatNav. The current going prices — 5 months later — for a non-refurbished unit start at $330, assuming you ignore the sellers who only seem to have email addresses at web portals… so the device was cheap, but not outrageously so like the camera.

I know about that particular experience because soemone has kindly entered the URL of the consumer forum into McAfee’s database as a “bad shopping experience”. Nevertheless, SiteAdvisor displays “green” for website in the status bar, and if I choose to visit the detailed page the main message (with a large tickmark on a green background) is that “We tested this site and didn’t find any significant problems” and I need to scroll down to locate the (not especially eye-catching) user-supplied warning.

This is somewhat disappointing — not just because of the nature of the site and the nature of the user complaint, but because since the 15th March 2007, www.hotshopgood.com has been listed as wicked by “Artists Against 419” a community list of bad websites, and it is on the current list of fraudulent websites at fraudwatchers.org. viz: there’s somewhat of a consensus that this isn’t a legitimate site, yet McAfee have failed to tap into the community’s opinion.

Now of course reputation is a complex thing, and there are many millions of websites out there, so McAfee have set themselves a complex task. I’ve no doubt they manage to justifiably flag many sites as wicked, but when they’re not really sure, and users are telling them that there’s an issue, they ought to be considering at least an amber traffic light, rather than the current green.

BTW: you may wish to note that SiteAdvisor currently considers www.lightbluetouchpaper.org to be deserving of a green tick. One of the reasons for this is that it mainly links to other sites that get green ticks. So presumably when they finally fix the reputation of hotshopgood.com, that will slightly reduce this site’s standing. A small price to pay! (though hopefully not a price that is too good to be true!)