Google Malware Filter Goes Haywire, Internet Breaks, Google Slanders Millions

January 31st, 2009 by Chris

This morning Google’s malware filter went berserk. This is a feature where if Google detects that a website hosts a malicious download, it will put a barrier between Google search results and that website. This barrier explains that this site has badware hosted on it, and that the user may want to choose a different website instead. Additionally the filter puts warnings in Google Webmaster Tools for webmasters to see.

Basically, whoever messed up at Google this morning, should be fired, because they just about broke the Internet. Someone did something so that EVERY site in Google’s index was listed as having malware (at least, every site I checked). So basically, Google’s search engine stopped functioning for a few hours. That, is news, and a big PR problem for Google.

What is more, Google just committed millions of counts of libel. Libel is spreading false defamatory information as fact to the public, damages being granted based upon lost revenue due to this defamation.

So Google defamed every website on the Internet by saying, falsely, that they contained malicious code, Google is seen as a reputable source, so any reasonable person would believe this assertion as fact. This is textbook libel. This directly cost every website on the Internet traffic and the resulting ad revenue and or ecommerce sales are easily measurable. If I ran a website that lost enough money because of this to justify a lawsuit I’d probably be calling a lawyer. Some large operations probably lost millions because of this error, I may have lost a few hundred. You never know, Google could have run interference on a customer wanting to place a big order on one of my ecommerce sites.

Google needs to be REALLY careful with things like this, and in this case they dropped the ball. I was always a little nervous about this filter, though in general I was in favor of it because it most often blocked all the low quality spam sites out there (that as often as not have stolen content from you and me). But I was nervous because of the potential for false positives, and never did I think that Google could mess up so badly as to make millions of false positives. Google needs to be more careful with such things, I would not be surprised if some lawyer follows my thinking and opens a class action lawsuit.

Related Story at Washington Post.

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7 Responses to “Google Malware Filter Goes Haywire, Internet Breaks, Google Slanders Millions”

  1. Dale  Says:

    You are way over-reacting. A human error which was corrected in under 30-45 minutes equals “not the end of the world”.

  2. Chris  Says:

    An error that results in the largest search engine to be non-functioning is pretty serious.

    The fact that such a thing is even under a human’s control. One guy makes a typo and Google breaks? That, is serious.

  3. Dan  Says:

    Of course it’s under human control. Who do you think made Google? Martians?

    How would there possibly be a lawsuit? It’s not Google’s responsibility to provide you with traffic so I think that argument would be thrown out of court. And is it libel if it was an accident and once that accident was discovered, was corrected as quickly as possible? I can’t see that it would be; furthermore they say “may” contain, not “does” contain.

  4. Chris  Says:

    I don’t think you quite get it.

    You ever watch The Simpsons? Homer, a certifiable moron, sits in a nuclear power plant pushing a button. If he messes up he can shut down power for the entire town, cause a nuclear meltdown, etc. Such things have been plot lines in the show. This is, of course, a joke, that such important things would be left to the purview of a single person without systemic checks and protections is a big joke, one the writers of The Simpsons have milked time and again.

    That Google allowed a system whereby a single human typo could disable their search engine is where their problem is. That would be like say, T Mobile having one employee who could make a typo and shut down cell service for all of their subscribers.

    Furthermore, it is alarming because if Google has no preventative measures for such an obvious typo, they likely have none for less obvious ones. What if your site is bluewidgets.com and blue-widgets.com trips this filter but the person accidentially forgets the hyphen? Then it sucks to be you. Sure, you could appeal Google and maybe get it worked out, but in the meantime you’ll lose money.

    Furthermore there is nothing in the law books for “accidental” libel or, understanding if the offending material is quickly and apologetically corrected. It also has nothing to do with whether or not a business has a right to get traffic from Google. The issues that matter are, is it false? Is it defaming? Would a reasonable person believe it? And did it cause economic damage to the plaintiff?

    The fact that it was accidental might save you from any punitive damages, but actual damages are always fair game. And the fact that without Google you’d have no traffic to lose from a Google error does not give Google the right to defame a business. Anymore than the phone company can publish defamatory ads in their phone book.

    Now the may/does issue does give Google an out, except they say that Googlebot DID (presented factually but false) find malware when visiting your site, then they say that this malware MAY harm your computer. Its the same as if you printed posters saying that a certain restaurant has a rat problem and you may get sick eating there. Claiming that the rat problem exists is the libel.

    I expect Google will reevaluate this system to a high degree in light of what happened.

  5. Steve  Says:

    Until Google starts making more mistakes, enough to justify people to decide to stop using the free service and start using more alternative search engines, web site owners are at their mercy.

    I do not believe Google should be using any kind of filter to be honest. You’re local computer should alert/protect you from spyware/adware based sites – it’s not the responsibility of the search engine.

    They are baising results if you trip their filter as mentioned. The web is not about control and Google is starting to put things in perspective.

    Have you heard they can now track, in real time, your location? That is another story altogether.

  6. Jeff Paul Internet Business  Says:

    I’m a blogger and looking for potential ways to internet market my blogs. I came across your blog and found it interesting. Hoping that I find more ways to get traffic.

  7. Ivan D  Says:

    April 17 2009, I know this is an old post. But It seems to be happening again. Google searches top with malware infested websites.

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