By Mark Joseph Edwards
The free SiteAdvisor browser add-in claims to protect you by labeling Web sites green, yellow, or red to indicate that they are safe, questionable, or dangerous.
But a good or bad SiteAdvisor rating can persist for as long as a year after the site’s content has changed, raising serious questions about the service’s usefulness.
SiteAdvisor was initially launched as an independent, free service in April 2005 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology developers led by CEO Chris Dixon. The company built software to automatically crawl the Web and find sites containing virus-infected downloads and hyperlinks to suspicious addresses. Security giant McAfee Inc. acquired the company in April 2006, at which point the SiteAdvisor team said it had rated some 2.7 million pages, representing a majority of Web traffic.
Ratings from SiteAdvisor’s browser plug-in and its associated Web site, SiteAdvisor.com, are based on a variety of measures. Besides scanning sites for malware, the service enters customized e-mail addresses into registration forms to see whether this generates spammy e-mails.
The outcomes of these and other tests are used by SiteAdvisor to give a green rating to sites that score well and red ratings to destinations considered dangerous. Browser plug-ins are available for Internet Explorer and Firefox. Besides showing a rating for sites that a user visits, the plug-in also displays its color-coded symbols next to the links that appear in search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN.