More On Trusting Google’s Sponsored Links

By | February 16, 2005

Further to my earlier post about whether one can trust Google’s Sponsored Links, here are some notes from a chat with Ben Edelman, an expert on spyware:

Ben says legally it’s a difficult area: For Google, the sponsored links are just ads, not any kind of endorsement at all. But users have the sense that Google won’t accept ads from fraudsters, and users rely on this notion of quality. From users’ perspective, Google is breaking its own policies and failing to live up to its good name.”

Ben’s advice to users interested in a sponsored link:

  • Do not trust sponsored links as to spyware removal applications;
  • Do not trust sponsored links too much in general. For some keywords, merchants and sites are self-authenticating — clearly is who it is. But don’t take presence on the sponsored link list as a good indicator of trustworthiness. Sponsored links can be bought. In contrast, Google’s organic results (the ones at the left of Google search results) are not for sale. The organic results can (mostly) only be earned by putting up good web sites and getting others to link to those sites.

I asked him, whether it was his impression that rogue anti-spy is a growing industry, or more generally, software that claims to do one thing, but does another (instead of, or in addition)?

Ben’s answer: Yes. and those who need/seek spyware removal are, demonstrably, at particular risk of being taken advantage of. They’ve already been taken advantage of, may be easier to trick gain. [They] are feeling vulnerable, in a hurry to get software to fix their problems etc

Very good point. And good advice. Don’t be in a hurry to fix a problem if rushing it may make it worse. Don’t trust a link just because it’s on a Google page. (That goes for all links, but as Ben points out, a high link on the main Google search results list is there because a lot of people have visited it; a link on the right is there because someone has paid for it.) And think hard before you install anything, and ask yourself: Is this going to make my life easier? Or harder?

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