Saturday, February 11, 2006

Vendors of "rogue/suspect" anti-spyware products advertise heavily via Google's "AdWords" ("Sponsored Links" on Google's own search pages) and "AdSense" (Google-driven advertising delivered to third-party web sites).

Users should be aware that a search on the term "spyware" (or any related term) at Google will turn up a variety of anti-spyware products and web sites -- some reliable and trustworthy, some not. The key to distinguishing trustworthy anti-spyware products and sites from non-trustworthy products and sites in Google's search results is learning to distinguish "regular search results" from "paid search results," otherwise known as "Sponsored Links."

The "regular search results" are those results that are ranked highly and are popular among actual users. For the most part, these are trustworthy. "Sponsored Links," by contrast, are paid for by vendors themselves. These "paid search results" are generally not trustworthy and should be avoided.

You may encounter similar Google-driven advertising on other web sites. These advertisements are clearly labeled as originating from Google's AdSense ("Ads by Google"). They usually appear on the top, bottom, or sides of web pages and web sites (see screenshot to the right for an example).
Even on such third-party sites, the advertising for "rogue/suspect" anti-spyware products looks similar to the "Sponsored Links" (see above) and is just as untrustworthy.

As always, users are advised to stick to the "regular search results" on Google's site as well as to those anti-spyware products and web sites that enjoy good reputations among users (see above).

To Google's credit, it has stepped up efforts to remove some of the more objectionable and disreputable anti-spyware advertising over the past 9 months. As a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed (1, 2, 3), however, many users still have difficulty distinguishing between legitimate search results and sponsored search results.