August 20th, 2009 at 11:20 pm (Fruit Bats)
As of the date of this post, the website is subject to the iron-fisted pre-emptive actions of what is called the Badware Website Clearinghouse. In a partnership with Google, they seek out websites that could be potentially harmful to visitors in terms of hardware, software, and data. They’ve peremptorily branded this site as a badware site. Who are these people?
StopBadware.org seeks to provide reliable, objective information about downloadable applications in order to help consumers to make better choices about what they download on to their computers. They aim to become a central clearinghouse for research on badware and the bad actors who spread it, and to become a focal point for developing collaborative, community-minded approaches to stopping badware.
The Badware Website Clearinghouse currently has more than 182 thousand reported URLs. You can search the URLs that have been reported to them by their partners and view statistics from their top clearinghouse pages. If you are a site owner and you are flagged by Google and you would like StopBadware.org to review the inclusion of your website in the Badware Website Clearinghouse, you can request a review by filling out their form.
Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute are leading this initiative with the support of several prominent tech companies, including Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems. Consumer Reports WebWatch is serving as an unpaid special advisor.
John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center and Harvard Clinical Professor of Law, and Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Visiting Professor and Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University (who not long ago wrote his best seller “The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It”), are StopBadware.org co-directors. The Advisory Board also has some “big names” like for example Vinton G. Cerf, who is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. But he is more known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” he is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet.
In other words, they’re really big shots in the industry.
Their intentions may be sincere and aboveboard, but the execution of their mission is not all it’s cut out to be. For one thing, there’s no early warning that a site is being targeted by them. They just swoop down and strap a boot to the wheel, without so much as a by your leave. In most cases, webmasters are not aware their wards are under attack, but they pay the price of being locked out by an organization acting as law enforcer, judge, and jury, all in one go and with equal stealth.
For another, these self-appointed Internet supercops with Google in the rôle of Mr. Plod have the power to keep the site locked out until they are satisfied that everything meets their standard. These are people who targeted RealPlayer as badware. Now, I’ve never liked RealPlayer, not since its first release. But locking down a site for having RealPlayer on it is, shall we say, a bit over the top? But the point is, there is no due process. You have to prove you’re innocent and that your site meets their arbitrary criteria. And you have to initiate the process of review, after the fact. The process towards resolution is not speedy, either. They promise you that; lack of due process, i.e.
Other partners of this organization include Mozilla and AOL. AOL! The largest conveyor belt of spam and malware is a partner of this badware cop organization fighting malware and spamming wherever it may choose to find it. In fact, AOL, in 2006, was a target of same! If you can’t beat them, why not join them, eh? Absolutely brilliant.
Mozilla is responsible for the development of the very popular Firefox browser. It is this browser in particular that is equipped to block access to targeted sites, having the option specifically to implement the draconian policy built-in the more recent versions. The option is the one that says: “Tell me if the site I’m visiting is a suspected attack site.” Note the word, “suspected.” That’s a bit of a misnomer. The site by then is already serving time, running appeals to get out of jail. There is no writ of habeas corpus in this particular system of justice.
Clearly, this blunt instrument approach to managing malware proliferation has far-reaching implications as far as abuse goes, apart from what we’ve seen this organization do. It is possible to be selective in the targeting of web sites. It could be intentional or unintentional. In the case of unintentional harm, you have respected sites blemished through no fault of their own. On the other hand, there is much opportunity in this arrangement to use it as an instrument to censor. The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, tho.
So, where does the authority to do all these things come from? The fact the organization is housed in a law center at Harvard might give one the impression it’s a legal entity, but the fact is, it is not. So far as can be ascertained, Harvard is not a government, nor a governing authority. It’s a privately endowed university that happens to get the lion’s share of foundation money and government funding in this country. So, where does the authority come from? What gives them the right to implement this policy and where is their funding coming from? No one seems to be asking these questions, let alone finding any answers.
21 August 2009 Update: Google deigns to issue boilerplate reply to request for review.
Reconsideration request for http://blancmange.net/ August 20, 2009
We’ve received a request from a site owner to reconsider how we index the following site: http://blancmange.net/
We’ll review the site. If we find that it’s no longer in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines, we’ll reconsider our indexing of the site. Please allow several weeks for the reconsideration request. We do review all requests, but unfortunately we can’t reply individually to each request.
How considerate of them.