Avast’s new site rating feature

By | March 5, 2011
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MaryLee on Avast’s’ new site rating feature
Hi TC & EB, On your suggestion, I was just about to uninstall the free version of Avast, to try the Microsoft program you recommended recently, when Avast made an update to their program, so I downloaded the new version. Now I see that they have a “rate this site,” which I’m using. I’ve never had any trouble with Avast, so I’m staying with it for now and rating sites that I visit (yours, with excellence, of course.) I wonder if you’ve seen this yet and what you think of it, compared to McAfee’s Site Advisor. I already know what you two think of WOT, and I agree and dumped it long ago. … Also, note to TC: I know you enjoy Hugh Laurie on “House,” and think you’ll like this interview with him on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, from 02 Mar 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZgFgS0NTxw . Thanks for all you do for us, MaryLee

Our answer
Thanks, MaryLee – and thanks for the “House” – he does an American accent so well, doesn’t he?

With regard to Avast’s new “feature”:

Any time a software product or a software company “recommends” a site, you should question the motivation. Is it subject to someone paying someone for that “recommendation”…especially if the product is free. The idea of adding more and more “features” to an antivirus program, makes it more and more like a “security suite”. Security suites use the often tried and often failed “all-in-one” approach. All-in-one products try to be everything to everybody – it’s a great marketing gimmick, but not usually a great idea.

Asking users to rate sites is a is a terrible idea, no matter how democratic it may sound.

As we noted in our WOT article a while ago, there were millions of negative comments, and very few positive ones. The web is not that unbalanced; there at not 20 times more bad sites than decent sites. It’s pure fantasy to think that a system whereby sites are rated by all users, could ever be accurate or reliable. What one person may like, another person may hate. Imagine a site promoting Buddhism – being rated by Born-Again Christians. What kind of rating do you think that site would receive in a Christian country? Regardless of one’s beliefs – a site which espouses conflicting or different beliefs does not make it a bad site. Users are biased toward their own likes, dislikes, social values, religious beliefs and so on. A company that has tried a user-based rating system, Web of Trust (WOT), won’t even respond to our requests for information about how they arrive at site ratings – or how much weight they give to users’ ratings. We’ve tried to get WOT to respond to us for 3 weeks now about how they arrive at the their site ratings. So far, we’ve heard nothing.

Who is qualified to tell me what sites I like and don’t like? Not you, not EB, not my family, and certainly not a bunch of anonymous people; the only one qualified to rates sites for me is me. Browsers have features built-in to warn me of potentially harmful sites, fraudulent sites and phishing sites; I don’t need the masses to tell me what to like or what’s good and bad, and neither do you. Allowing users to rate sites will never work and it’s subject to too much abuse and too heavily weighted toward the negative.

And anytime any company rates sites as good or bad, you need to question how they arrive at those ratings and what’s going on behind the scenes. Is money the motivation? In the world of the Web, the number of visitors, the number of people using the software, the number of people in the software “community”, etc. can all affect how a site is rated – because traffic equals money.

In my opinion, AVAST site rating system whether based on user ratings, some Avast algorithm, or both, would be motivation for removing AVAST and use an anti-malware program that concentrates all its efforts on protecting my computer and not attempting to judge web sites. I sure don’t need my antivirus program telling me which sites it recommends or doesn’t recommend – or having it ask me to rate sites. I don’t need to do that – there is no benefit to me or anyone else.

This whole “safe site” idea is better in theory than in practice. There’s far too much room for abuse. There are too many variables in any system of site rating, because as far as I can see, rating systems are arbitrary, not accurate, and could end up being abused and use a vehicle for retribution and/or censorship. Worse they could be use to sway opinion, or to push political or religious agendas.

The current versions of Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Apple’s Safari all have excellent fraudulent site and anti-phishing protection. I think that you’d be better off if you didn’t trust someone else’s opinion of what is a good site or a bad site.. and find an antimalware like Microsoft Security Essentials that just does what it’s supposed to do and doesn’t recommend web sites.

We highly recommend MSE and a good antispyware like SUPERAntiSpyware and keeping them updated. We also recommend keeping whatever browser you use updated, and that you rely on it to protect you from fraudulent sites and phishing sites. Use common sense and don’t rely on something or someone else to rate Web sites. There is no system of rating Web sites that we know of that is not flawed; every one we’ve seen is too arbitrary and subject to abuse and misuse.

You can get Microsoft Security Essentials here, it’s free. You can get SUPERAntiSpyware Professional with a lifetime license for 35% off (less than $25 for a lifetime license for two computers) here.

5 thoughts on “Avast’s new site rating feature

  1. Matt

    First, Avast’s (completely optional) browser plugin is merely showing the reputation of the site and possible danger to your computer. After all, the best way to have a clean computer is to not get infected in the first place! Their data is not too arbitrary either, as it is supported by Avast’s own virus lab. It even lets you know upon how many votes the rating is based, allowing you to make your own decision.

    Second, how can you recommend Microsoft Security Essentials? In my experience, it has one of the slowest, clunkiest, limited interfaces of any product out there; as well as terrible threat detection. In terms of usefulness, I would compare MSE to Riddex Plus.

    1. infoave Post author

      Who’s rating? Avast? The masses? Who rates web sites? Who makes the decisions for me on what is good and what is bad. Avast is using the same formula as WOT. Just masked censorship. The only sites that should be “rated” are the sites that are dangerous. Not sites that people don’t agree with and thats exactly what “rating” systems do – the promote an agenda – and they can ruin good sites and promote their own agendas. You can think what you want.

      As far as Microsoft Security Essentials go – independent tests show MSE is more effective than Avast. Please feel free to visit http://avcomparitives.org/ . And most, not all, agree that MSE consumes very low resources.

      I appreciate your comments. I am very disheartened that anyone believes that a site rating system could ever be anything but censorship. You need to know when a site is dangerous to your privacy or security. You don’t need someone to tell you if a right or left leaning site or a site or a site who’s content may be objectionable is a bad site. WOT is misleading so many people by this very model of site rating.

  2. Linda

    avast has caught viruses and trojans that my other checkers missed, as for the rating system, that’s easy, just don’t pay attention to it. Not everything on the net is accurate and true anyway.

    1. infoave Post author

      We’re glad you’re still having success with Avast – we haven’t been so lucky – nor have some very close friends of ours – and neither have two of our grown children. It became clear to us after recommending Avast for many years that things are starting to change with Avast. We’re not saying it won’t protect you – what we are saying is that it won’t protect you as well as it once did – and that is a subjective opinion based on at least 5 cases where we had to help friends or family members remove infections even though they were using the latest version – and even thought their definition files were current. Based on those experiences and Avast’s continual push toward goading its users into purchasing the commercial version of it has made our recommendation of it lukewarm at best.

      While it’s easy to say “just don’t use it” regarding the safe site feature, that advice isn’t heeded by many many. Already hundreds of thousands of users are submitting their ratings to Avast and it won’t be long before Avast starts popping up warnings on sites which don’t deserve them. Simply saying “don’t use it” is not a solution to the problem. It’s only a matter of time before Avast becomes another WOT – only worse. Security programs which have antivirus components should stick with protecting users from viruses, Trojans, and other malicious files. It shouldn’t stick its toes into the waters of site-ratings – those waters have already been polluted by the likes of Norton and WOT.

      Thanks for your comments. We’re sorry we have to disagree with them.

  3. Jeremy Hamann

    I have Avast today and I really like the boot scan feature that other programs seem to lack. I clicked on my site though to rate it and nothing happened. If you are a website owner running Avast, then please visit my site, rate it and then contact me on the contact form page to give me your web address etc. http://www.berlinbusinessenglish.com/ This is exactly what all the big guys are doing to give good ratings. It’s a joke but how can we compete with such useless tools.


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