We’ve received a response from Deborah from Web of Trust (WOT) and she did give us some idea of how WOT arrives at its site ratings. We will address her entire answer in a future newsletter, but for now we will quote the part of her email which deals with how WOT arrives at its ratings:
“…As you remember, in addition to ratings from people, we also use a number of trusted sources which include Verisign (sic), TRUSTe, GFI software, Panda Antivirus, OpenDNS, and many more…” We are not sure why WOT uses these, many things we see would be a duplication of services, and we will touch upon each of these:
1. VeriSign – is owned by Symantec (Norton) – and a site where developers and websites themselves can pay a fee to get the “VeriSign” signature (trust seal), SSL Certificates and other things a site needs for e-commerce and digital signatures for software. So, we’re not sure why WOT uses VeriSign as it is not a site that maintains a database of dangerous sites.
2. TRUSTe – TRUSTe does not keep or maintain a database of dangerous Web sites. It’s stated purpose has nothing to do with the identification of dangerous sites. TRUSTe sells trust seals to Web sites which meet TRUSTe’s standards. And as far as TRUSTe goes, we have found their standards lacking. If you’ve been reading our newsletters for a few years then you will remember when we pointed out how flawed TRUSTe’s trust seal program is. One case in point: Many of you will remember that TRUSTe gave its seal of trust to Hotbar – at the very same time that Hotbar’s spyware/adware was ruining millions of computers and compromising its users’ privacy. If you’d like to look back at that you can read our article about TRUSTe and Hotbar here: http://thundercloud.net/infoave/truste-rant.htm
3. GFI Software: While GFI does offer a program for home users to backup their computers, its main purpose is for small businesses. They offer products for backup, spam and mail security, as well as provide server and hosting security.
GFI Software’s purpose is not to warn surfers of dangerous sites; it does not maintain a database for this purpose. As stated on GFI’s Web site their mission is: “To provide the best quality, most cost-effective content and network security, and messaging solutions to IT professionals in the small to medium sized business market, around the world.” What services GFI Software provides to WOT is vague. We don’t see any relationship between GFI’s stated mission and WOT’s mission.
4. Panda Antivirus: WOT partnered with Panda years ago. Panda is a developer of security programs. They create consumer security suites, and anti-virus programs to protect personal computers from viruses and other known threats. Since WOT does not include the Panda security software in its toolbar, we’re not sure how WOT gets any site-rating data from a security software developer. We don’t see how Panda’s security software is relevant to a safe-surfing toolbar whose purpose is to protect users from dangerous Web sites.
5. Open DNS: “OpenDNS services enable consumers and network administrators to secure their networks from online threats, reduce costs and enforce Internet-use policies.” Again, the relationship between OpenDNS and WOT is not clear.
We are not sure how these sites contribute much, if anything, to WOT’s rating system. But WOT does note, they give a lot of weight to its community when developing their site ratings. This following is copied directly from WOT’s Web site:
“WOT ratings are powered by a global community of millions of trustworthy users who have rated millions of websites based on their experiences.”
We cannot tell how WOT transparently uses the above sources for its ratings, but we can say that after reviewing dozens of sites that WOT has rated, all of the ratings are either good or bad based on the comments and reviews of those leaving feedback about those web sites in its community. Those so-called “trustworthy users” who rated and/or commented on those sites, from what we can tell, almost always determine WOT’s Web site ratings.
WOT engages in a leap of logic calling its millions of members “trustworthy” considering the fact that to be one of these trustworthy users all one has to do is provide is a name, an email address, chose a username and a password. One does not have to even have to provide a real name because WOT does not verify the identity or the backgrounds of their members. Because anyone with an email address can be a member of WOT’s community, WOT cannot with any credibility make the claim that even one of its members is trustworthy let alone that all of them are. Saying their ratings are “powered by a global community of trustworthy users” is false. WOT cannot possibly substantiate the claim that all of its members are trustworthy.
After reviewing approximately one hundred Web sites rated by WOT, it appears to us that WOT’s community is the foundation of its rating system as well as foundation of its problems. Its community may well have millions of members, but certainly not every member is trustworthy. And WOT exacerbates the problem by rewarding members who make the most comments and ratings. This system of rewarding the most active users has fueled a competition among some of its members, which seems to be out of control. Unfortunately this reward system is not based on accuracy or relevance of comments, or even on actual personal experiences with the Web sites rated – WOT’s reward system is based solely on the number of ratings and comments a member posts. This system skews WOT’s ratings by burying real ratings of individuals who add their comments and ratings. For instance, when we used to use WOT, we rated a few dozen Web sites – as would be typical of most users. Most users are not going to rate thousands of Web sites or make thousands and thousands of posts. Those members who carefully rate web sites based on real experiences with those sites, are not going to have time to make thousands of post. But since WOT rewards those who make the most posts, there are some who seem motivated by that. When that happens the race is on to see who can be the top poster and all kinds of bad things start happening. In the end the legitimate users who carefully and accurately rate web sites have their posts and ratings buried.
The following information was taken directly from WOT’s site.
Here’s an example of one of WOT’s “trustworthy” members’ site rating/comment history:
Member since May 2010
My activity score:45,106 *My ratings:338,666 *My posts:365,772
It is hard to imagine, a member who joined in May 2010 could post 338,000+ site ratings based on his personal experience in less than 330 days (May 1, 2010 – March 17, 2011).
We base this on information taken directly from WOT’s Web site The WOT community member known as “SuperHero58” posted more than 1000 posts per day on average from May 2010 through March 17, 2011. That means if this person were using his computer for 10 hours a day, every day, without a break, this person has been posting almost two posts per minute – every day, without a day off, since the day he joined WOT’s community. No human being is capable of that, no one is capable of personally reviewing and rating that many Web sites based on their real experiences, in that short span of time.
We’ve reviewed and rated hundreds of Web sites and freeware programs for our newsletters over the past 10 years – and we can tell you it takes much longer than 30 seconds to review a site or product, let alone write a comment about it.
Rather than rewarding this member of the community with a Platinum Member award, WOT ought to be investigating him – and other members like him – because it is apparent to us that he is gaming and abusing WOT’s site rating system. WOT should be ferreting these members who are manipulating and skewing WOT’s rating system before they make a total mockery of WOT’s community.
The following “trustworthy members” are all reviewers of a site with which we are very familiar. They develop and distribute a product we’ve used and one we have endorsed after extensive testing. We have often promoted this product and have received excellent feedback from users about the product as well as its excellent support team.
However if someone who is a community member in the WOT community does not like the program – one we find to be an excellent program – that’s perfectly fine; but because the program may have not worked for them, or they may have had a problem with the program or the support team certainly does not make the site “dangerous”. WOT’s purpose is to protect users from dangerous Web sites. Yet, there are numerous bad ratings for this site, calling it everything from a phishing site, to a spam site – a Web site cannot be spam because spam is defined as UCE or Unsolicited Commercial Email – to malware, spyware, a Trojan, and more. But it is absolutely none of these things. Yet WOT’s trusted members rate it as such with not a shred of evidence to back up their ratings. WOT gives this perfectly safe site a red, Dangerous warning. Why? Because of a handful of “trustworthy members” who posted thousands of ratings of and comments about sites which they couldn’t have possibly seen or had any significant personal experience with.
Here are some of these “trustworthy” members – note the join dates and the number of site ratings and comments. Also note the awards they were given by WOT. These particular members affected the site of program we are discussing and appear to influence many site ratings negatively. They also appear to follow each other around the community and post as a group.
These figures were as of March 17, 2011:
1. g7w Platinum member since Nov 2008
Activity score 54,374, My ratings:653,302 *My posts: 683,385
Scambusters award 2009
top member 2009
top member 2010
Member since December 2009
MF IT-UESC – Protecting your Digital Experience. Now.
My activity score:54,213 *My ratings:663,235 *My posts:683,173
Member since November 2008
My activity score:44,420 *My ratings:307,477 *My posts:307,678
Postal code:SC43 3EX
(received the 2010 WOT scam buster award)
Member since January 2010 (this is a 17 yr old)
My activity score:27,739 *My ratings:55,325 *My posts:55,640
Member since April 2010
My activity score:37,876 *My ratings:187,494 *My posts:185,896
The above are just a few examples of WOT’s most active members. There are more. The total overall negativity of WOT seems to be affected by such ambitious members as well:
It’s hard to believe that 75% of all web sites reviewed are bad. Yet 75% of WOT’s community reviews are negative. WOT’s top 100 members have posted a large percentage of their nearly 12 million site ratings. That means that 100 people out of millions of community members have made nearly 30% of all the WOT’s site ratings. WOT makes it sound like the ratings are being based on millions of community members’ opinions when it appears the ratings are actually influenced by very few.
Members rating thousands of sites and the overwhelming negativity of ratings, should be cause for alarm for WOT. Members who make thousands of comments and ratings should be reviewed and if they are found to be using using automated posting scripts, or copying and pasting thousands of site ratings based on nothing more than hearsay or personal opinion – these members and their ratings should be removed from WOT’s community. WOT members who rate thousands of Web sites cannot possibly base their ratings on personal experience. We’ve been on the Web for over 13 years and I seriously doubt that both of us together have seen a hundred thousand Web sites in that time.
Rather than rewarding these members for making thousands of site ratings – which are supposed to be based on the member’s own personal experience – with awards, WOT should be shocked by these kinds of numbers and consider these kinds of people a grave threat to its credibility. This many posts by a handful of members not only skews WOT’s ratings, it makes the accuracy of WOT’s ratings questionable.
Since we stopped recommending WOT, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend – WOT is becoming a more of a censorship tool than a safe-surfing toolbar. It’s hard to imagine that WOT would ever want to be involved in any kind of censorship or in making political, religious or moral recommendations – yet that, in some cases, is exactly what’s happening with WOT.
Eightball and I have differing political views as do most people. And rating sites as “dangerous” because they express extreme right-wing or left-wing views can be nothing other than censorship. Nothing is more sacred to a free society than the rights of its people to be able to express themselves as they wish. And whether we find their opinions offensive, or vile, or completely contrary to what we believe, in a free society we must believe they have the right to express themselves. WOT should never let its toolbar to award a site with a green rating because a handful of WOT community members agree with the views expressed on that site – or punish a site with a red warning because its community disagrees with the views expressed. Not only is this wrong but it has nothing to do with WOT’s mission to protect users from dangerous sites – i.e. fraudulent sites, scam sites, sites which distribute malware, and phishing sites, sites engaging in identity theft and the like.
WOT’s financial model of selling its “trust badge” to web sites in order to fund itself is flawed. Selling trust badges to fund itself is subject to abuse, and it puts WOT in a perilous position where it can and will find itself in a conflict of interest between its own financial interests and the interests of its users.
WOT does need to find a way to make money, but selling badges of trust isn’t the way to do it in our opinion. If WOT is as good and as popular as it thinks it is, it should be able to charge a small fee for its program – and ask its millions of members for small donations. If WOT truly is the most trusted “safe-surfing” toolbar, as it claims, surely those who use it would be more than happy to pay a small price for such a trusted program – many may be willing to make a small donation to help fund Web of Trust.
We disagree with much of WOT does. Does WOT really want to engage in the business of political censorship? Here’s just one example of how WOT is doing this:
Below there are two sites – one far left-leaning and one far right-leaning:
http://liberapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page Green WOT Rating (Ultra-liberal site)
http://www.conservapedia.com/Main_Page Red WOT Warning (Ultra-conservative site)
WOT gives the American Nazi Party’s official site a “red” (dangerous) rating (right leaning), but gives the American Communist Party’s site a green (safe) rating (left leaning).
We’re not condoning, supporting, or encouraging either right or left, Nazi or Communist – we’re showing these examples to make a point: Does a safe-surfing toolbar have any business favoring any political agenda over another? Is a site dangerous because it espouses a set of beliefs or values we may find offensive? Do we really want to have a toolbar censor sites for us based on any moral, political or religious considerations?
America, and all free societies disdain censorship. Free societies are founded on freedom of expression, and those of us who live in free societies understand that while we may not agree with someone else’s political, or religious or moral beliefs, we must defend their right to express them. WOT is sliding down the slippery slope of censorship by allowing its toolbar to become a powerful tool in the hands of a few who seem to impose their beliefs on everyone.
Additionally, you can find sites promoting religious beliefs which are contrary to the beliefs of those held by the reviewers – and those sites are rated red by WOT.
WOT has lost its way. WOT’s purpose should not be to constrain freedom of expression. WOT’s only purpose should be to protect its users from dangerous Web sites – malware sites, spyware sites, infected sites, sites which are set up for the purpose of stealing personal information, scam sites, fishing sites and other sites which may cause harm to our computers or our privacy. WOT steps over the line when it becomes a toolbar of moral, philosophical, religious, or political censorship.
If any one person’s freedoms are constrained, then all our freedoms are constrained. WOT has no business forcing its, or its community’s moral, political or religious opinions on anyone.
As long as WOT’s ratings are skewed by a handful of members who post millions of site ratings – ratings and comments which cannot possibly be based on those members’ personal experience – WOT’s ratings will continue to be subjective, biased, arbitrary and untrustworthy. In the end WOT’s users will suffer from this abuse, and unfortunately will many legitimate and useful Web sites and small Web businesses.
If WOT truly wants to protect its users from dangerous content, it needs to clean up its own house first. WOT should start supervising its community and identify and weed out those individuals who make thousands of posts. WOT needs to move away from making moral and political and religious judgments part of its rating system. Moral, political, and religious opinions are only dangerous to those who oppose them, and therefore WOT has no business giving red (dangerous ratings) to sites with political, moral, or religious opinions that offend its “trustworthy” community members – especially the ones making thousands of questionable ratings and posts.
WOT needs to regain control of its community and set-up strict guidelines and initiate a stringent policy which prohibits abuse of its rating system by a minority who make thousands of posts which couldn’t possibly be based on any personal experience. It should carefully review ratings and comments made by its members. Right now a few people are skewing WOT’s ratings and these members appear to be out of control. They are make a mockery of WOT and its rating system. “WOT ratings are powered by a global community of millions of trustworthy users who have rated millions of websites based on their experiences. ”
WOT needs to ensure that its community members are really trustworthy not allow automated bots or scripts or users who copy and paste the same ratings and comments to thousands of posts to win awards, or be recognized or gain attention.
We don’t see the need for a WOT-style toolbar in any case. All current-version browsers have anti-phishing and fraudulent site protection – and by now everyone who uses the Internet should have good security software installed to protect them from viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, malware, botnets, and other malicious files.
We don’t need, and we shouldn’t want, a morality toolbar driven by a handful of anonymous but supposedly “trustworthy” WOT community members to tell us what to think.