WOT the ??? (Web of Trust)

By | February 19, 2011
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 WOT The ???

We pulled our recommendation for Web of Trust (WOT) quite a while ago. Before I get started, I want you to know that the idea behind WOT was one that sounded great conceptually, but fails miserably in reality. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of people rating web sites and giving others a heads-up on the bad ones, sounds so democratic and so fair. But as those of us who’ve observed human nature for more than 25 years, know there are more followers than leaders – and the doom and gloom crowd shuts louder than the happy crowd. It just takes a few paranoid radicals who may (or may not) have had a bad experience with a legitimate site to fire up a crowd of followers. Face it, it’s a lot easier to get people to follow you by terrifying them and offering to save them, than it is by offering reasonable ideas and using facts as the basis for opinions.

WOT seems to be perfect example of mob mentality gone wrong. I used WOT for a couple of years – and the longer I used it the more I noticed that I was being warned about many perfectly legitimate sites that I’d used and trusted for years. As time passed, more and more warnings began to appear. Others might have concluded (wrongly) that those sites had suddenly gone sour. So how exactly does WOT determine which sites are good and which sites are bad?

We’ve never been able to figure out exactly how WOT arrives at its ratings, I found out no one who could really explain EXACTLY how WOT arrives at its ratings. How much weight do they give to the opinions of the members of the WOT community? As of today, 17 February 2011, there were 504,246, 943 site ratings posted in the community. The top five members posted over 250,000 ratings. That averages over 50,000 each. I can’t imagine how anyone finds the time to make 50,000 posts on anything. Can you?

Another interesting thing.

Comments by members
Total 11,476,339
Positive 565,775
Negative 10,697,064
Neutral 213,500

Does anything look out of whack to you? Over 10 million negative and only about a half-million positive comments? Really? How much weight does WOT give to the opinion of their community and who are these people who make over 50,000 posts each?

Anyway, think about that while I tell you something else about WOT:

We’ve always wondered how WOT was going to make money. Eventually they had to find a way to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with making money – it’s not a sin. Everyone needs to eat, pay their bills, pay for a place to live. It costs a lot of money to operate a site as large as WOT – they have server expenses, IT expenses, a CEO and employees to pay. So there’s nothing wrong with WOT wanting to make money from their toolbar. But I seriously question the model they chose. They chose what I call the TRUSTe model.

You remember TRUSTe, right? They’re the company that sold their badge of trust to the biggest purveyor of spyware the web has ever seen – Hotbar (now defunct by-the-way). It wasn’t until we and others questioned how they could possibly give Hotbar their seal of trust, (back when Hotbar was known as a spyware peddler extraordinaire) that TRUSTe finally withdrew their seal. If I had a dollar for every computer that Hotbar ruined, I’d give you all $50 and still have millions left. I wonder how many people saw the TRUSTe seal and thought “gee, I can trust Hotbar!”. When you are in a business of trust and you start selling seals of trust, you’re immediately putting yourself in a conflict of interest. If you’re not selling as many seals as you need to sell to stay afloat, then do you lower your standards or do you lower your price? WOT is willing to sell their seal (badge) for just over $400 a year. In return for that money a web site gets a badge to put on their pages that tells visitors their site is supposedly reliable and trustworthy.

This revenue model is flawed and it’s been flawed for more than a decade. We’re not going to give WOT $400 or $40 to display a badge that says our site is good. In our opinion WOT and other toolbars of its ilk, are becoming less safe-surfing toolbars and more censorship toolbars. It’s almost like a spam filter for your browser.

We’d still like to know how WOT arrives at its ratings. If someone from WOT would like to explain to us, in detail, we’d be happy to listen. The world is changing – and all current version Web browsers include some protection from phishing and other malicious sites. The safe-surfing toolbar idea was a good one on paper, but one that fails in reality. We think too many sites are being incorrectly labeled as questionable or worse by WOT and other safe surfing toolbars. If one company, who makes a safe-surfing toolbar, used by millions, decided it wanted to intentionally harm the reputation of another site or competitive site, who could stop them? We’re not saying that WOT would ever do this, what we’re saying is anytime you start using arbitrary or questionable information to rate a business or a Web site, the possibility exists that all kinds of bad things could happen.

There are no laws to protect innocent web sites from predatory practices. And if a site incorrectly listed as dangerous, and WOT or one of the other companies who make these kinds of toolbars admits it has made an error, how long will it take for that company to correct it’s error? And what of the site whose reputation was tarnished by a few days or a few weeks of being incorrectly listed as a dangerous site? Who’s going to make up for the lost sales – who’s going to help them repair the damage to their reputation. Not WOT – and none of the the other companies who make these kind of censorship toolbars. Well, that’s exactly what they are…a mini-government embedded in your browser. No one wants government to invade our lives or make personal decisions for us, but so many are so willing to allow companies like WOT to tell them what is good and what is bad. If WOT were 100% accurate, or even 90% accurate, I still wouldn’t think it was a good idea. There is too much chance for abuse to be of use.

Right now, we’re not recommending WOT or any other censorship (safe-surfing) toolbar. We recommend is a common sense approach. We are advocates for you, for your personal choices. Take personal responsibility and stay informed. And above all, use your common sense and the tools you already have – like your browser and your favorite search engine. If you’re not sure about a site, google it. Get the opinion of others – not the opinion of one company – and decide for yourself.

Always make sure you’re using the latest version of whichever browser you prefer. Keep your antispyware and antivirus programs up-to-date, and use common sense when you’re browsing the web. Our society is more and more abdicating personal responsibility and more and more people are allowing others to make their choices for us. Don’t let biased or flawed safe-surfing toolbars shoo you away from sites which may well be worthwhile. Rely on yourself to make the right choices and use the tools you already have to find the answers when you’re not sure.

We won’t be displaying any paid WOT badges on our Web site. Does it matter to you if we do?


17 thoughts on “WOT the ??? (Web of Trust)

  1. Muriel

    Very well put. Unfortunately, you’ll probably have to say the same thing 1,000,000 times and too many STILL won’t listen.

    1. infoave Post author

      Unfortunately, we think you’re right. There is no better way to show how ridiculous something is than to take statistics WOT shows on its Web site, and shine a light on them. We put a challenge out to WOT to explain exactly how they arrive at their site ratings. It will be interestig to see if they would give us all an explanation of exactly how they arrive at their site ratings and how much weight they give their community. At one point, I believe I was told that they didn’t give it much weight, and if that’s true then it can’t be true that WOT’s rating system is based on the opinions of its users. And I sure don’t want to hear back that they use arcane algorithms to arrive at their ratings, if that is true then perhaps they need to use better ones.

      WOT finds itself in a competitive mess. Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer all have built-in site filters which do a good job of warning users about phishing and fraudulent sites without the fanfare and the melodrama of WOT. The last I used WOT it had so many false-positives – it reminded me of the boy who cried “Wolf!”.

      Protecting users is one thing, unnecessarily scaring them is another. As is often the case with programs like WOT, it has to prove it’s doing something or users might think it’s not doing anything.

      Thanks for posting, Muriel

      TC & EB

  2. Patsy

    I was given a bad, red circle rating on my site because i kept posting questions on the WOT forum. The reason i kept asking questions (there were about 4 or 5 questions i asked) is because i didn’t know i had received a reply, as the posts get lost in the thousands of posts on there. So, for punishment, they rated my site terribly. One member even said ‘bad customer experience’ and wasn’t even a customer of mine. I couldn’t do a thing about it, even when i asked them to remove unfair comment ratings…nothing!

    As a result the website i paid one yrs hosting for has had to be shut down due to it being useless to me. Who the heck is going to go on there with a red circle?

    I am looking into doing something about this, as i cannot help but feel it is not only unfair, it is disgusting. I was abused in the forum too, i was spoken too like i was an idiot. I was even called an airhead.

    I’m not the only one to be abused on there either, i read through posts and found others accused of this that and the other.

    I had a new business and now i don’t because WOT members decided to do this to me and why? all because i didn’t answer questions i never knew i had!

    1. infoave Post author

      WOT’s site ratings are subjective. If you look at their community you’ll see where a handful of individuals make a large percentage of the posts. Users who have nothing better to do than post negative comments (one person had made well over 50,000 posts when I last looked) are able to decide for tens, perhaps millions of users which sites are good and which sites are bad. I don’t imagine that it will be too long before sites who don’t buy into WOT’s badge program (i.e. don’t contribute to WOT’s coffers) will be rated negatively.

      As far as we’re concerned WOT cannot be trusted to give accurate, unbiased information. We’ve published newsletters and articles asking for WOT to tell us how they arrive at their ratings – but so far, as of today no answer from WOT. It’s funny, when we were recommending them when they first started, they were in contact with us all the time. But when we recognized the seriousness of this “rating” game, and how it could be used to shut down or seriously damage good sites, and also be used to promote or denigrate political agendas, software, business which may sell products which compete with WOT, or products they don’t happen to like, or have content which WOT finds offensive to them, or in contradiction to their agenda, we stopped recommending WOT and all so-called safe-surfing toolbars. There’s too much room for chicanery and promotion of certain agendas that such toolbars could be used for censorship and promotion of whatever products or agendas WOT or its community decided to promote. This is not good and we will continue to educate people as to the potential dangers of allowing masses of unqualified, anonymous users to tell us what is good and bad on the Web.

      All current versions of Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Opera and Chrome have excellent fraud and phishing detection. The only things that those of us who use the web should be concerned with are fraudulent sites, sites that distribute malware, and phishing sites. We don’t need to go back to a time when a small group of fanatics decide what is good for us and what is bad for us.

      Thanks for submitting your post.

  3. Patsy

    The questions i asked were. ‘Could you rate my site please?’ i put that twice as like i said, i didn’t know i’d got a reply. Oh heck! that’s when it all started to go very wrong for me.

    All my life i have never been unethical ever!!! and now they made me look like that, that’s why i shut the site down, well almost down, i need to ask GoDaddy my host to shut it down properly. I’ve just removed all posts and pages etc at moment.

    All this happened within the space of a week, just today, i closed my site.

    (site URL removed by request of the user)

    or try the ‘http’ without the ‘s’ at the end, as that was for an SSL certificate that was on there, which i took off today, as again, that was of little use to me anymore.

    You can see the state of my site, it doesn’t even have a title anymore.

  4. Patsy

    On second thoughts, can you not put my site up there, as if a member of what recognise my site url, they might do something to my other site, which has a good reputation.

    1. infoave Post author

      We removed your site link as you requested. Thanks!

  5. whitedwarf

    I can understand what you are saying about people should use their common sense when it comes to safe sites. I thought WOT would have given me a good idea of what’s a safe site and not. But unfortunately, because of recent events, i have think again. It seems a handful of people on the WOT site can influence your ratings in a very unfair way. They can down grade you or give you bad comments with no good reason, only other than they can. Perhaps it makes them feel important or powerful. But in reality, it makes a farce of the rating system. If they don’t like you, for whatever reason they can ruin your perfectly good website. And it is apparent, they can do this with no chance to challenge them or for the makers of the site to hold them responsible for their actions.

    I will not be taking much notice of WOT ratings from now on.

  6. Jeremy

    If only Hotbar were defunct. I had a Stupid Moment the other night and allowed it to install itself when I had downloaded a copy of Audacity, which is supposed to be a freeware open source sound file editor. The Hotbar people had exploited the open source code and used it to embed this nasty piece of adware–now not pretending to be anything more, but claiming their millions of fans love to be advertised to!

    They had also advertised with Google to make sure their hack version was the first hit when searching for “Audacity”. The audacity. 😉

    It was quite a headache to (hopefully) eradicate Hotbar, taking three passes with Spybot Search & Destroy.

    By then in the course of straightening things out I had taken someone’s recommendation and also downloaded the free Avast, in case my slip had allowed Hotbar (and any other surprises in this hack) to convince McAfee it was acceptable. But Avast has its own problems. You start to wonder if the tools for removing malware are any better than their targets these days…

    1. Avast stuck this site rating add-on into Firefox without telling me and it took me a while to realize that’s why it had gotten there. (Researching it is what brought me to your site, by the way.)
    2. The site rating button is not just at the top of the browser window, it’s next to every Google hit and I think other places as well.
    3. Even in my administrator account, I cannot “uninstall” the plugin from Firefox, only “disable” it. That is Class 1 Unacceptable in my book. Grrrr!
    4. And I’m seriously annoyed that its Win7 gadget clutters up my desktop every time I log on.

    As soon as I post, off to yank out Avast! If I can. Ptooie!

    Thanks for your thoughtful takes on things.

  7. Jeremy

    More on Hotbar/Zango, which is not dead on my computer after all. I saw this information on {a href=”http://corporate.zango.com/support/faqs.aspx”>http://corporate.zango.com/support/faqs.aspx :

    I’m using Microsoft® Windows Vista™ and Windows Defender keeps popping warning windows when I try to install Zango, what can I do?

    Zango is a safe and secure program which will not harm your computer and is only installed upon user’s consent. We are certainly aware of the ever-growing number of harmful applications that have surfaced on the Web. Please be assured that Zango, unlike such applications, will always make your privacy our top priority.

    Unfortunately Windows Defender does not have Zango on the “permitted files” list. In order to solve this problem, please do the following:

    * Zango might be detected as Hotbar as it is one of Zango.com products

    2. If Windows Defender pops a warning window during the Zango installation, Choose Ignore to allow Zango.
    3. Windows defender will continue to alert you that you have Zango installed. You can make sure Zango is always allowed on your computer by changing the setting in Windows Defender:

    * From the Start menu select Programs > Windows Defender.
    * Choose Scan option, which will start a scan of your computer.
    * Once the scan is finished, click Review items detected by scanning in order to see which items were detected.
    * If the scan results show Hotbar and/or 180solutions.Zango.SearchAssistant choose Always Allow under the action tab next to the items and click Apply Actions at the bottom of the screen.

    Zango will now be allowed on your computer and you will see no further warnings.

    For more information, please contact our Support Team

    It’s like, how to unlock your door and build a neon sign saying “burglars come here.”

  8. Dan N Testa

    “jeff134” This user posted about 200,000 negative posts. On a whole assortment of webpages including the vastly important Erowid on 4/30/11 as soon as I saw how much power they gave one individual I realized the scam that wot had degenerated into. I have seen false positives. But worse their are A LOT of false cleans all over the place now. I’m telling you they gave http://www.megavideo.com a good rating even tho their are 14 pages of bad comments from their own community about the viruses and scams that I have seen for myself. So how did wot come to that conclusion?! Things like live jasmen a viral popup that has always been negative is suddenly positive. Something rotten is going on. They need to reveal what their practices are on ratings before they have too much power.

  9. Ben

    I’ve only just realised Web of Trust has been wasting my time, putting red circles on safe sites. I get a lot of emails about Internet Marketing and WOT was giving some of their sites poor reputation warnings. It seems the WOT voters do not like to spend any money. I do not care if somebody else think’s a $37 e-book is a rip off or not all I care about is viruses, malware etc.

  10. mywot lies

    I’ve outlined the major holes in WOT tried to post them on the forum only to have it deleted.

    If WOT would just address the issues I outline they might have a decent tool. Instead it’s just a simple thing to game/spam to push your own agenda and “black list” sites.

  11. WOT wtf?

    I must say this is a relief to know I am not alone thinking this is a business for them, What you described about the trust shield is the truth. My site rated excellent for the two weeks until people from the mywot community began lowering my ratings and claimed it was an unsafe site. Up until then I had accepted an offer to try their trust badge or shield free for one month, not 2 weeks into it I was informed my rating was poor and they were going to take my free badge away.

    I thought wait a minute it was a free badge to try for one entire month. I got a letter asking how I liked my free shield, and I said well I have not seen it yet in action . I think it was a bad idea to accept the free one because that is how they hook you in.

    As soon as they got my response that I was not going to buy anything because I believed the system is a huge scam disguised as something good as all scams are, my ratings plummeted to very poor within less than an hour after my response.

    It proved that somehow they felt offended they would not get my donation or pay for a bogus trust shield. This proves that WOT is useless. And if it is all in the hands of the users then it is even more screwed.

    I was not told the badges and shield have some real tracking and persistent cookies even after you disable the add on.Yet I was accused of having 8 cookies.
    If a user exposes or brings up the notion that it is a scam, SAMI who also is administrator of the site negates everything and says it’s a user run system. Blame the users.

    I was harassed by a user at mywot who has multiple accounts maybe in the 100’s. Somehow he has gotten past their so called security or is the security. He also took it upon himself to copy paste the Whois data containing all my info in a public comment. I know it is against the terms of use of any Whois database to do so. But they don’t agree. They asked for a legal precedent to prove what I was saying.No matter how much I presented It was not enough proof that it is not allowed ,and did not remove my information.

    Even if the information is public it is not subject of abuse. I complained to the founder of WOT SAMI who doubles as support . Which they do not have a proper way to contact them , yet to be trusted one must disclose our personal info and TRUST it won’t be mishandled.

    And if the founder SAMI himself can’t offer any support except to ask the user to stop and to remove his comment. All the while my info for two weeks.was exposed ,
    SAMI condoned and enabled a user of his site to abuse my information and libel me, and did nothing about it to help me. those posts will be there for ever even if a user removes them. How can I trust them.

    Then I was told about the things I had to do to get better ratings, to get a shield, to donate money, to get rid of flash and widgets , to post a privacy notice about the use of flash, I complied with what they ordered me to do was under duress. My site’s ratings are very poor and have gotten worse the more I have done to fix issues they brought up.

    But I think what sealed my site’s coffin was the fact I replied to their extortion e mail by telling them to shove their scam up their behind. So it proves everything you say here as the real truth about THE WEB OF DISTRUST that hides behind WOT.

    WOT IS A startup company dedicated to make the web safer by running a scam on site owners and force them to buy a TRUST shield or else their ratings will certainly plummet into DISTRUST.

    My site is not a vendor, and I don’t have users or a forum and I Don’t collect info . Yet I rate badly in all their categories. Is that not suspicious or what ??? Blame it on the algorithm right ?

    What is worse is a user of mywot can’t rate WOT. They shield themselves from the public finding out it is a scam and showing them how they feel for a change.
    The founder SAMI is just gathering users so he can sell the company for millions of dollars . They brag they have rated millions of sites, but what does that really mean if it was the users who rated the sites not WOT.

    If it is true the users determine the ratings, then they have many stupid users who never actually visit the sites they rate, they go by other people’s ratings. It’s like sheep . So their actual interaction with a particular site is zero .

    The system for mywot users to gain points of trust which makes your rating weigh more,by rating 100’s of sites the same as other users did. So if I disagree with 100 users about a site deemed excellent when I rate that site, my trust points get lowered or they do not climb because I can’t be trusted because how can I disagree with 100 people.

    This encourages cheating. They track you when you rate a site and based on how you rate, with the flow or against the flow a person gains seniority, it is encouraged to vote with the flow because that is how you gain trust as far as your rating capabilities. How dumb is that. If I vote against the flow then I am not trustworthy . If you rate your own site they know how you rated it and keep a record and if the administrator SAMI thinks you rate yourself too high they also rate you down. As a site owner you are at their mercy. Facebook rates number one in trust. How can that be with all the malware and tracking they use on people!!

    So it is not about rating how you feel but how the masses feel. It is like a game for some users. To increase their stat points by rating hundreds of sites like the rest of the people do. It is a flawed system which leads to good sites that are small , to get rated down.

    And it is small sites who need any reputation to be had, that succumb to the extortion about getting badge or shield in exchange for your money.
    I removed from my site the WOT code and disabled the add on. I will not be associated with dishonest unreliable practices .

    Money is what really buys trust when it comes to WOT. That is the scam.

  12. Stephanie Deneke

    Here’s an update on the negative ratings of myWOT. The top rater seems to be g7w, who now has over 1 million sites rated. And all of his comments on sites are negative.

    It also appears that he and a few others put together forum threads with lists of sites to target with poor ratings.

    myWOT offers a solution to sites with poor ratings to purchase their WOT seal, it leads to the question,,, is there compensation of sorts for the top users that rate sites poorly?

    (myWOT lists the badge on their page as a suggestion for increasing your sites rating, yet will reply to negative comments that address that issue that the Trust badge can only be purchased once you have successfully increased the rating of your site, after they also point out that the ratings can not be manipulated, so who knows what the real story is.)

    If your site has a low score on myWOT….

    It doesn’t matter if you talk to myWOT.

    They tell you to rate your own site, and to purchase their Web Of Trust seal.

    It doesn’t matter if you register and rate your own site. You have to take days of rating other sites first, and you have to agree with the WOT community when rating them. Then once you have established a rating history with them, then your ratings that differ with theirs “start” to count.

    The ratings are weighted, read it in their own FAQ section. WOT users that have rated more sites carry more weight with their ratings.

    The worst part is, if your site has a poor rating, and you post it to your Facebook page, your link won’t redirect to your site. It gets a warning from Facebook that was created by their “trusted” partner myWOT and warns you to not visit the site.

    If it weren’t the affiliation with Facebook, I wouldn’t care or even know about myWOT.

    1. infoave Post author

      While I don’t think your site deserves a dangerous rating — or any bad rating at all — your site is nothing but one big advertisement. So I removed the link so you wouldn’t be trying to draw traffic to your site from this one.

  13. J F

    The WOT community is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition or the English witch hunts when anyone who was perceived as being different and/or critical of the “norm” was persecuted relentlessly by the zealots of the day. My site was labelled poor across the board but was also simply a free to use non commercial information site.


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