Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New Internet consumer protection

I've been using the Firefox plugin from for a few days, and I think it's a great idea. They've searched the web, downloaded content, and submitted unique email addresses on signup forms everywhere they find them, to see what happens. They then rate each site for malicious content and the extent to which it generates spam in response to a signup. This database is then used by their browser plugin to display icons next to Google and Yahoo search results indicating whether that site is green, yellow, or red regarding the type of content downloaded, the amount of email you can expect to receive from signing up at the site, and whether it links to other sites that are problematic.

Their privacy policy is good--they don't keep a record of who goes to what site. One feature I'd like to see them add is the ability to not make queries for certain domains (such as Intranet web pages--their current design allows them to map out internal corporate web structures which they should not be able to get).

Their advisory board includes Avi Rubin, a well-known security researcher at Johns Hopkins University (and formerly at AT&T) who has done significant work on e-voting security, and Ben Edelman, formerly of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, who is well-known for his research on Internet subjects such as domain name usage and China's web filtering, as well as his lawsuit against web filtering company N2H2 to defend his right to research its blocking list.

SiteAdvisor has a blog, too (though as of this moment it doesn't have a valid RSS feed, according to Thunderbird).


cowmix said...

They have a RSS 2.0 and an ATOM feeds. I tried the ATOM one in Thunderbird 1.5 (under Linux and Windows) and it seemed to work fine.

BTW.. I want to give a shout out to RSSOwl, a Java (SWT) based RSS reader. It runs on all platforms, very responsive, is free and works very well if you track or read a lot of feeds.

Jim Lippard said...

Thunderbird 1.0.7 says that the Atom feed is not a valid RSS feed... time for me to upgrade, I guess.

Ben Edelman said...

Jim --

Ben Edelman here with a couple quick comments.

1) I'm not "of" Harvard's Berkman Center. I did attend Harvard Law School, and I was previously a student fellow at the Berkman Center. But I have no ongoing affiliation with them, nor them with me.

2) I understand your desire to disable SA for certain domains. I often wish for that same feature for the Google Toolbar (which also lacks it). In a future update, I understand that SiteAdvisor will be getting an "off" option in its settings menu, to temporarily disable it. That said, note that SiteAdvisor does not track every web page users view (unlike, say, the Google Toolbar). Instead, SiteAdvisor only tracks what sites users view. So SiteAdvisor would never really "map out" a web structure -- it might learn some host names, but that's all.

I think the SiteAdvisor privacy policy is pretty clear about this behavior, and packet sniffing confirms it. If you see places where this could be explained better, do let me know.

I'm glad you're excited about SiteAdvisor. Me too. Keep in touch with further suggestions, apparent data errors, etc., and we'll do what we can to straighten it out.


Jim Lippard said...


Thanks for the corrections and clarifications, and thanks for stopping by. I'll update these posts to be accurate...