WOT (Web of Trust) — my review

Web of Trust, shortly WOT is a community driven system for websites ratings, aimed to help for a more secure and trusted web. The ratings components are :

  • Trustworthiness
  • Vendor reliability
  • Privacy
  • Child Safety

The average of  all these ratings forms a website reputation.This reputation system can be accessed through a browser add-on available for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, once downloaded and installed it will display next to the links a red circle for dangerous websites containing malware or scams, yellow circle for a questionable reputation and green for clean and safe websites. In this way the WOT users will know what websites to avoid and what websites are safe to visit. Anybody can contribute to these websites ratings, it’s needed only an www.mywot.com account and the add-on installed. Anybody with an Web of Trust(WOT)  account can also comment on the website scorecard page.

So far so good, WOT seemed to be something similar to Wikipedia, a free knowledge database where anybody can contribute for the good of community, a.k.a WOT users. The same I was thinking a while back, when I read the first time about WOT system: a useful system meant to unmask the malicious websites before the user to reach them, avoiding computer infections or scams. But my first experience with Web of Trust was far from being so cool. In fact, it was the opposite, I have had a disturbing and unconstructive experience that overwhelmed me.

A while back this site you just read was several months old and after I read somewhere about WOT rating system I was curious if somebody already rated it, yet thinking there are no many chances to be rated because the site was new and relatively unknown. Well, when I saw the scorecard page of my website(this one), I was astonished. My website had a red circle because somebody already rated it and even commented about it labeling it as a website that spread malware. The exact comment is:

Pretends to be a website that cleans your computer, but really sends you malicious content while on the site

Obviously I was shocked on this one and a lot of thoughts went through my mind. What to do now? Sincerely, because we all are humans and subject to emotions, the first idea that came in my mind was to take my revenge, to search for the website of that WOT member, to rate it as bad as possible and to leave a destroying comment. But I have had enough self-control to don’t do that. Instead I’ve started to search on Web of Trust(WOT)  site what to do in such situation. Their advice in the case of a misrated site is to make an account on their website and leave a comment stating that you are the owner of that website, to open a  Web of Trust(WOT)  forum thread and ask members to rate your site and the last advice is to ask your friends and customers to rate your site, here is the link for these advises.

Suddenly I have understood that not the members that give false ratings and comments are guilty for this situation but the Web of Trust(WOT)  system itself is vicious and unhealthy. This is how it goes, I’m not benefitting from the presumption of innocence, somebody that even I don’t know accuse me for something false, an ordinary lie in reality, denigrating my web property and therefore I must defend myself striving to prove the contrary. How can I defend myself ? Asking my friends, my colleagues, my employees, my wife everybody to make a Web of Trust account and to help me because I was accused of Web of Trust(WOT)  Inquisition and I’m in danger to lose all my websites visitors and reputation. As time went on my website scorecard was improved mysteriously:

web of trust scorecard

web of trust scorecard

and without to ask somebody to vote for me. Still the questions remain: how accurate can be a system meant to improve your browsing safety but where you are encouraged to ask your friends to manipulate your website rating? Again, how accurate can be a system that allow the use of a tool, Mass rating tool ?

…The mass rating tool allows you to rate up to 100 sites at the same time, leaving each site the same rating and comment. This is useful when rating a large number of sites with the same owner, for example. You should always act responsibly when using the mass rating tool. Using it is a privilege, which will be taken away from users suspected of spamming or abuse….

So the sites having the same owner can be rated in bulk, but what is happening if one of those websites was hacked and is containing malware or malicious redirects now? It’s clear for everyone I think that for the sake of safety each website must be evaluated individually and not in bulk just because it has the same owner. Many webmasters have websites of different colours — white, black or grey because they run different business if a website is trustworthy and Child Safety it does not mean that another site with the same owner can not be a porn site.

What is the future of the system in the WOT creators eyes? Perhaps all the Internet users to make a Web of Trust account(maybe this is what the Web of Trust(WOT)  creators want) but not with the primary scope to help the community, instead to help each other in a battle with each other, acting blindly under the influence of emotions, releasing all the bad feelings, like a provoked cocks fight on the  Web of Trust(WOT)  battlefield. This has nothing to do with the users benefit but has as a result the abduction of more and more members to the mywot.com website, forced to defend themselves or to help other webmasters to defend.

I’m looking at my scorecard image from above and I’m thinking I never saw something more dumb like this one. How it comes from the Child Safety point of view my site has only 73 points as score? Why not 100, I have somewhere on this site porn images ? What I sell myself to have only 65 points as Vendor reliability ? Where I manipulate the visitors privacy to have only 65 points as Privacy ? Questions without answers revealing an unreliable system.

It can be the financial gain behind all of this system? Because even if the browser add-on is free to use, there is WOT Trust Seal which webmasters can buy from the WOT official website for about $500/year(319.90€) the Standard version, as the trust can be bought?!?

This site is entirely different from Wikipedia, the other community based website. While on Wikipedia the community is stimulated to be constructive, on the WOT  website are stimulated the webmasters bad feelings and emotions, the fear to be misrated and have the website disqualified. Simply the Web of Trust(WOT) working principle is wrong and immoral.

OK, but finally what about the Internet safe surfing ? Well, there are far better alternatives to Web of Trust system(WOT), seconds by seconds the web is crawled and scanned by crawlers specially made to identify the malicious domains, or even malicious search results and to protect their users from accessing them.

LinkScanner,  McAfee SiteAdvisor, Norton Safe Web, AVG LinkScanner® are a few of recommended real time web scanners made by professionals to decide if a website is malicious or it was included on domains blacklists. Comparing these tools with WOT system, how can analyze the WOT community websites containing obfuscated Java scripts , hidden exploits kits normally invisible to the websites visitors and probably with a delayed impact on the computer security? For a professional URL scanner is relatively easy to deobfuscate a javascript, to evaluate its functions and to decide if it has a malicious character but how react the WOT system powered-by-the-community to these real world threats?

You can read more “horror” stories about Web of Trust(WOT) system on PCWorld, Trash-Factor, complaintsboard.com or on download page from cnet.com at comments. A lawsuit against WOT Services was filed by  ten Internet companies based in Florida, accusing WOT of defamation, violating rights, conspiracy and manipulating algorithms. Very true if you ask me and aimed by financial gains from scared webmasters who prefer to buy their Trust Seal to be rated positively. Here is what they say on Web of Trust site :

Increase sales, stand out from the competition and manage your reputation when you use a WOT Trust Seal on your site. Reputation data comes from the world’s leading community-based safe surfing tool, Web of Trust.

A system marked by severe flaws, where your surf safety depends on ratings given by unknown persons, maybe kids without the proper ability or aimed by obscure intentions and as I mentioned before, without having the users safety as the primary goal. To understand all these, don’t believe me, just visit the WOT forum and you will see that even the members are confused of the system. Just an example, they say here:

Other people are here with other agendas, like helping friends, trashing enemies, making messes, etc. There is one member who gives high praise to sites just because they rank highly in Alexa – even if they are bad sites. I guess his agenda is to be a Platinum member by any means.

The point is that these are attitudes and behaviors which one finds in society, WoT is designed to reflect that.

Enough said, I think. Not other persons but even the WOT members are worried by the system flaws and give a lot of examples of misrated websites, where innocent sites are punished with a red circle while a lot of malicious websites are all green. If they don’t like how your site is looking(yes, just the design) or your comments on the forum then you can expect a punishment, it will come for sure in the form of red circles.

On 12 May this year, Facebook announced happily that it made a partnership with Web of Trust to improve the safety of its users and Web of Trust reputation system was inserted in Facebook pages. The image of the safety was improved.

Reading this article, please don’t take me wrong. I have nothing against Web of Trust(WOT) system and I’m sure many websites are correctly rated effectively protecting users against malware websites, it only suffer for critical flaws that make it to seem like half of a scam.

Keep safe !

Posted in Thoughts.

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