Search Biz Makes $1.1 Billion Off Links To Security Risks - InformationWeek

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5/12/2006
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Search Biz Makes $1.1 Billion Off Links To Security Risks

Sites that pay for sponsored links are nearly three times more likely to harbor spyware or adware, or hassle visitors with spam, than URLs generated by the engine's algorithms, according to research.

The high percentage of risky sites among search engines' paid advertisers puts some serious green into company coffers as it makes users' lives miserable, SiteAdvisor said.

"In 2005 Google earned approximately $6 billion in revenue from advertisers," said Keats in a follow-up e-mail to TechWeb. "We have no reason to think unsafe advertisers are paying more or less than other advertisers, so suppose they're paying, on average, the same as other Google advertises. Then Google earned approximately $510 million ($6 billion X 8.5 percent [risky sites]) from these sponsored sites."

Using the same math, Yahoo, which reaped $4.6 billion in ad revenue in 2005, earned approximately $391 million from sponsored sites.

"[So] the total annual search engine revenue from [risky] sponsored sites is about $1.1 billion," said Keats.

Some search engines have made progress in weeding out risky sites from for-fee links, Keats noted, highlighting Google's recent crackdown on online pharmacies as a good example. "But we'd love to see more vetting," Keats added.

"We're not comfortable telling the search engines what to do," he said, but then went on to catalog the risks users face from risky sites, including the admittedly rare drive-by download where a site exploits unpatched bugs, usually in Microsoft's IE browser, to silently install spyware or adware.

The threat's real enough, Keats said, that the average Web user will click through to a risky site about once every 15 days, and to a dangerous site -- which SiteAdvisor codes in red -- once every 21 days.

SiteAdvisor, which was acquired by McAfee early last month, offers free plug-ins for IE and Firefox that overlay Google, Yahoo, and MSN search results with color coded labels that reveal risky sites.

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