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McAfee's SiteAdvisor' program & the
invalid rating that they gave to our website

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Positive aspects of the program:

McAfee is one of the leading software suppliers of programs to combat viruses, spam, spyware and online scams. We have used some of their programs and found them to be very reliable and reasonably priced.

One of their programs is SiteAdvisor. It places a small icon labeled "McAfee SiteAdvisor" on your Internet browser. The icon has a green, orange, or red background depending upon whether they regard the site that you are viewing as:

bullet Safe: They comment: "We've tested this site and found it safe to use."
bullet Questionable: They may post a reviewer's message, like: "After entering our e-mail address on this site, we received 50 e-mails per week."
bullet Dangerous: They might say: "In our tests, we found downloads on this site that some people consider adware, spyware, or other unwanted programs."

Sites that have not been rated yet are shown with a gray background.

A simplified version is available at no cost; it can be downloaded from http://www.siteadvisor.com/. SiteAdvisor' Plus, a version with more features, is available for a modest cost.

You can also go to http://www.siteadvisor.com/ enter any URL, and obtain a free SiteAdvisor report on that site.

They state:

"Safety ratings from McAfee SiteAdvisor are based on automated safety tests of Web sites (including of our own site) and are enhanced with user feedback from our users and our own manual analysis. We do not accept payment from sites to be rated, so we have no conflict of interest. We also document our safety tests for every site we analyze."

We recommend that you download this program, while keeping in mind that any non-green ratings may or may not be valid. To find out why we list this precaution, please continue reading.

Negative aspects of the program:

There are some very serious problems with their system. All are related to sites that receive a non-green rating that is not justified by the facts:
 
bullet It seems that when they rate a site yellow or red, they do not inform the site's webmaster. That means that unless webmasters continually check their SiteAdvisor rating, they may have a negative rating for some time. This would scare away surfers from their web site.
 
bullet McAfee does not offer a simple, quick method for a webmaster to appeal a rating. When we challenged our orange rating, we sent an Email to McAfee Customer Service which was not returned or acknowledged. We later found a form on their web site that we could fill out. A robot apparently answered our form, suggesting that we go to a media FAQ page. That suggestion was completely unrelated to our request. When we responded to the robot, a real human appears to have answered our Email and directed us to a SiteAdvisor complaint department at [email protected] We lodged a complaint with them early on the morning of 2007-APR-26 and finally received a response on 2007-APR-28 saying that our complaint had been sent to a senior person for analysis.
On APR-30, we received an Email that said, in part:
"SiteAdvisor senior engineers have cleared this domain for a green Web safety rating switch. Please allow approximately four weeks for the data to propagate through our database."
A database that takes four weeks to change must be unique on the Internet. I suspect that they simply do not have the staff to keep up with changes that have to be made.

When McAfee rates a web site orange or red, they are directly affecting the number of visitors, the reputation, the credibility, and the revenue received by that web site. We feel that they have an obligation to the entire Internet community to:

bullet Inform the webmaster of any web site that they have downgraded. This would preferably be done in advance of any negative rating in order to give the webmaster a chance to dispute the rating.
 
bullet Provide a direct link on their site review page to their complaint Email address.
 
bullet Not downgrade a web site because of a single negative review without first checking its validity. If they had done this on our site, they would have retained our green rating and rejected the complaint review as being completely without merit.
 
bullet Quickly correct any error that they have made.

In spite of these deficiencies, we recommend the program for limited use by Internet users. One should keep in mind that the rating may be many weeks out of date.

Why was this site once given an orange rating?

McAfee encourages people to register with them as a SiteAdvisor reviewer, and to post comments about their experiences online. SiteAdvisor reports ten reviews for our web site, not counting one review that we wrote ourselves. Of the ten, nine are positive and one is negative. The latter complains that our site generates spam messages.

We feel that dissemination of spam is unethical. We deeply resent being accused of engaging in that practice.

It seems that this lone reviewer:

bullet Entered our web site,
bullet Went to an essay such as "spiritual topics,"
bullet Scrolled down to a form provided by Beliefnet. The form allows visitors to our web site to enter their Email address and then sign up for any of nine daily mailings and one weekly mailing from Beliefnet.
bullet Signed up for seven daily mailings.
bullet Signed up for the weekly mailing.
bullet Started to receive the requested 50 mailings a week.
bullet Wrote a negative review of our web site, claiming that the 50 reports per week that she/he requested are spam (unsolicited Emails).

We subscribe to some of these Beliefnet reports and find that they are of quite high quality. However, the reviewer decided that these mailings, which he/she specifically requested, are all spam, and wrote a negative review with SiteAdvisor. They stated that web site is: "kind of spammy but its fine."

We have no way of telling whether this reviewer:

  1. Does not understand that requested material is not spam.
  2. Has a faulty memory and cannot remember that they specifically asked for the 50 reports.
  3. Is making a malicious attack on our web site.

We asked McAfee to review and delete that negative rating, returning us to a green "OK" rating. In the meantime, all of the over 3,700 essays on our web site carried the McAfee SiteAdvisor "warning" sticker.

They replied after four days, saying that they will restore our web site to "OK" rating. However it took almost three more weeks for their data base to be changed. Our feeling is that their sluggishness in correcting this error is inexcusable and reflects very badly on their site's credibility. They simply do not seem to care about the damage that they are inflicting on ethical and safe web sites like ours.

To make matters worse, one of their reviewers -- perhaps the same one -- lodged another complaint, almost identical to the previous one. Our site was again downgraded to "orange" in 2008-JAN. We lodged another complaint with McAfee and they restored the site to "green."

Copyright 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-APR-27
Latest update: 2009-NOV-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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