It looks like Google is starting to offer protection to unwary net explorers. Showing a warning when you’re about to visit a site which may harm your computer is a potentially valuable service. For the many people who get the idea to download cracked software or look for free mp3’s and are not exactly alert to the dangers of looking for this kind of information, Google’s new features could be a serious money saver.

Barry Schwartz wonders, at Search Engine Watch, whether these "potentially risky pages get some sort of downgrade in rankings". I’m inclined to think not – however, they are quite likely to find themselves with a downgrade in Google visitors! I’m not certain I can provide a clear reason why I feel Google wouldn’t downgrade a potentially risky site. First of all, the suspicion of harm is not equivalent to an actual risk, and it may be unfair to downgrade a legitimate site just because an algorithm has determined it bears some risk. (This depends, I suppose, on the predication that Google is not actually finding active viruses, worms, trojans, etc., on the site.)

Second, I think that these sites may still be the most relevant for a given search in some way – for certain "high risk searches", the actual target of the search may be a file which is itself dangerous. In that case, the site could be harmful because it contains exactly what you’re looking for – would it be sensible to reduce the rankings of this site? I’m not certain…

Regardless, I’d be very interested to know exactly what was causing Google to determine the risk levels of a given site. Is it topical? Are they actually analyzing the code on the site or the downloads provided to identify problems? The service Scandoo provides warnings dependant on a wide variety of issues – security, unacceptable content, or even (if you chose to configure it this way) irrelevant content. What is Google looking at?