TapAVG 8 Rumpus

There is growing concern among web site owners, their hosts and web marketing experts that AVG 8 is causing increased costs. The issue is LinkScanner and what it does to traffic. I have already commented that, for those users on limited bandwidth such as dial-up, it should be disabled and I have provided instructions on how to do this. But if it is also significantly affecting the other end of the internet—the web hosts—then AVG may be forced to modify it.

The way it works is that if you do a search using the major engines (at least Google, Yahoo and MSN Live) then you get a page of results, generally 10 at a time. AVG LinkScanner then steps in and visits every one of those results and checks the results for malware and sets a flag (Good, Doubtful or Bad) against each one to warn of potential problems.

The issues for users are:

  • The increased bandwidth caused by the requests and results could have an impact on performance and possibly on any quotas you may have. This will be particularly true for dial-up users but could also affect capped broadband. On the other hand, users may judge that the benefit offsets the costs.
  • Your logs and/or cache could show that you have visited sites that you had no intention of going to. This could have embarrassing or legal implications.
  • This could also be reflected in any profiling that your ISP or the sites themselves are doing which could affect the advertising you receive (it could also be regarded as an asset as it may upset statistics gathered by Phorm type systems 🙂 ). A possible impact is that a site may think you have already seen a particular advert and not deliver it again—you never know, it may have been the offer you were waiting for.
  • If the scanner itself were compromised then it is getting a lot of potential data to further infect your system.
  • Because much malware is served via adverts, and adverts are rotated on every visit, the green tick may give you a false sense of security.

The issues for site owners and their friends are:

  • They will see increased traffic, bandwidth which they have to pay for. Larger sites may need to deploy extra servers and connections to cope with the additional load.
  • Sponsored results will also be visited and the agencies will charge the customer for each visit and it increases the apparent Click Through Rate with bogus visits. Update: Apparently AVG 8 goes direct to the raw URL and bypasses the Click Through detector so that the customer will not be charged. They will, however, still see the increased traffic.
  • Ordinary pages that are funded by advertising appearing on them will see an apparent drop in Click Through Rate because the user never sees the ad to visit it.
  • Web statistics become [even more] unreliable due to the increase in “bounces” i.e. visitors that come in from search and don’t go to any other pages.

At present the traffic is detectable for what it is, so concerned web owners can allow for it either in their analyses or even suppress responding to them. However, if that remains the case, then it will also be detectable by any malicious hosts or content to fool the scanner into returning a clean bill of health. It will be interesting watching the news in the next few weeks to see how this is resolved.

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