In a first for me, as I attempted to navigate over to the Pasadena Star-News's Web site, Google diverted me away to a page with a warning message that said pasadenastarnews.com is a "Reported Attack Site."
I'd never seen such a thing. By clicking on the "Why was this site blocked?" icon, I found out Google has determined certain pages associated with the site are uploading malicious software onto visitors' computers.
Immediately suspicious that my own computer was being hijacked in some way, I switched Web browsers (from Firefox to Safari to Explorer) and did Google searches for the Pasadena Star-News. The Google search results all included a hyperlink under the newspaper's name that said, "This site may harm your computer."
It's not completely clear to me what caused Google to flag the Star-News. Is it because of a complaint from a reader? Does Google have a program that checks for malware? Hell, I didn't even know Google offered such a feature.
A generic explanation from the Google Web Search Help Center says, "We want our users to feel safe when they search the web, and we're continuously working to identify dangerous sites and increase protection for our users. This warning message appears with search results we've identified as sites that may install malicious software on your computer."
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Whittier Daily News do not carry such warnings. Neither do the other LANG papers in Southern California.
I'll try to get more information about this strange phenomenon tomorrow morning.
*I've asked several people to go to pasadenastarnews.com to see what happens. Some get the newspaper page without seeing any warning. Others get diverted to the "Reported Attack Site" page like I did. I first thought Google Toolbar was the common denominator for the latter group, but that doesn't appear to be it. Maybe it's related to the security level setting on one's browser? Also, only the Google search engine includes a warning when you search for the paper's site. Yahoo! and Ask.com have no such warnings.
**I should note that while I appreciate efforts by my browser to knock down annoying pop-up ads and warn me away from sites that might harm my computer, the flagging of a newspaper site raises some First Amendment concerns - especially if the "warning" tag is the result of an outside complaint.