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Ask.com preps Google-like* malware warnings

* Internet-breakage not included

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Ask.com is prepping Google-like malware warnings - though it hopes to leave out the bit where the Oompa Loompa accidentally blocks access to the entire internet.

Early Saturday morning Pacific time, someone inside the Mountain View Chocolate Factory accidentally added a wildcard to the search engine's master list of potentially harmful sites, and for about an hour, Google's main search engine steered people clear of every site on the net.

In the wake of this snafu, Ask.com - the web's fourth leading search engine behind Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Live Search - has told the world it's now partnering with Symantec to provide search-result safety rankings that alert web surfers to potentially harmful sites. But unlike Google, Ask has no intention of populating the list on its own. A company spokesman tells us the list will be controlled entirely by Symantec, a veteran of the anti-malware wars.

"We saw what happened over the weekend," he says, "and we're confident [Symantec] will get things right every time, all the time."

Initially, these Safe Search rankings will only be available to users who embrace the latest version of Symantec's Norton 360, currently in beta. Norton 360 offers a search toolbar that dovetails with the Ask engine.

But Ask says it will eventually wedge safety warnings into the site itself. "We don't have a time line," the company tells us. "But we're committed to working on other Safe Search products with Symantec, and that means making safe search available on the site."

Norton's Safe Search warnings are not generated in real time. So, unlike the now-defunct AVG LinkScanner, there's no danger that Safe Search will destroy the world of web analytics. Instead, warnings are pulled from a master database kept by Norton.

Google keeps its own malware list - though it claimed the list was kept by someone else when it broke the internet early Saturday morning. At about 9am Saturday, with a post to the Official Google Blog, Googirl Marissa Mayer said her search engine had malfunctioned because of a human error involving a list maintained by the not-for-profit StopBadware.org. But StopBadware disputed her claim and Mayer soon admitted the list was kept by Google.

Google merely works with StopBadware to select criteria for inclusion on the list.

No doubt, Norton is prone to human error as well. But if Ask blocked access to the entire net, relatively few users would notice. Whereas Google controls more than 60 per cent of the search market, Ask controls around four. ®

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