Web Of Trust Not so Trustworthy?


web_of_trust_logoGerman national broadcaster NDR recently released the results of an investigation by in-house journalists claiming that the WOT (Web of Trust) browser extension collects, records, analyzes and sells user-related browser data to third-parties. Apparently, the data obtained was traceable to WOT and could be assigned to specific individuals, despite WOT’s claim that they anonymize user data. <source>

According to WOT’s privacy policy, the following data is collected by the add-on:

  • Your Internet Protocol Address
  • Your geographic location
  • The type of device, operating system and browsers you use
  • Date and time stamp
  • Browsing usage, including visited web pages, clickstream data or web address accessed
  • Browser identifier and user ID

As a result, both Firefox and Google have pulled the popular add-on and it is no longer available from the Firefox add-on repository or the Google Chrome Web Store.

wot-firefox-error-message

According to German newspaper FAZ, Mozilla told them: “Mozilla removes browser extensions when we find that extensions violate our policies for add-ons. We’ve received complaints about Web of Trust, which are related to how transparent the add-on works.”

The Company Behind WOT

One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is the unclear nature of WOT’s ownership. WOT Services was founded in 2006 by Sami Tolvanen and Timo Ala-Kleemola who both left the company in 2014. Since then, its ownership history is somewhat convoluted. According to Wikipedia: “In 2015, WOT Services officially changed its name to TOW Software, and finally ceased operations in June 2016. While the service still operates, its current ownership is unclear and not disclosed on the website“.


Bottom Line

wot-trustIt appears to be a typical situation where a service or app’s distribution reaches significant proportions – (according to Wikipedia, WOT surpassed 100 million downloads in 2013) – and someone recognizes the potential to make money off the back of selling user data. While WOT’s privacy policy does disclose the sale of user data to third parties, it also claims that the data is anonymous. Whether by design or accident, the German TV’s investigation clearly suggests that this is not the case.

I seriously doubt this practice is confined to WOT alone and suspect that many extensions/add-ons are guilty of similar behavior. However, in WOT’s case – Web of TRUST – the irony is palpable.

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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

11 Comments

  1. Jim,

    Wherever we go on the WEB there are eyes watching us and collecting data. It is a price we need to pay to use the Internet. Now, we can take measures to minimize our footprint, but we cannot hide totally.
    If you are a good liar and can remember your lies, you can have a false footprint. But you must be consistent for this strategy to work.
    Personally, I do not care much who collects what about me. I am of little value. 🙂

    • Wherever we go on the WEB there are eyes watching us and collecting data.

      True Tom, but I reckon a security related service/software with “trust” in the title is a pretty special case, just based on the hypocrisy alone.

  2. Thanks Jim. I removed WOT, but find it strange that I’m still seeing WOT as an addon (might it be ’cause I’m using Waterfox – think not). The more I read into this privacy issue, and the selling of collected data, the more I believe we all need to surf the web using a VPN, Mindblower!

  3. I became suspicious some months ago when even after running ccleaner I was still presented with ads based on previous searches.
    I will still enable WOT for specific sites of questionable character, but will no longer give it the trusted run of the house it once enjoyed …

  4. Thank you. I’ve removed it from both my Firefox and Chrome browsers.
    >For Firefox, all I had to do was click Remove, then restart Firefox.
    >For Chrome I had to answer a couple of questions (from WOT, I think) in order for it to be removed.

  5. Hi Jim,

    thanks for the informative article.
    Being some sort of security-junkie I´ve been using WOT in firefox for a long period of time and I found it very useful.
    Being able to see the reputation-values in the result-pages of your search-engine before clicking on the respective pages was quite a treat.
    And: when using duckduckgo as a search-engine I didn´t even have to install the add-on as there was a settings-option which enabled this functionality.
    But that´s gone too.

    Any ideas as to whether there´s an alternative to WOT (add-on or otherwise)?
    BTW: My system: Linux/Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, 64 bit.

    Greetings.
    Rosika

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