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Google's Featured Snippets could put you at risk for malware!


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Google's really dropping the ball with its Featured Snippets, in a way that could get you infected with malware or face a phishing attempt. Let me explain.

Yesterday, I was binging Food Network's Tournament of Champions, and I noticed that Guy Fieri keeps referring to Simon Majumdar as "Sir." Now, I like Simon...I think he's got a lot of ability to really break down what good food is. But knighted? I didn't think so, so I turned to Google.

"why is simon majumdar called sir?"

The featured snippet for that search led me to...what could have been a whole lot of trouble. First of all, the information in the snippet is completely wrong...Majumdar was never knighted, and no other search result besides the featured snippet says so. But that isn't the worst of it.

At the time I made the first search, that featured snippet sent me to a page that tried to claim my "Apple device was infected by a virus."

Ummm...no it's not. And it really isn't possible for a simple website to determine that. But I've seen these things before, and I know what would have happened if I'd clicked the link to learn more. One or more of three things:

  1. The page would have attempted to install malware on my device.
  2. The page would have tried to take over my device with ransomware.
  3. The page would have prompted me to provide my name, email address, or maybe even credit card information to get a fix to a problem that didn't even exist.

So, I used the Feedback link to let Google know about what that snippet did. I also tried another search query, "when was simon majumdar knighted," and lo and behold...another Featured Snippet from the same site. This one, though, I didn't bother to click on. Not only because of my experience with the first one, but because the text of this one claimed Majumdar was a Northern Irish singer/songwriter. Umm...no, he certainly isn't.

Reported that one, too.

Now, here's the good news. Since yesterday, those featured snippets aren't as dangerous. The first doesn't lead to the malware anymore. And, since writing this, it's been removed as a Featured Snippet in Google's search results.

The one claiming Simon is a singer/songwriter from Northern Ireland is still there, but I hope and expect that one will soon go away, too.

Be careful what you click, folks, even if it's in a Google search result. And make sure you have good virus and malware protection! We outline some good options over at groovyPost for both Windows and macOS.

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