WOT Services is the developer of MyWOT (also known as WOT and Web of Trust), an online reputation and Internet safety service which shows indicators of trust about existing websites. The confidence level is based both on user ratings and on third-party malware, phishing, scam and spam blacklists. The service also provides crowdsourced reviews, about to what extent websites are trustworthy, and respect user privacy, vendor reliability and child safety.
A 2016 Norddeutscher Rundfunk investigation revealed that WOT Services sold user activity data collected from its apps and browser extensions to third parties in violation of the privacy policies of the app stores on which the software was distributed.
WOT Services was founded in 2006 by Sami Tolvanen and Timo Ala-Kleemola, who wrote the MyWOT software as post-graduates at the Tampere University of Technology in Finland. They launched the service officially in 2007, with Esa Suurio as CEO. Suurio was replaced in November 2009, and both founders left the company in 2014.
In 2009, MySQL founder Michael Widenius invested in WOT Services and became a member of the board of directors. WOT Services is no longer a portfolio company of Widenius's venture capital firm, OpenOcean.vc. In February 2016, WOT Services changed its name to TOW Software.
WOT Services has partnerships with Mail.ru, Facebook, hpHosts, Legit Script, Panda Security, Phish tank, GlobalSign and TRUSTe.
By November 2013, WOT Services had over 100 million downloads.
WOT Services has made money by collecting browsing history data from its users and selling that usage data; it said that it anonymized the data before selling it.
In November 2016, a German state media investigation found that WOT Services had secretly collected personal user details and sold or licensed this information to unidentified third-party businesses and entities for data monetization purposes. This activity breached the privacy rules and guidelines set by several browsers. As a result, the browser add-on was involuntarily removed from Mozilla Firefox's add-on store, and voluntarily removed from other browsers' add-on/extension stores. WOT was eventually reinstated.
On November 1, 2016, German public broadcasting station NDR reported the results of an investigation by in-house journalists, showing that WOT collected, recorded, analyzed and sold user-related data to third parties. The data obtained was traceable to WOT and could be assigned to specific individuals, despite WOT's claim that user data was anonymized. The NDR investigative journalism report was based on freely available sample data, and revealed that sensitive private information of more than 50 users could be retrieved. The information included websites visited, account names and email addresses, potentially revealing user illnesses, sexual preferences and drug consumption. The journalists also reconstructed a media company's confidential revenue data, and details about an ongoing police investigation.
German media contacted WOT Services with the results of the investigation prior to publication of the report. WOT declined to comment on the findings.
A few days after the news story aired, Mozilla removed the browser add-on from the Firefox add-on store. WOT subsequently removed its browsing tool for other browsers, including Chrome and Opera. The WOT "Mobile Security & Protection" mobile app was removed from Google Play, approximately one week after the extension was removed from the Google Chrome extension store.
In a blog post published on December 19, 2016, WOT Services stated that they had upgraded their browser extension, and released it in the Google Chrome extension gallery. The upgraded version included "several major code updates in order to protect our user's privacy and an opt-out option from the user Settings, for users who do not wish to share data with us but still want to have easy access to WOT." In February 2017, Mozilla reinstated the MyWOT browsing tool in the Firefox add-on store.
WOT Services offers an add-on for web browsers including Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Baidu. The extension rates websites based on their reputation score and provides end users with a red, yellow, or green indicator, with red meaning that the site has a poor reputation score.
WOT was discovered to be selling personally identifiable user data in November 2016. This breach of user privacy, initially discovered and reported by investigative journalists in Germany, was widely reported in the press, resulting in the removal of the Web of Trust plugin from all major browsers.
In the years prior to discovery of the privacy breach, press reviews had been positive. The New York Times and The Washington Post wrote about WOT—the NYT in 2010 and the Post in 2008 and 2011.
PC World's Preston Gralla and Rick Broida had both recommended WOT as of 2009 and 2010 respectively. PC Magazine's Neil Rubenking had concluded: "Web of Trust's protection is free, and it doesn't impact browsing speed; it's well worth trying out". However, on the minus side, he found several clearly adult sites unrated, and he wished WOT would also rate sponsored search results, like its major competitors.
In 2013, Softpedia reviewer Ionut Ilascu wrote: "The reliability of the service has grown in the past years, despite voices accusing it of being exactly the opposite of what it should be, and proof is the collaboration with Facebook, Opera and Mail.ru Group", concluding: "As a service, WOT (Web of Trust) may be viewed as biased, but the latest developments in balancing the user opinion in order to provide relevant information point to the contrary."
In February 2011, a lawsuit in Florida (United States) was filed against WOT and some of its forum members, demanding that WOT remove certain website ratings and associated comments cautioning about phishing scams. The court ordered that the case be dismissed with prejudice (the equivalent of a verdict of not guilty under US law). In Germany, some preliminary injunctions were issued by courts, to delete feedback.
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- ^ a b c gru (2016-11-01). "NDR-Bericht über 'Web of Trust' - Beliebte Browser-Erweiterung spioniert offenbar Nutzer aus" [NDR report regarding 'Web of Trust' - Popular browser extension apparently spies on users] (in German). Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
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- ^ Gralla, Preston (26 April 2009). "PCWorld — Say WOT? Web of Trust Rates Web Site Safety". Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- ^ Broida, Rick (4 January 2010). "PCWorld — Make Your New PC Hassle-Free, Part 3: Keep It Secure". Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- ^ Rubenking, Neil J. (Aug 13, 2009). "PC Magazine — Web of Trust Review and Rating". Retrieved 17 May 2011.
- ^ Ilascu, Ionut (26 September 2013). "Softpedia — Web of Trust Review". Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- ^ Perälä, Vesa (24 February 2011). "Safe Surfing Tool Web of Trust Sued over Community Warnings". Helsinki: Vocus/PRWeb. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
- ^ "WOT Wins Lawsuit In The US". ArcticStartup. 13 December 2011. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2011.