Website search engine giant Google has started warning users if sites they are about to click on could damage their computer. Warnings will pop up if people click on a link to a page which is known to host spyware or programmes which are malicious.

The move follows a large-scale research project monitoring and cataloguing programmes which bombard customers with advertisements, spy on their web habits or steal personal data.

Warnings will be seen by anyone using the search engine who clicks on a link to a site identified as harmful by the Stop Badware coalition. Google, along with PC manufacturer Lenovo and Sun, set up the initiative in January 2006 to identify dangerous software and the websites that host it.

Customers who click on “dangerous keywords” such as “free screensavers”, “Download Yahoo messenger” or “Bearshare” will initially see a simple alert, with warnings becoming more detailed as Stop Badware researchers develop expertise in how users’ machines are infiltrated. The warning advises users to try a different site, but Google will not intervene if they choose to continue.

A report released in May looked at the safety of the results returned by a search and found that, on average, 4-6 per cent of the sites carried harmful content.  For some keywords, such as “free screensavers” the level of potentially dangerous sites leapt to 64 per cent.

 broadband users spend an average of around 50 days a year online, according to a YouGov survey released yesterday.

Users increasingly go online for chores such as banking and shopping, but they also turn to broadband for traditional entertainment such as radio, TV and making phone calls.

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