For awhile now, Planetary Scale LLC has been using bit.ly to link to Mappity Quakes on the iTunes App Store from our homepage. I chose to use bit.ly because of their statistics tracking on clicks, something I couldn’t get just by linking directly to iTunes page for the app.
Somehow, my link had been flagged as malicious and I’ve been missing out on potential sales because bit.ly decided to break my link. Why though?
Looking at bit.ly’s FAQ, they say:
Bit.ly filters all links through several independent services to check for spam, suspected phishing scams, malware, and other objectionable content. We currently include Google Safe Browsing, SURBL, and SpamCop in our operations.
Checking Google Safe Browsing, SURBL, and SpamCop, I see neither planetaryscale.com nor itunes.apple.com are blacklisted.
Okay, that’s weird… but wait! It looks like when I originally created the link, it was actually a link to a tinyurl.com link. That was kind of dumb of me. However, as a sanity check, I’ve created a link to Disney.com with tinyurl to see if it too will be blacklisted by bit.ly. Unsuprisingly, it is. Checking Google Safe Browsing, tinyurl.com is listed as an intermediary to malware, as is bit.ly.
So, the takeaway from all of this is: as far as I can tell bit.ly is flagging all links to tinyurl.com as malware, even just a link to the tinyurl homepage.
Why is this worse than just a screwup on my part? Consider that bit.ly is used to automatically shorten URLs in a lot of services, such as Twitter. A quick check shows bit.ly also flags links to the homepage of is.gd, tr.im, cli.gs, tiny.cc, BudURL.com, snipr.com, snipurl.com, and kl.am, all of which are competitors. In fact, if I tried to link to the Enterprise Edition of BudURL in a tweet, it would be automatically converted to a bit.ly link. Clicking on that link would take someone to a giant warning page, rather than the product of a competitor.
I realize bit.ly is trying to do this as a safety feature, but as it stands I’m moving my web links to direct URLs. The added value of their statistics tracking just isn’t enough to offset the risk of them breaking my links.