It is not really clear to me why url shorteners have become that popular on today's Internet. Sure, Twitter may have an impact on that, considering its 140 word limit per message, but there do not seem to be a lot of other applications for url shortening services.
Despite that, popularity has risen and more and more companies have created services to shorten long urls. The latest to join the ranks is security company McAfee which adds a twist to the game.
One of the biggest problems of nearly every url shortener is that the user does not know what's behind the link. Some services offer intermediary pages to provide the user with the information, while most do not.
A click can lead to a legit site, or something else. Possibilities range from direct links to viruses and trojans, distasteful sites or other sites that try to attack or exploit.
The McAfee url shortener looks on first glance like any other service of its kind. The main page consists of a form and a shorten button.
Users enter or paste an url into the form and click on shorten to create a short version of the url. This is displayed on the next page. Several sharing options are displayed on that page including the popular choices Twitter, Facebook, Email and Google Buzz.
What makes the service interesting is that the destination will automatically be scanned for malicious contents. By default, a frame is displayed on top of the destination that indicates if a page has been deemed safe by McAfeee.
Creators of the shortened link can configure the service to bypass that frame if the site is clean. That's optional on the other hand. Users who visited the site can close the frame as well.
The web page contents are not displayed if the website has been classified as malicious or otherwise dangerous by the service.
It is possible to still see the page that is blocked by the service, but that requires some manual work. There is no option to bypass by clicking a link. Instead, the link to the destination page is displayed needs to be copied manually and pasted into the address form of the browser.
The url shortening service has a few restrictions regarding the links that can be shortened:
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