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Is a search engine a good way to find answers to problems.

My favourite answer.  Yes and no.

Firstly yes.  When search engines first started they were a means to find web sites and gave lots of links that you could wade through to see if one lead to a site you were looking for.  As time has gone on two things have happened.  The search engine providers have developed their algorithms to produce better results and many help forums have sprung up where people ask questions and others answer them.  Of course the search engines also index these pages so if you type your problem in as a search string, if someone has asked that question before, you may well be led to the answer you need.  There is a skill in wording your search string so that your results are relevant, but you can try several different versions until you find one that works well.  If no one has had your problem before you may have to ask the question yourself on one of the forums, but the search engine method is the easiest.

Why no?  Well, this is a qualification for caution rather than a denial.  There are two problems with this approach.  The first is that the prime motivation of search engine providers is to make money via advertising rather than solving problems for people.  The second is that there a lot of scammers and phishers who see the internet as a means of getting rich quickly, and they have found ways of using search engines to their benefit.  So if you have found a page with useful information on it just be careful that you are not looking at an advert by a scammer.  The latter usually are distinguished by a link for you to click, this is an alarm signal.  Real help pages usually give you the information directly on the page rather than having to follow another link.  These adverts may be genuine and offer real help, but they may also be from scammers.  They know what you are looking for, you typed it in to the search box, so the wording presented to you will be tailored to appeal to you as the solution you are seeking, they will do anything they can to persuade you to click on their link.

Some links offer to download a program that will repair your system for you.  Again, this may be genuine, but the ones I have seen produce a report detaililng lots of errors which are benign at best, or worse, ficticious.  You are then asked to pay before the software will fix the errors.  If you give them your credit card details their software may or may not do anything, but they can take any amount of money of their choosing from you.  Another thing they may try is to persuade you to open up remote computing to them so they can diagnose and fix your computer.  Remote Connect is a feature that Microsoft built in to Windows.  This is very dangerous unless you personally know the person you are granting access to and can trust them.  It is more usually used by cold callers on the phone who often pretend they are Microsoft engineers.

13th March 2020

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