Google search has started showing software download cards when you search for an app name preceded or succeeded by the word “download.” The card points you to the official download link, emphasizing the URL so you see exactly where you’re headed.
While many will probably see this addition as a small convenience boost or even a tiny time-saver, I see it as a big win in terms of security and privacy. Malicious downloads masquerading as popular software, and crapware bundlers in general, will likely take a big hit here.
More than once, I’ve told a family member to just download and install a piece of software, only to be confused later as to how it could have gone so horribly wrong. The culprit is usually a search ad or a search result that someone has gamed to make it appear higher on the page.
That said, this new Google search feature, first noted by the GOS blog, isn’t manually curated. For some search queries, it grabs the correct download link (although you’ll still have to click again to actually start the download):
For others, it stumbles (notice that the homepage, not the download page, is being served up):
Google search is thus likely showing what it believes to be the download link, based on the millions of queries it sees each day. Because there isn’t anyone manually verifying these links, this would suggest it’s still possible to game the system.
Nonetheless, these software download cards are still an improvement over the status quo. App stores haven’t quite taken off on Macs and PCs like they have on mobile devices, and so most people still head to their favorite search engine, type in the software name, and click the first link they see.
Most of the time, it’s the official download link. Sometimes though, they end up downloading some form of malware without even realizing it. With this change, Google is making a suggestion, which is visually larger than a search result or a search ad, telling the user what to click.
Let us know if you’re seeing these new cards. Our tests show that they’re not available everywhere: They’re showing up in the U.S. for us, but not in other countries, so this is likely a staged rollout.
We have contacted Google for more information about these cards and will update you if we hear back.