Well, that's a million-dollar question I guess, but for me it's not so much can you trust download sites, but more a case of "which" download site can you trust?.
You would be forgiven for thinking the biggest sites are the ones you can trust, but let me assure you there are most certainly not and without naming names I'm sure you'll probably have a good idea of the one's I'm talking about.
It's not the first time I've downloaded software from the big boys of the download scene and contracted a virus, but because they are so globally massive they can withstand criticism, hundreds of thousands of other people will just continue to use their sites anyway!.
When it comes to looking for a site that you can trust, you should first look at their forums. But what if they don't have forums? Forums allow the users and visitors to vent their frustrations or share their delight on downloads. If there are no forums available on the site, check any download comments, or for that matter check anything which looks like it was written by members or visitors. The reason for this is simple, I'd rather listen to what a visitor or member says than a so-called "editor" or "expert"!.
The opinions of these "editors" or "experts" are usually influenced greatly by things such as backlinks, promotions or other incentives offered to the site and as such any "reviews" can be extremely biased. In other words, it's a case of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours!!.
Be very careful also of those "editor picks" or "featured" downloads, they are often just sponsored listings and don't always indicate true usefulness at all.
A good download website should have it's users become involved in what stays and what goes. Options should be made available to users to report problems, and any such report should be transparent and available for all to see and participate in (hence the reason for the forums!). When this happens, it's important that you are able to see the response from the site - it's no use having 10 comments on a download saying its developer isn't trustworthy and then the site does nothing about it - they should respond ASAP with the appropriate action and at the very least investigate the claims from the users.
There are many download page just set up to catch traffic and visitors to make money - this is their primary objective and them won't care about what they add or what you will download, look for a site that openly tells you they have and will remove software and the reasons why that the way you know it's pro-active and not just another site set up to make money.
Even a responsible download web page can't always check everything, but some go the extra distance to make sure they check what they can, such as making sure the developer's site isn't rated negatively with the site advisory services such as WOT or SiteAdvisor - does your download link do this?.
Finally, how easy is it to make contact with the owners or key staff on the site you use for your downloads?. If something really annoys you are you able to get in touch with the people who are responsible for the site? No? Then I'd change where you get your downloads from if I were you - I mean if you're good enough to give a download url YOUR time and YOUR efforts by submitting reviews or comments or participating in their forums, why would you put up with a response or a reply from someone other than the owner or a key member of staff?.
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