Spam Spam Spam



Spam spam spam spam beans spam and spam!


You don’t like spam? Well that’s tough, because spam makes up a huge portion of emails sent and of internet traffic in general. I say spam, I mean Unsolicited Commercial Emails and similar messages, but everyone calls them spam because, well, watch the video above and you will know why.

Screenshot of GMail spam folder
Screenshot of my GMail spam folder

For me, the problem of spam email is largely forgotten because I use Google Mail and it has excellent spam filters. Although the unwanted email hardly ever gets through, it is still there, taking up space on servers, and using bandwidth that could have been used to send more interesting things. I also receive spam at my business email account, although not very much at the moment, and I don’t want to filter that in case the filter wrongly identifies a new customer as spam and I never see it. I go through my twitter followers every so often to block the spammers from following me. When I did so today, I hadn’t checked for three days and so I had to block twenty-five spammers in one go. That represents more than half of my new followers, and it’s a regular occurrence. They are getting much harder to spot, too, because the spammers are copying other user’s whole bio, and copying random tweets from other people so that it is difficult to differentiate their spam links from other tweets. On twitter there are certain words which people do not dare to put in a tweet because it will attract the attention of spam bots. Spam bots wait for someone to say “iPad” or “diet” or “Facebook” and then immediately send a tweet back by reply with an unwanted link. It’s extremely annoying.

Example of a CAPTCHA
Example of a CAPTCHA

Then there are the forum spammers. I sometimes spend as much as fifteen minutes deleting spam posts and removing spammers accounts from forums that I manage, every day. There are systems in place to try to stop spammers. My forums use a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) to weed out automated sign-ups by asking the person to read obscured text that is very difficult for a computer to recognise. It isn’t having much effect now because it turns out to be cheaper to pay people in developing countries to create accounts than it is to teach a computer to get past a CAPTCHA. On a forum that I use for testing new software I recently found over three hundred spam accounts and uncountable spam posts. While cleaning up the mess I accidentally deleted some genuine user accounts as well. Spammers have not only wasted my time, but also been the root cause of damage. So spammers are active, extremely annoying, and are using up our time and resources and costing us real money. They do it in the hope that just one person out of thousands will respond and purchase their products, or visit a hacked website and get infected by their virus. These people are beyond annoying; they are criminals. In my opinion they are the lowest of the low, and I’m not alone in thinking that. In 2002 prolific spammer Alan Ralsky had his home address published, and he received a vast amount of physical junk mail in retaliation for what he had done.

He gained much of his notoriety following a December 2002 interview with The Detroit News. The article was soon posted to Slashdot and the address of his newly built home was posted to Slashdot not long after that. Hundreds of Slashdot readers then searched the Internet for advertising mailing lists and free catalogs and signed him up for them. As a result, he was flooded with junk mail. In a Detroit Free Press article on December 6, 2002, he is quoted as saying “They’ve signed me up for every advertising campaign and mailing list there is. These people are out of their minds. They’re harassing me” (From Wikipedia)

Funny how someone can harass hundreds of millions of people without a second thought, getting rich in the process, but be surprised that a few thousand people might not like him very much. He eventually spent four years in prison for fraud. Oh how I wish all spammers and their employees would end up in prison.

But the thing that has annoyed me the most recently (as much as the forum spammers!) is deliberate spamming from friends. Now, I know that advertising is  necessary evil that pays for many of our services. I even have a little advertising on this blog, with an ad for a kindle and an affiliate link for Amazon in my sidebar. But friends posting adverts in tweets? I’m not standing for that. Twitter is a social network. I’m there to socialise. You don’t meet friends in the pub and then find them saying “Could you get cheaper car insurance?” and handing you a flyer. Why should that be acceptable on twitter? And yet, here are some examples I have seen recently.

Ad: Wish U had someone to do your laundry? “Like” their Facebook page or RT 4 a chance to win free laundry for a year! [Link deleted]

Ad: 53% Off Unlocked E71 GSM Nokia 3G Smartphone – Was $364.99, $169.99 W/ Free Shipping! [Link deleted] Amazing#DealTaker Deal!

Best designer jewelry, 50% off for short time. Kate Bosworth’s site brings you “effortless beauty”. Use MINT4 Code [Link deleted] – ad

I no longer follow either of the people that tweeted these ads at me, which is a shame because I enjoyed their other tweets. Someone did point out to me that people do not have much money at the moment and need to pay for their internet connection and so on, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. On a web page, or in a magazine, it’s advertising. In my conversation, it’s spam. I have no problem with people tweeting links to their own work, many of us do that and other people want to see it. And many of us tweet links to things we found interesting. But we don’t do that for commission. That would change the nature of the tweet from a recommendation to a sales tactic.