Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'Spam' Category | back to home

11 June 2007
Filed under:About this blog,Spam at1:06 pm

I get a fair amount of “pure” comment spam but also a small but increasing amount of stuff that hovers on the edge of being spam. That is, comments which do actually address the post I have made in some way but which don’t actually say anything thoughtful (along the lines of “I thought so too”) and which then invite me (and all other readers) to go visit their commercial website.

Obviously not all comments are (or should be) deeply thought out arguments and it seems to be customary for people who run commercial websites to put a link to those sites in their comments linked to their name (indeed the comments software encourages you to do so). Also, I hasten to add that I would welcome more thoughtful comments on my site. Looking back I find that I have had just 20 non-spam comments since the beginning of January of which just six really added something new to think about. In the interests of transparency, however, I will lay down some rough guidelines about what I consider spam:

1) I will remove any comment (however substantial or interesting) which contains a link to any commercial site advertising or offering illegal items, porn, gambling, or other sites that I find offensive.
2) I will remove any comment that appears to be just there in order to generate a link to the user’s site, whether or not that site is itself offensive (unless the site in question is directly relevant to the text of the post itself).
3) I reserve the right to remove comments for any other reason (though I try to err on the side of inclusiveness).

I apologise in advance if this policy means I end up removing a comment you consider relevant and non-promotional. I also apologise if my spam filter accidentally eats your comment. In either case feel free to contact me and make a case for your comment to be reinstated.

I choose to leave comments on on my blog because I believe (like the web’s inventor) that the web should be an interactive medium but it saddens me that in order to remain receptive to the few people who choose to comment on what I write here my weblog’s anti-spam software has to remove about ten spam messages every hour and I have to knock off a couple more each day that slip through the filter.

6 June 2006
Filed under:Email discoveries,Spam at9:08 am

It turns out that if you have a GMail address named johndoe@gmail.com, email to johndoe+amazon@gmail.com and johndoe+ebay@gmail.com will also reach you. So follow these directions and you can see whether and by whom your gmail email has been sold on to spammers. If it has been you can simply create a filter that removes any email sent to the new johndoe+ebay@gmail.com address. Of course smart spammers would remove the + part by hand. Also note that a large-ish proportion of email signup forms don’t let you use an address with a “+” in it.

P.S. You may not know that Gmail also (at last!) allows you to create groups in your contacts lists like every other email application in existence (ie you can set up “friends” as an address in your gmail book which sends to John Doe and Jane Doe). It took them far too long to implement this feature…

11 May 2006

David Tebbutt, an old friend, posts hopefully that ‘social software’ (wikis, blogs etc) could reduce the amount of ‘occupational spam’* we get. Alas, groupware apps like Lotus Notes and intranet messageboards were also supposed to free us from corporate email spam and in theory they could. But simply introducing the software is only the beginning. The main problems are organizational and psychological. 1) it is much harder to change people’s habits than it is to add a bit of software 2) for better or worse people feel an email to someone will at least get glanced at while other means of electronic communication (internal wikis etc) because they are not “pushed” may never get looked at and 3) having lots of communication options can lead to confusion. People think “does this belong on the project’s wiki? On the intranet? On my blog? Oh sod it I will email it to the people who need to know.”
Organizations can cut down on email spam but they need to start with a change to the organizational culture and lead from the top (with bosses participating in the online spaces they want their employees to use) rather than installing software and hoping for the best. If I had had more space in my book – Dealing with Email – that is what I would have stressed. I am sure that David knows this as well of course but I am afraid that reading this article business leaders will just see ‘social software’ as a quick fix. Unfortunately, as I said, we have been down that road before…

* Emails cc:ed to lots of people who don’t need to see them, personal email like items for sale circulated around an organization, announcements of fire drills etc.

21 January 2006
Filed under:Email discoveries,Privacy,Spam at1:13 pm

Ever get an email from a stranger and wanted to know where they were? Or wanted to complain about a particular piece of spam? Here’s a guide that spells out how to trace an email (and how to then complain to the originator’s internet provider if appropriate).

16 September 2004

The world’s second largest ISP, Savvis (who?) has at length agreed to kick 148 of the worst spammers off its network. It was initially reluctant to do so (one source claimed it earned $2m a month from hosting them) but a whistleblower went to the “Spamhaus”:http://www.spamhaus.org/ anti-spam organization who threatened to block access to all email from Savvis for everyone using their spam blocking software. Frankly I find this kind of quasi-blackmail morally dubious at best, but it does seem to have worked.

The BBC report ends, ‘as they are thrown off one service provider, there is always another one ready to take them on for the lucrative business they bring,’ but I am more sanguine. If spammers could be thrown off all the large, reputable ISPs and driven onto fringe players, they would be easier to find and their cost base would rise.

P.S. Interestingly (to me, anyway) Savvis inherited many of these offenders from its purchase of Cable and Wireless, a UK company I used to work for (on the digital TV not the ISP side).

9 February 2004

dodgeit lets you set up one-time-use email addresses for when you have to register for something but don’t want to get spammed – and it lets you read those emails via “RSS”:http://blog.org/archives/000880.html instead of having them delivered to you (if you are really addicted to using RSS for everything).

14 January 2004

One of the more draconian ways to prevent spam is only to allow into your mailbox email that either comes from a “whitelist” of people you know or submits to a human-designed test. I recently emailed a blog notable and got back an automated message from Mailblocks that asked me to fill in a web form before my email was forwarded to him. First of all, if I was on dialup I would have to connect to the Internet just in order to ssend him his message but more annoying still the request for confirmation email took more than 20 hours to arrive! Imagine if I had actually needed to reach him urgently about something.

Nonetheless this kind of technology may be the only reasonably sure-fire way to protect your email from a mountain of incoming spam once the spammers get ahold of it. That’s why I have always taken care that my own email address isn’t out on the Internet in a machine readable form anywhere. And you can try it out for yourself for free (with a 5Mb mailbox) and see how you like it.

14 October 2003

Like many other Moveable Type weblog owners I have been suffering from a recent onslaught of automated, offensive ads for porn posted as comments to messages. Jay Allen has just produced a “spam blocking tool for Moveable Type”:http://www.jayallen.org/projects/mt-blacklist/ which should help some – I fear this is not a final solution to the problem but merely the start of a depressing “arms race” between spammers and weblog users which may substantially reduce the usefulness of weblogs for everyone. In a way I am surprised this took this long to happen, people being what they are.

P.S. I apologise in advance if you accidentally stumble across any offensive links in comments – it will take me a while to get around to deleting all of them because at least for the moment there is no easy way for me to bulk-delete comments.

26 September 2003
Filed under:problems with technology,Spam,Weblogs at1:29 pm

Tom Coates comments on a phenomenon that I hope will not turn into a real problem – people posting spam as comments on weblogs. I’ve had some of that (which I have promptly deleted) but what I find odd is that none of it seems to have been automated – it’s actually been typed in by hand. I can’t imagine it would be worth anyone’s time to do that. But if someone finds a way to automate posting comments to popular weblogs it could start to become a real hassle.

I also seem to get a lot of people just typing stuff like ‘hi’ as a comment. I delete those comments as well since I can’t see anyone else being interested in reading it. If you do just want to say hello, please send me an email via my “contact me page”:http://www.davidbrake.org/contact.htm and if you can, tell me where you are from and how you found me.

16 September 2003

I have just finished “a simple guide to email use”:http://www.davidbrake.org/dealingwithemail/ for individuals or companies to accompany my book, “Dealing with E-mail”. It features additional material and numerous web links covering anti-spam and anti-virus techniques, legal issues, using email sensitively and effectively to market your products or services and simple ways to organize your old e-mail messages for easy retrieval.

I hope you like it – if you have any additional ideas, comments or (heaven forbid) corrections, please comment below.

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