Friday, June 01, 2012

The evolution of blog spam

When I first created my blog (oh, almost seven years ago), spam was something that automated software was posting, mindless comments that I can't imagine would inspire anyone to do anything. Cialis, Viagra, cheap fake Rolexes (as opposed to the expensive ones, I guess), pleasing my woman in bed, lasting longer; how could anyone imagine that, wanting all of these, I searched on the net, tried all the options, then still needed more? How much pleasing does my wife need anyway?(I'll have to look into that). Back then, I didn't even have a method to see all the comments for the blog and/or to delete the spam. Or any way to report it. I had to go to each post and remove them manually, even if they were identical texts and any tool could have noticed they were complete clones and, therefore, spam. Anyway CAPTCHAs were and are being used to stop these evil machines from polluting blog posts, yet sometimes they were not enough.

This was the first step in the blog spam evolution: if machines are stopping the spam machines, let's use humans. Getting so low that you need to have to write spam on people's blogs in order to win some money is something I thankfully never experienced or even understood and I hope I never will, but this is what I suppose happened. Some guy was randomly exploring the web, finding blogs that had enough visitors, then writing spammy comments in the hope that the blog master is not active enough to delete them as they are written. I hope I was active enough and, for those annoyed by post spam, I apologize. So, it didn't work too well for spammers on Siderite's blog.

Another mutation and the spam comments were now aimed at soothing my ego. "Thank you!","This info was great!","I am so glad that I read this post.". I felt wonderful the first few seconds before getting a comment email and opening it to see it riddled with links that had no connection to the content of the post. I felt so cheated that I created a javascript code to recognize any comment with the links I found and replace it with words acclaiming my work against spam. Now, THAT soothed my ego a little longer, thank you very much.

One of the feature of Blogger is that someone posts with a URL, their username appears as that link and goes to the person's "blog". So here I was, reading this comment that contained nothing bad, no links, but seemed a little too general. I mean, I know I am great and that my blog is wonderful, but how did other people find that out? I even replied to one or two such comments. My confusion was soon dispelled when going to see who wrote generic posts of praise for me and my blog. Cialis and Viagra were long gone. Instead, I had freemium software packages, trojan scams and fake antivirus packages. I deleted comments like that, even if, for a split second, I had the feeling that the text of the comment was OK and worth preserving. Oh, well.

And here I am, prompted to write this post by the latest wave of mutant spam: comments that are related to the content of the post! They seem very legit, at the limit of being vague. The links from the user name go to a site, but it is not necessarily a spam site. Today, for example, it was a completely free utility to help you play Scrabble. I don't know that it was a Trojan or was filled with ads; it could have been legit, an attempt by some Scrabble enthusiast to make himself known by attaching his web site to the Blogger comments. I always add the link of this blog to my comments elsewhere. I deleted it, anyway, but sometimes I find comments that are so far on the edge of legitimacy, that I don't have the certitude I need to delete them. So, I am pretty convinced that there are still spammy comments on the blog, but so well crafted that I failed to properly detect them.

This also means another thing, that sometimes there are false positives. I apologize to real people who found their comments removed. Try to leave more meaningful messages next time. And yes, it all boils down to that, doesn't it? If you have nothing to say, don't say it! It doesn't help anyone. And I already know the blog is great, tell me in what way it is so wonderful to you. Do tell :)

This is the point I've reached in my war against spam. It is still ongoing and far from over. I wonder when comments that will discuss real philosophical issues will appear, from people that were paid to have meaningful conversations on blogs and link to some site or another. I also wonder when, as people who can actually carry a conversation are expensive, I will find myself have a meaningful conversation with a spam bot.


tudorturcu said...

Doesn't Blogger have a good spam detection engine? Wordpress until now never let a spam message pass on my blog.

Anyway, about spam messages being posted by real humans: this is indeed a very successive business, because all a human has to do it to create an account on the site (or authenticate in some way), a tool will do the rest (posting spam messages). Just recruit several thousands such "human bots" and you are done.

Such scheme is very lucrative even in Romania, where many people gain more in this way than from a 200€ salary - not the spam message counts, but the Google page ranks for the traffic schemes (very elaborate, as I seen at a friend).

Siderite said...

Now it does. Before that it was like "don't you get emails when someone comments? Go delete them!" or "if you are worried about spam, enable moderation." and the best of them all "Blogger is a free platform, you can't get everything you want".

A 200euro wage? You earn more as a cleaning man! Well, I guess some people aren't that much into cleanliness :)