Under The Microscope

Yet Another Article On SPAM

I was reading Eric Allman’s article on the economics of spam, and it expanded on something many of us have been muttering for a couple years – spam will never disappear entirely until it costs more money to send than can be made from it. And beyond that, until spam stops being almost free to send, the problem’s only going to get worse. If it got down to the level of junk mail I receive via USPS, I’d be satisfied – the reason the level of this is so low is because it costs money, real honest-to-god money, to send junk mail. But spam, that’s just a few electrons here and there. Oh, and a little piece of my sanity.

Anyway, at this point, I think a lot of people realize that the email spam situation is bad, and something more drastic needs to be done. We’ll see what happens there (variations on sender-pays, with refunds for valid mail, sound good to me). But this article reminded me that recently, I received a humorous piece of spam, which said in part:”My name is Kay and I’m an account rep for [Insert Pornographic Links Site here]. I saw your site……rogueamoeba.com listed on Google under the term “teen girl web cam” and I just wanted to take a moment to introduce our affiliate program to you. As you probably know, we are one of the largest and best adult affliate programs on the Net today, offering webmasters over 55+ hot converting sites to promote and paying $40 for every sale.”

Well, I really had no idea that [Insert Pornographic Links Site here] was one of the largest and best adult affiliate programs on the Net, or that they were paying such great rates (that’s as much as Nicecast costs), but this email was very fortuitous – we’re poised to unveil the new direction the company has taken, the distribution and sale of illicit materials. Or, ya know, not. We’re a software company, not a soft-core porn company, and we don’t have anything to do with pornography – the closest we come is a near-nude amoeba in our logo.

So how did this happen? Why did we receive this spam? And worse yet, why were they right? A Google search for “teen girl web cam” did indeed turn us up as the #9 result (it no longer does). The answer to the question of this spam is also spam. Comment spam on our company weblog led to email spam from smut peddlers. Fantastic. Spammers have been attacking blogs, particularly those using MovableType, in an effort to draw attention and increase their Google page rank, and we’d been hit pretty bad. We’ve installed MT-Blacklist, and cleaned out old spam, but my bet is it’ll crop up again.

So, what’s to be done? We can stop using MovableType, but that’s a weak solution – spam bots will be written for other blog packages, and I like MT. We can turn comments off – but this shouldn’t be necessary, and we’ve gotten great feedback on some articles right in the comments. Plenty of other sites use MT with no comment spam. I have to wonder what we’re doing wrong here, and contemplate solutions to the problem. Anyone have suggestions? I’m all ears.

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