Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Spammers: Dumb, and handled with kid gloves

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-01

There are two points I’d like to make about spammers:

  • The hypocrisy of business and governments that are not proactive about spamming, yet spend considerable resources trying to stop the much-less-damaging copyright infringments; and
  • Just how stupid are these spammers anyway, if they are working hard at setting up false identities in one of the least likely social networks to fall victim to them, such as Nature Network, which is perhaps the social network with the highest average IQ and education?

However, one of the things a few of the fake identities on Nature Network were advertising could be considered well-targetted compared to the others.

Hypocrisy of Governments

Those companies arguing, and successfully lobbying politicians, for increased spans of time work is held from the public domain after the death of creators, including the prosecution of small fry, putting filters on the internet, and getting taxpayers to cover the huge costs of legislator’s time, are arguing that the issue deserves all this costly attention because of the damage that would be done to economies if those draconian measures were not taken.

Spam is far worse, clogging up internet bandwidth and CPU time, brain time, and also involves the creation of fake identities (usually an offence in itself).  When nearly 90% of email entering a business is spam, requiring fairly intensive use of expensive resources to filter from users (in which case, expensive human time is wasted), the cost of spam is enormous.

Just how difficult is it to find spammers?  All you need to do, whether it is email or a URL in a message or identity profile is to look where the link points, and you’ve got a prima facie case against the business getting the benefit of the spam.

All you’d need to do is have add-ins for mail clients (like Outlook or Thunderbird), or the co-operation of web-mail providers, that gives you a button to report spam to a central international enforcement agency.  That agency would only need to look at the number of pointers to a particular business to know where investigative and prosecution resources would be most effective.

Hell, you could also get a medium-sized server to co-ordinate the whole thing without human intervention.  If governments are prepared to issue "three strikes and you are disconnected" to lowly music downloaders, and assuming guilt until proven innocent, then why not something similar for businesses that engage in spam-like activity?

Besides, just think about the proportion of spam that promote products suitable only for consenting adults?

If governments are prepared to waste time and money and bandwidth on coddling mega-corporations and for politically advantageous but technically impossible filtering, why don’t they put similar resources into combatting spammers and scammers, and have even heavier penalties than those imposed on a uni student downloading a few pirate songs or videos?

I’m guessing here, but I reckon that if you factored in the full costs of spam, it would come in much higher than all the damages to the work economy caused by terrorists (excluding the costs of over-reaction to them, the bottomless pit called the "War on Terror" into which some governments are emptying their coffers).

Besides, controlling spam, which travels via "store and forward" protocols, is much easier to control, and much less disruptive to legitimate use, is much less disruptive than throttling live streams.  If governments can’t control spam, then claims they can control other material without disruption to legitimate use are straight-out lies or implied admissions of technical ignorance.

Governments: stop spam with a few technical resources and lots of heavy penalties and THEN we might have confidence you can tackle more technically challenging stuff.

Stupidity of Spammers

Consider the sorts of people who’d be part of the social network tied inside the Nature Publishing Group, which puts out some of the most prestigious scientific journals.  These will be people that are extremely well-educated (formally or informally), and could be described as "geeks", most of whom are poorly paid for their expertise, and most relatively unmoved by greed.

So why the hell would spammers be creating false identities in the Nature Network, with profiles pointing to real estate agents (impoverished scientists won’t exactly be a great source of commissions), or business email lists (academics and researchers might want money, but it will be from funding agencies in government, not a list of dupes in the general community).

At least I haven’t seen any advertising anatomy-stretching or physiology-improving treatments… because if members of the Nature Network felt a need for that kind of thing, a few hits of the journals would let them find the most efficacious mechanisms, and the recipes for brewing them up on the lab bench.

Only one of the products linked to from fake identity profiles was even halfway targetted… spectacles.  Mind you, safety glasses for lab work and budget "geek-goggles" which might have had a hope of attracting attention weren’t promoted – no, it was high-fashion high-cost spectacles.  Dumb.

It made me wonder though.  If pushing false identities to sell stuff to scientists that we aren’t interested in, haven’t got the money to pay for, and given our intelligence to resist such scams anyway, what are these spammers doing on social networking sites that have a dumber and more gullible population?  Can you imagine the cost this imposes on administrators of those sites, and the way this increases the chance that services currently free to users will be charged for in the future?

These spammers almost make me want to throw away my lefty principles and push for legal penalties on spammers and scammers that include capital punishment, or at least being covered in honey and tied in the baking sun above a big nest of hungry ants.

Suffering the death-of-a-thousand-nibbles is actually a very appropriate punishment – that’s what the spammers and scammers are doing to the internet, the thing that is critical to the world economy.

Yet governments do nothing, and I cannot figure out why.

Can anyone else explain the inaction?


2 Responses to “Spammers: Dumb, and handled with kid gloves”

  1. One would have to guess that the informed leftist geek vote does not figure highly in the priorities the governments of today.

  2. Farm Team said

    I run multiple websites and you are right, there are a LOT of costs, mostly time costs, that are spent on combating this issue. But what is the definition of spam? I get junk mail, that is nothing more than spam. I see billboards everywhere I go, that is spam. I get phone calls (The Obama campaign must have called me 9 million times during the elections)not to mention my number is on the no call list and there is a voice prompt before my phone even rings where human interaction has to take place before the call goes through. So, this topic is not just an internet issue but world wide.

    If some poor kid in Laos gets by sending offers to other sites and snags a little affiliate commissions from my website, you wont see any tears from me. 99% of spam is simply redirecting people to other offers to make some extra cash. Just as in the business world there is fraud going on as well, but most of it is simply rerouting traffic.

    Forced advertising can only be controlled, and it will never be stopped. Being a programmer I have simply taken this issue on as a causality or war and with proper coding it can be controlled.

    As far as these people being stupid? Not sure where that comes from. I had a guy running a bot from multiple proxy servers, bypassing captchas and auto filling form data for days until I finally figured out his/her footprint. Most likely this person was very smart and the reason they were so persistent was due to the responses they get.

    The cost of forced advertising. Lets think about the money it creates here for a minute. There are teenagers sitting in their parents house making double the amount their parents are off their petty 20% commissions from sales. They promote anything from porn, weight loss equpt, weight loss pills, get rich quick programs, legitimate money making programs, real estate, autp parts, auto loans and just about any other thing fat lazy americans want. Note on the porn thing, I do not agree with it being displayed in front of an underage audience. Does this mean we ban TV too? These sales go to businesses who reinvest and not only create more jobs but are able to continue to pay affiliate commissions. This also provides opportunity for people who would not have one (ie: The poor kid in Laos)

    Bottom line is, nothing in life is fair. Some people do not want to be forced to see billboards or get junk mail but we have to see them anyways. Some people do not want junk email, but they get it anyways. If you take about 20 minutes of time, you can 100% eliminate any spam to your inbox. If your a developer and have a little bit of smarts, there are a million ideas you can do to prevent your website from looking like a bulletin board for dildo ads, as well as INFORM YOUR USERS!

    Spam in email.. Ok, I understand your point about bogging servers down. This is where blacklisting comes into effect. You can easily block email coming from some 3rd world country, block known spam havens, domains and ips.

    Our government should stay out of this, their job is not to babysit. We are Americans, we can stand up for our self’s, especially when it comes to something so petty as spam.

    So as the rest of America sits and collects welfare checks from the expense of hard working people(HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THIS COSTS?), or drive home in their SUVs to eat dinner and watch their favorite reality show. I hope the teenager who is helping direct traffic laughs to the bank, or the poor kid in Laos on a dial up connection in an internet cafe makes enough to feed his family that month and maybe get a new pair of used shoes from one of the companies who he is advertising for, that pays taxes, hires employees and reinvests in larger business ideas.

    While I do not promote spam, I think it is completely absurd to say spammers are stupid, when a fair amount of them probably make more than you and I put together with no formal education. I see typical business plans that are completely “stupid”, but that does not mean all business men are stupid, or are men.

    Since the Nature social site was a target of spam, that means that they were getting RESPONSES.IQ has nothing to do with what a person is going to buy or need. IQ is sorta old school for measuring the ability to comprehend, understand and retain. Some people have more hard drive space, while others process information faster.

    So, continue to have the gov babysit while the rest of us pull up out boots and create solutions to problems, not complain about problems.

    P.S. By asking the Government for help, you are just embracing your “Lefty” principals.

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