Guilty Until Proven Innocent

As far as the internet is concerned, you’re a spammer until proven otherwise. In fact, many websites require us to pass a test just to prove that we are human. We might fool ourselves into thinking that we have the whole bot/spam think under wraps but truth be told, it’s much worse than we think; it’s controlling us!

In a perfect world we’d be able to detect a spam-bot from it’s movement around a website without having to interrupt a visitor (who could potentially be a human); actually, in a perfect world there would be no spam-bots at all but, due to the greed and idiocy of mankind, such perfection will never be achieved…

If there’s a crux to this entire issue then it would be this question: How exactly can we use technology to determine between something which is human and something which is not? It is definitely possible but with current methods we’ll never be able to guarantee a spam-free environment.

There is another really big problem though: many spam messages you’ll receive on a daily basis will have originally been typed out by a real human!

Take this example, I received this as a comment on an older post at 7:46pm tonight:

My name is Sabrina and Iā€™m new to this site.

According to this message, a person, probably female, has arrived at my website and has been so enthused that she’s decided to write about her recent accomplishment (the accomplishment of being new to a website)!

Five things about this message make me 99% sure it’s spam

  • It’s an old post, one which hasn’t received much traffic in the past. Because it’s an old post we can assume "Sabrina" arrived at it via a search engine or something similar (86% of all traffic in the last two weeks to this post has been from search engines – source: Analytics), if so, then Sabrina must have been looking for something specific, maybe she found it and was grateful, or maybe she didn’t find what she was after. Either way the above comment makes no sense!
  • As far as I’m concerned, a greeting, like the one Sabrina exhibited in her comment, is one of the least likely comment types in a technology-related blog post. – Source: I’ve read a lot of technology-related blog posts and have never seen a comment of this type. šŸ˜‰
  • Sabrina has no gravatar – not compelling on it’s own but makes her less likely to be human.
  • If Sabrina were sufficiently intelligent to use Twitter (the topic of the post) then she would also be intelligent enough to realize that it’s not necessary to have her name in the post because it’s already specified as her name. (again, this isn’t compelling on it’s own)
  • Finally, Sabrina’s email (which I won’t disclose, just encase she is actually a human) is a bit dodgy because the corresponding domain currently returns a 404!

So, why would a spammer waste time posting messages like this?

A message like the one above is quite likely to get approved by a busy moderator (proof). WordPress’ default setup dictates that all messages which have previously approved authors will be automatically approved from then on. I’m guessing that "Sabrina" will wait a certain amount of time before returning and posting a more malicious variant of her comment, but, unfortunately (for her) I did not approve the original comment so all of her following ones will end up in the spam bin as usual. With this blog they would probably end up in the Akismet bin even if I had approved this comment but not everyone uses Akisment!

The point of that example was to illustrate that the spammers are becoming a little wiser and that traditional methods will not suffice for much longer.

Spamming would not be around today if it didn’t work. Obviously somewhere in the world there are some absolute morons who believe that certain things might actually get bigger if they take some drugs.

So, as usual, it’s the people who lack understanding who are to blame. Maybe we need to re-educate them – but now, this becomes a public concern, one which cannot be fought on the technological battleground. An imbalance of information in society can only be fixed by the governments! Damn it! This spamming thing is truly unfixable!

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter. Have a great day!