Wednesday, January 02, 2013

your brand says spam to me

In common with many other webmasters I got back from my Christmas break to find a Bad Thing. Someone had hacked a server somewhere and for three days over Christmas it had fired off a steady stream of commentspam into my filters before one of my counterparts toiling on the dataface came back from their Christmas break to discover their Bad Thing, and fix it. In the meantime, I set to clearing the gakk from my filters, speculating the while on why people spam. Mostly it ends up in filters, not marketing to anyone other than the person who has the aggravating task of clearing out the comments, for whom it is largely a negative experience. Although, in line with old-school attack, a proportion of the comments also had wordsalad subject lines, some of which were quite beautiful:
  • vault owllike whiterump minginess
  • indiscriminate negotiation dirtying pumple
  • outstandingly semiprofessional flirting ellipse
(As an aside, I am not interested in advice about how to stop this problem (either my problem, or the site whose server got hacked) from happening using technical means. If you are interested in this as a technical problem, user maintained social networking sites like Livejournal and Dreamwidth are great places to try out your ideas and meet other people interested in solving the same problems.)

Although as a - what's the Yougov term? Dissatisfied Customer - of the aforementioned Livejournal, I do delete commentspam on a pretty regular basis, this was the first time in a while it had been a big enough job to include reflection on how the spam environment has changed in recent years. Wind back a year or two, and the Canadian Pharmacy crowd with their exotic lists of drugs were leading the field. In 2012, although there is a smattering of viagra, cialis, tramadol, tylenol, ativan and their ilk, the overwhelming majority is brandspam. Working through the comment pile for anything I needed to reply to or report, I realised I was using brand names to identify comments as spam. In fact, there were some brand names that I already associated with spam. Ugg? Spam. Christian Laboutin? Spam. Louis Vuitton? Spam, beyond a doubt.

Why does this happen? Is it popularity? The intensity with which a brand is ripped off and faked? Or is it just chance, that brand caught up in the roll of the black-marketing dice? Is it damaging for them, or do they feel (as some celebrities do) that all publicity is good publicity? Is there complicity?

Whatever the truth of the matter, I'd been given a snapshot. The state of spam, Christmas 2012. And here are the brands under the spammer's Christmas tree:
  • Christmas Top of the Pops: Uggs, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Christian Laboutin, Lasix, Tom's Clogs, Mulberry, Michael Kors, Chanel, Pandora Charms, Dr Dre Beats, GHD hair straighteners
  • Christmas classics: Viagra, Canadian Pharmacy, Cialis, Ativan, Zoloft, Flomax, Tylenol, iPod, Ativan, Clomol, Flagyl, Nike
  • Contemporary Christmas Gifts:  Chilliwack, Tiffany's, North Face,  Canada Goose, G-Star, Thomas Sabo, Hunter Wellies, Zithromax, Adirondack
Thanks all, for the unexpected Christmas gifts in spam filters and inboxes across the world. Thanks for the thought, and the lack of thought. Thanks for the endlessly sapping process of overengineering and upgrading filtering systems and the sites down and broken and the information pollution and all of the Christmas messages lost in the seasonal spamfall. It's nice to know exactly how much you care.

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