Skip to content


Spammers “giving up” according to Google

According to this Wired story, Google reckons spammers are giving up on spam:

a remarkable trend is underfoot, according to Brad Taylor, a staff software engineer at Google: The number of spam attempts — that is, the number of junk messages sent out by spammers — is flat, and may even be declining for the first time in years.

Actually, this is a wilful misunderstanding of what the Googler in question really said, which was that ‘attempts to spam Gmail users have been leveling off over the last year and more recently, even declining slightly’. In other words, they didn’t make an observation about the state of the spam problem on an internet-wide basis — just about the “local” situation as it pertains to Gmail. Bad reporting there, Wired.

But, in passing…

David Berlind at ZDNet recently blogged a rather grumpy response to InfoWorld coverage of CEAS 2007. He raised a very important point:

If I could say something to the author of that story, it would be that so long as any anti-spam solution is not deployed universally throughout the Internet’s e-mail system (in other words, so long as some anti-spam tech is not a standard), that anti-spam solution actually makes the spam problem worse. You read that right. Worse. Proprietary anti-spam solutions make the global spam problem worse. They are digging us deeper into the hole that the Internet is already in because everyone who makes those solutions is under the false belief that “s/he who is finally successful at filtering out all spam while allowing the legitimate mail in wins.”

Google’s blog post is a case in point: ‘we’re keeping more spam out of your inbox than ever before, so more and more, you can use Gmail for things you enjoy without even realizing that the spam filter is there most of the time.’

That’s great — but it doesn’t help anyone except Gmail. It’s a myopic view of the spam problem, and David’s point stands.

(I disagree with his later conclusion that the only way forward is for Google, MS, AOL and Yahoo! to get together and ‘commit to jointly supporting the same technical solutions’ — when the usual BigCos get together, they tend to focus on their own priorities. Take what happened back in 2005 with nofollow for blog-spam — while it helped the search giants with their own overriding priority, which was to tweak their algorithms to filter out the spam on the search results page, it did nothing to slow the spam flood itself, which has continued unabated.)

We need more open-source, and open-data, anti-spam work.