Archive for category Spam

Spam From Spying

A while back, we told you about how Google was using its mapping street-vans to “accidentally” collect things like your passwords in their efforts to provide all the public information they can to people.  Recently, Steve Kovach has pointed out that they’re recording your browser history in order to spam you with adds while you’re online.  I’ve got to admit that I’ve noticed a serious uptick in the number of adds I come across from the sites I’ve visited more than once.

To me, though, the problem is more that once again you’re being tracked.  The fact that it’s merely to advertise sites you’re already looking at is merely insulting.  But they’re violating your privacy – once again – by tracking you in the first place.  Steve focuses on the companies themselves, and that’s worthwhile in itself, because blocking them from getting the information does reduce the problem.  But the heart of the issue is that, once again, you’re being spied on by people claiming to help you.  That makes it look like nothing’s ever going to change, and these people really do want to take over your brain.

Honestly, it makes me feel like everyone’s got their own personal stalker who’s creeping around the Internet.  Maybe that’s what Eric Schmidt was talking about with his creepy line, in which case, it’s definitely been crossed.  And all so they can remind you about something that you’ve already looked at.  There’s a little cynical thought inside me that’s wondering what this is really about.  It can’t just be about rerunning ads, because no one’s so forgetful that they need reminded that they’re interested in something.

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Everyone Should Hate Spam

Anyone who maintains a blog has seen comments come in that look like they might not actually have anything to do with what you’re talking about.  “Hey, you should try this thing I found on http://www.website.com” ring a bell for anyone?  I realize I haven’t talked about this in a while, but it’s on my mind today and I thought I’d share a few things on the matter.

For starters, anyone who actually wants their clients to do well should avoid spamming whenever possible – if a search engine tumbles to the fact that spam is being used, they’ll penalize the site that’s benefiting from it in any number of ways including removing them from a search listing entirely (the searching equivalent of capital punishment, for those who don’t think spam’s a serious matter).

It gets even trickier with the rise of social media in the online community.  People are actually using Facebook and the online games connected with it than Google and all of its subsidiary sites.  That must seem like a ripe field for black hat operators ready to do just about anything to promote their clients.  Even for the rest of us it presents a very treacherous path to walk that can easily see you sliding off into the abyss.  Learning what to look for in your own efforts is the first and possibly most important step in cleaning out the spam from your own content.

Sadly, there isn’t a whole lot you can do beyond that and just clearing your spam filter every so often so that it isn’t stacked up.  I wonder, does a link that’s stored in a spam folder still count towards the ranking of the site to which it sends you?  That would be one for the various search engines to answer, I suppose, but I still don’t want to have them just sitting there in my account.

The interesting thing, though, is that you can now get spam on your smart phone, so that there’s no waking moment when you aren’t at risk of a polluted Internet.  As soon as you open it to your homepage, you’re going to find yourself faced with a lot of links that have nothing to do with what you’re after and some that may even offend your values.  All in the name of helping some company do better online.

As search engine optimizers, it’s perfectly natural that we should want to help our clients be more visible online.  It’s even right, because that’s what they’re paying us for.  But it should never be done at the expense of the people we’re trying to get to go to our client’s with their business.  If you’ll forgive me a Star Wars analogy, black hat techniques are “quicker, easier, more seductive” but in the end will leave your clients looking all rotten and gross, cackling “good, good” whenever someone launches another spam campaign on their behalf.

That doesn’t ultimately do anyone any good.

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Facebook And Privacy – What, Again?

We’ve heard this one before.  Seriously.

Yet they keep telling us the same story all over again.  Now Facebook doesn’t seem to know how to police itself in order to maintain its own privacy policies.  Undoubtedly, they’re scrambling to fix the problem now that it’s become known, but you’d think they would be looking to make sure that this sort of thing didn’t happen in the first place.

Strictly speaking, the problem isn’t Facebook’s fault, because they don’t control the apps that people use.  However, they do still bear responsibility since the apps in question are transmitting user IDs of people  on Facebook.  That’s why people may find that their favorite games aren’t working for a while – Facebook is shutting down (at least temporarily) the apps that have been giving out that data, either deliberately or unknowingly.

Now I don’t honestly want to sound like I’m out to get Facebook, because I’m not.  They’re working to fix the problem, and they’re being moderately upfront about it (although I didn’t find out about this because of them telling me).  The thing is, though, that they’ve been taking a lot of heat lately, especially in the category of the privacy of the site’s users.  Spam is a violation of privacy if you have to deal with it.  Coordinating the site with ski lodges can reduce your level of privacy.  Getting placed in groups without your consent, and sometimes without your knowledge, is a privacy issue.

The point is, people may not realize it, but Facebook is in trouble.  Heck, people are even starting to experiment with “what if we gave up the site for a while”.  The company recently quintupled its stock – that is, cut the value of each stock by 5 & said that everyone had 5 times as much stock as they did before.  That’s a lot of financial success, and we’ve seen before just how dangerous that can be for a software company – Microsoft, anyone?

Personally, I like Facebook, even though they seem to change the format on me every few months.  It helps me keep in touch with people that have moved out of the direct spheres of my life.  But if they don’t stop letting these problems slip past their screening, people are going to start hating the service every bit as actively as they do all the software giants that have gotten so successful that people got sick of them.

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SM, Spam, And The Future Of Online Marketing

Lately, SEO companies have been putting a lot of focus on social media in the hopes that this’ll make sure your company can be found online more effectively than just by focusing on search engines.  This is perfectly understandable, because Facebook is now being used more than Google is by people who go online.

The problem is that new methods are still subject to old ideas, and the past few months have heard more and more clamor about the growth of spam within social media.  Facebook especially has been the target of a lot of frustration over this, again because they’ve got the most people using their site.  Even people who understand that this is a great new way for companies to put their best foot forward are upset that their online comings and goings are being (or are going to be) flooded with more of the same old ads in a new packaging.

The difference between social media and search engines, at least from an SEO point of view, is that search engines are more the equivalent of pursuing new clientele and social media is (or at least should be) about maintaining a relationship with repeat customers.  Someone who goes onto Google or Bing and types in a keyword is actively looking for that thing.  Someone who just signed onto Facebook or Twitter is more interested in seeing what friends and family are up to and doesn’t want to have a notice about something they might be interested in shoved into their screen.

If, however, someone actually follows what a company’s doing, they’ll want to know as soon as something new and exciting comes up for that particular company.  It’s just a matter of letting each individual decide whether or not they want to follow you or not.  If you’ll trust them in that regard, you’ll stand a better chance of being noticed by their friends who may also be interested in what you have to offer.  That’s one of the principles on which Facebook’s Top News feed works – a handy tool that’s going to block pretty much all the spam you could send at it.

Of course, there are going to be companies looking for ways around this every bit as much as there’ve been Black Hat SEO firms trying to weasel their clients into #1 placement by any means at all on the search engines.  However, with everyone who uses Facebook now clamoring against further spamming being allowed on the sites, Black Hat just might have a harder time dealing with social media – there’s not a lot you can do besides hack the website when each individual is effectively blocking you from their pages.

With as many people using Facebook as there are, it’s not likely that social media is going to go away any time soon – even if Facebook itself eventually goes the way of a lot of popular web services and eventually gets abandoned or outright hated.  Most companies involved in online marketing know by now that they need solid social media campaigns in order to thrive.  However, they also need to make sure they’re not too heavy-handed when getting it, or they’re going to have the opposite effect from what they want.

The best idea is to get advertising on the same level as word of mouth recommendations, which can only be done when you let people speak for themselves.  The next six months will probably decide whether social media stays the territory of people who just want to keep up with each other easily or whether it’s abandoned by most of these because there’s too much corporate disruption of what they want to do.

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Facebook Advertising Isn’t All Spam

Lately, social media has become the brain-child in which any company trying to advertise online places their hopes.  And there’s validity in this, because people are extremely ready to voice their satisfaction or displeasure with a company on their personal pages where everyone can see it.  So, companies are spending several fortunes on amping up how they’re marketed on social media.

However.  Maybe Facebook has outsmarted them.  Most people don’t look at their entire news feed, just the “Top News” page, because it’s shorter and tends to focus on the things that interest them most.  That’s where Facebook has won over the dangers of spamming.  You see, they ultimately decide what goes into any given Top News feed.  It’s all based on what the individual Facebook user interacts with regularly or most often, so it’s always going to be about things that actually interest them rather than just whatever happens to be put up.

Sure, a lot of those links to the side of the page – most of them, really – are adds.  However, the Top News only advertises the things that each user actually wants to hear about.  This results in much more relevant “impressions” in terms of what you actually value seeing.  Impressions is a term referring to the things you actually see when you’re on your Facebook homepage, rather than everything that happens to be there.

A lot of people will overlook the value of what Facebook is doing here, because it doesn’t help them get any new customers.  However, it’s immensely valuable because it has everything to do with maintaining repeat business from people who liked your services.  Because, if they’re paying enough attention that Facebook puts your posts onto their Top News feed, they’re going to see when you offer some new product, run a promotion, or just want to remind people of how great you are.  That means that those people are more likely to come back for more – they’re happy with you and you’re reminding them that you’re there whenever they want.

This is a very important strategy for the future, since Facebook is becoming the most popular way for people to find things, and since they’ve recently come under fire for giving people a new way to spam each other.  If you don’t actually interact with something, say a group for which someone else signed you up, you don’t have to hear about whatever they’re doing if you only look at your Top News feed.

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Facebook’s Roping You Into Things

It’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard.  Facebook is letting your friends sign you up for groups on the site, without your permission or even your knowledge.  Taking a hand in what shows up on your Top News feed makes sense, but this is more a matter of putting people into things they didn’t show any interest in being part of.

Here’s the thing, though: when you get right down to it, this sounds too ridiculous to be true.  Someone you know, essentially forcing you into something on Facebook without your permission?  I know, for one, that it hasn’t happened to me because I checked my account a few minutes ago.  I’ve got some invites I haven’t decided on, but no groups that I don’t remember consciously deciding to join.

However, it does say on Facebook’s FAQs that the new system they’re using for Groups works that way (right here).  Maybe it’s just a matter of me not “friending” any people who’re going to throw me into things without my say-so.  In which case, avoiding the absurd fallout of this “improvement” to Facebook’s programming is a simple matter of not being Facebook friends with anyone you don’t actually know.

Even so, the fact that the guy who invented the site could wind up in a pro-pedophilia group like NAMBLA is very telling about how easy it is to abuse this change in the site’s software.  Maybe this will get them to stop and think about any changes they make before they apply them to the site as a whole.  More likely, though, they’ll just say this is an aberration and that people need to be careful off who they friend on the site.

Which, of course, is true.  You don’t actually need to be Facebook friends with someone you know absolutely nothing about.  There are people who use the site to steal people’s identities and commit other unsavory or illegal acts, the same as there are on the rest of the Internet.  However, that doesn’t mean that Facebook’s owners and webmasters need to make it easier for these people to do anything from committing crimes to simply forcing advertising on you that you don’t want.  If they let stuff like that slide, then they’re just as bad as Google is about privacy issues these days.

So, be careful who you friend, and keep an eye on what groups you’re signed up for.  Because you never know now when someone’s going to use you to pad out their group and spam you with its updates.  Since no one who uses the site is that likely to close out their accounts because of this (you can disengage from groups easy enough, at the same time blocking whomever put you in it in the first place from ever doing so again), applying a bit of care in what you do is the best solution you can use.

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The Pervasion Of Spam

It’s worth thinking about, just how much spam is floating around the Internet these days.  With the threat of various malevolent software attacks, it’s probable that half of what you come across has ties (direct or indirect) to viruses or worms.  However, a lot of stuff is just there so that someone can try to draw attention to themselves or to something that they’re trying to push – albeit very sloppily.

Most email systems have had spam filters for several years now, in order to help people to avoid sifting through all the unwanted emails that are sent out like a net to see what can be reeled in.  However, that’s not the only place you’ll see spam.  Odds are, if you have a blog of your own, you have to cope with spam comments, too.

Even social media sites like Twitter and Facebook aren’t immune, though on Facebook it comes more in the form of friend requests from people you’ve never met and who may not even exist.  That brings home the problem with spam, though:  It’s not the fact that it’s everywhere that’s the problem, it’s the fact that even the most benign examples aren’t actually out to help you with anything.  Instead, they’re there because someone wants something from you.

And so they go around, like thousands of barnacles drifting through the currents of the Internet, attaching to whatever seems a likely way to make a buck or just sending out runners to whomever they’ve gotten a little contact information on – sometimes purely by accident, even.  That’s why it appears in such large quantities all over the place.

Everyone knows spam is annoying, and most people don’t even bother to check it out when it comes up.  It just gets deleted, because we already know that it’s not worth our time to look at it.  This pervasiveness is a good demonstration of what’s so wrong with it.  It’s taking up space to try to steal your attention, bandwidth that could be better used for just about anything because the attention sought isn’t gained.

Which really begs the question: why do people bother cranking out so much spam, since most people are only going to trash it as soon as they get it?  Largely, it’s because not everyone does.  Spam has been proven to be a fairly effective marketing strategy, as long as the ads can come up with interesting subject lines.  Unfortunately, that means it’s not going to stop any time soon.

All we can do is work to improve spam filters, refuse to send it out ourselves, and get rid of it as soon as any reaches us personally.  In the meantime, don’t get too bothered by its presence.  That just gets you thinking about it more, which is what the spammer wanted in the first place.

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