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Monday, July 7, 2008

Anti-Obama Blogspot Blogs in Spam Trap

Larry Johnson writes that a lot of Blogspot blogs opposing US presidential candidate Barack Obama had been falsely marked as spam. As you may know, Google both offers a “report a spam blog" form, and they also have a Flag Blog feature at the top bar. Larry’s theory as to what happened: “It appears that anyone who blogs with Google supported [Blogspot] is vulnerable to being shutdown unilaterally if they are targeted by a group of bloggers who claim the site is responsible for spam.” Larry adds that all you need to do is fill out the spam complaint form, suggesting that “a small group of thugs can do a lot of damage, at least in the short run.”

I’m not sure if the mass-flagging theory is correct in this case, though. One of the blogs allegedly having been attacked is Blue Lyon. However, on June 30th, Carissa of the Blue Lyon blog posted about an update to the situation, printing an email from Google which offers a different explanation:

On behalf of the Blogger Team, I want to apologize for the recent trouble you’ve had with your locked blog. Automated spam detection is not yet a perfect science, and although we are constantly working to improve our tools, it appears that our filters have caused some Blogger accounts to mistakenly be blocked from creating new posts.

While we are still investigating, we believe this may have been caused by mass spam e-mails mentioning the “Just Say No Deal” network of blogs, which in turn caused our system to classify the blog addresses mentioned in the e-mails as spam.

Regardless, we have restored posting rights to your blog, and it is very important to us that Blogger remain a tool for political debate and free expression.

Interesting: if this blog post is correct then Google is apparently analyzing email content – the URLs – to help their spam classification system. I wonder if that is automated, and if so, whether they’re using Gmail messages for this.

Whatever may have been the case here... thanks to spammers, Google with their Blogspot tool has two problems on their hands: spam blogs which remain undetected, and non-spam blogs which are incorrectly marked as spam (the so-called false negatives and false positives). The first problem may cause noise in search results. The second problem, which is no singular incident either, may cause the loss of trust in Blogger as a stable blogging platform. Even though Carissa’s situation was resolved, she writes she “happily settled in over at WordPress” by now, “Loving the new blog smell.” Another blogger who used to write at says, “in light of the attack on my blog here, I have moved it to its own domain name. Blogger may not intentionally be trying to support blog censorship, but I don’t want to hassle with my blog getting flagged on a regular basis.”

[Thanks Nick R.!]


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