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Twitter Files Suit Against Spam Software Authors 56

An anonymous reader writes, quoting Network World: "As with any platform that sees a meteoric rise in popularity, it's only a matter of time before spammers throw their hats in the ring and try and exploit the masses for financial gain and other sinister purposes. As the relatively new kid on the block, Twitter is still busying itself trying to tackle and ultimately prevent spammers from destroying the user experience. While Twitter's previous efforts centered exclusively on engineering-based solutions, the company today announced that they are also pursuing legal avenues to fend off spammers." From the Twitter blog: "With this suit, we’re going straight to the source. By shutting down tool providers, we will prevent other spammers from having these services at their disposal. Further, we hope the suit acts as a deterrent to other spammers, demonstrating the strength of our commitment to keep them off Twitter."
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Twitter Files Suit Against Spam Software Authors

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  • Multiple Posts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 06, 2012 @02:33PM (#39600161)

    A lot of this could be solved if they just blocked the same message being tweeted more than two or three times at more than one person. More than one time I have opened up a profile to see that their last 100+ tweets were all the same message just tweeted at 100+ different people.

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      - one person tweeting links without text all the time
      - one person tweeting urls with always the same domain

      • what if that domain is youtube, or google, or facebook? i dont think basing of the domain will be appropriate. What i think would work - is looking at the ratio of how many (tweets at people whom do not follow you or whom you do not follow) / (tweets at people who do follow or follow you) - when this gets above a certain threshold, like I dunno 1000:1 then its a fair bet the account is a spammer
        • by allo ( 1728082 )

          it depends on your definition of spam.
          for some people, an account which is always tweeting youtube-links to funny cat videos is cool, others would never follow this account, because its only spamming with cat videos. In my opinion, most twitter-accounts which only tweet links should not be on twitter, but should provide a rss-feed, which is more appropriate for this.

      • Your post advocates a

        ( ) technical ( ) legislative (X) market-based ( ) vigilante

        approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

        ( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest Twitter addresses
        ( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate Twitter uses would be affected
        (X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the

      • There are plenty of valid reasons to do those two.
        • by allo ( 1728082 )

          when you're a spammer*, yes.

          * yeah, there are even non-automated accounts doing this. But i perceive them as spammers, too. Why would someone want to follow such an account?!

          • So that you don't have to visit a separate website constantly to see if your favorite tweeter-bloger updated their blog.
            • by allo ( 1728082 )

              do you know RSS?

              • Yes. Do you know a way to have RSS beamed directly into your brain that I am not aware of? Even if you use RSS, you have to go somewhere else, or open up a separate application. If you're already using twitter, getting updates there is more convenient.
      • Can't we just politely ask them to start using the #spam hashtag?
    • Re:Multiple Posts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Karl Cocknozzle ( 514413 ) <kcocknozzle AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday April 06, 2012 @02:45PM (#39600343) Homepage

      Mod this up! Identical messages to hundreds (or thousands) of people in a few seconds are SPAM, and almost certainly violate the TOS. Seems like the technical challenge to blocking that sort of spam would be quite low.

      Granted, it is hard to tell just what is "spam" on Twitter since, to those of us who aren't regular users of the site, almost all of it looks like unredeemable garbage. But I assume regular tweeters know the difference between what they "want to see" and what they don't.

      • We saw the same ignorance with email spam. Filter! Filter! The next step will be that the messages are no longer identical... No, I think Twitter is doing the right thing here. Instead of "filters" and other failures go after the spammers and their tools.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Going after the spammers, yes. Going after the toolmakers? I dunno... They're not breaking Twitters TOS, unlike the ones actually using the tools.
          (Of course, if they create and use the tools, I say hit them hard)

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Even if they know they can't win, Twitter might just be looking to bury the tool creators with legal costs and take up their time with lengthy court proceedings. A large company with deep enough pockets can make life hell for someone who pisses them off enough.

        • but we haven't even solved the problem of email spam. filters don't work 100%. and most of it is up to the user to mark messages as spam, not the email providers to go after email campaign toolmakers. i agree with adjacent AC who says go after spammers. we threw a few of the email spammers in jail, now for the twitter spammers. but toolmakers? get real.
          • My point exactly. Filters don't work. Especially not naive filters like "if the message is identical". It takes a few minutes of programming to make messages no longer identical. Moreover, this would mark tweets of quotes suspicious (they are identical).

            I also agree with going after the spammers. But I also agree with going after the tool makers. We're not talking here (I hope) about going after a knife maker because people get stabbed. We're talking here (again, I hope) going after people who make dedicate

            • well, email campaign tools are meant to send mass emails out to people who have subscribed to lists. they can be abused, or not. in essence, twitter itself is a spam tool. need a "mark as spam" solution for twitter? [] engineering solution ftw
              • email campain tools = the knife I mentioned earlier on.

                "mark as spam".... yeah, visit Digg and YouTube to see how well that works.

                What I really don't get is that we've seen all those "solutions" for decades in the real world: after many attempts at "easy" solutions, the thing that works bothers a lot of normal people (like humps in roads to slow down drivers). Maybe because back then people could get away with so much makes this behaviour "acceptable" online as well?

                • twitter works more like email than digg or youtube (if you don't like what you see on digg or youtube you can just leave). if you subscribe to an email list and no longer like it, you can remove them from your address book and click "mark as spam." likewise on twitter you can remove followers. i agree that any "mark as spam" feature doesn't work 100%, just like filters don't. it's basically a manual filter, isn't it?

                  the only real solutions are diligence or abstinence. twitter is just tired of being dilig
            • Filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them.

              For spam on twitter to get results, it would seem to require meeting a couple criteria:

              1) Unless the person you want to spam is following you, it has to be directed @somebody so it will show up in their mentions, or the target of the tweet will never actually see it.
              2) An actionable link for the user to click-on once they see the tweet.

              So, there are literally billions of messages sent on Twitter every day. An enormous percentage of them do not

              • If person XYZ posts

                Hundreds, thousands of accounts, using proxies/botnet.

                (or less than 10% different) URL

                short URLs

                Filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them.

                yes, that's it!

                • If person XYZ posts

                  Hundreds, thousands of accounts, using proxies/botnet.

                  (or less than 10% different) URL

                  short URLs

                  Filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them.

                  yes, that's it!

                  ...Except that Twitter can see all of the posts simultaneously, even though you can't, so posting from multiple accounts isn't an automatically effective dodge.

                  You could also make the threshold 3-5% or any arbitrary number...

                  I notice you have no response to the real thrust of my post, which is, neither solution by itself solves anything.

                  • ...Except that Twitter can see all of the posts simultaneously, even though you can't, so posting from multiple accounts isn't an automatically effective dodge.

                    And how are you going to distinguish between thousands of people posting something like "The iPhone 5 someurl" and a spammer doing the same? The thing is, you need to keep adding layers and layers of complexity and learn to live with false positives, and hence disgruntled people.

                    You could also make the threshold 3-5% or any arbitrary number...


                • Filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them.

                  yes, that's it!

                  And also, before I forget: the corollary of "filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them" is that "when smart people program those filters, they're very effective."

                  We've been suing spammers for 14 years, and have made at best a tiny dent in the problem. Once we got to advanced filtering that actually worked pretty well? At that point, having an effectively run filter became very... well, effective, for lack of a better label.

                  You do the math... I mean, you won't, since you've obviously a

                  • And also, before I forget: the corollary of "filters are only as unintelligent as the people who program them" is that "when smart people program those filters, they're very effective."

                    My experience is that even very smart people come up with naive rules that seem to work OK but have from the start a lot of false positives and shortly after many false negatives. Even learning systems like SpamAssassin keep suffering from this (at least in my experience, maybe my fault). And this doesn't surprise me: since

          • but we haven't even solved the problem of email spam

            That's a much harder problem. There are all kinds of things a centralized service like Twitter could have done, which can't be (realistically) applied to email.

        • Hey, how many "lets sue all the spammers into bankruptcy" campaigns have there been? When will those lawsuits lead to an end to spam? The first one I recall was in 1998..,

          As of today, let's call it 14 years and counting suing spammers, and yet a cursory look at my spam folder (in any of my email accounts--even the unpublished/never-given-out-to-anybody-used-for-personal-archival-purposes one) shows it to be STUFFED with junk mail.

          I'm not arguing against suing, merely pointing out that suing the toolmakers t

          • Plus, you could write the rules intelligently so that just a cursory alteration of the non-URL portion of the tweet wouldn't let the message pass as "spam."

            How many false positives would this give?

            For example, it's really hard to imagine that 10,000 tweets to some random landing page on coming in over the course of a few seconds from the same account is anything but spam.

            And coming from 10,000 accounts? You can outsource twitter account creation and use a bot net.

            Likely, the "best" spammers we

      • Re:Multiple Posts (Score:4, Insightful)

        by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Friday April 06, 2012 @03:10PM (#39600655) Journal
        It's the same as the rest of the internet really. Quick explanation for those who don't use it:

        You don't see "all the tweets" - that's impossible, both in terms of computers and eyeball 1.0. You pick ("follow") the people you want to hear from, and if anybody puts your name in a tweet you see that too, regardless of whether you follow them. You also see tweets that people you follow have "retweeted".

        Therefore, the only real route from the spammer to you is one of the following:
        • You follow the spammer. (Why?!)
        • Someone you follow retweets the spammer (so you unfollow them if they persist)
        • The spammer has included your name in a tweet.

        This last one is how it normally works - Twitter have, by design, included a good and easy to use API. It's led to a lot of innovative things, and makes integration very easy. It also makes automating "@PersonX" spam very easy.

        It's also very easy to click "report spam", which blocks the account immediately and may well lead to it being deleted. To be honest, the signal/spam ratio on Twitter is fairly low in my experience, and spam can be spotted in the same way as normal - links without much content, an attractive lady in the picture, and a name like "iLovePorn28483".

        • by Firehed ( 942385 )

          Tweet something containing "iPad", "iPhone", etc. Wait about ten seconds. Check your @replies. It's definitely a real problem.

          • OK, just tried it (a mention of an iPad in an otherwise normal tweet):

            10s - Nothing
            1min - Nothing
            2min - Nothing
            5min - Nothing

            It could be that I'm quite active in blocking spam, and Twitter has an algorithm that's picked up on that and is filtering. I'm sure I'll get one or two eventually. I wouldn't like to see bots blocked entirely, I've actively enjoyed one which picks up on the word "Cripes" (a Dangermouse quoter for the UK cognoscenti).
          • Several hours later: 1 link to an Amazon page from a mate who worked out what I was up to and is taking the piss.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Granted, it is hard to tell just what is "spam" on Twitter since, to those of us who aren't regular users of the site, almost all of it looks like irredeemable garbage.

        No, it isn't hard to tell. You were on the right track there, but decided to be too nice. Anything on Twitter is by definition SPAM.

      • If you think dealing with spammers and spam is easy, you are dead wrong. I work for a company that has to deal with spam all the time. When a spammer is rotating their IP address, account, dynamically changing post increments, and using natural text in the spam it's much harder to deal with (if not impossible).
    • I think i've only seen one profile that at least /attempted/ to hide the fact they were spamming.
      It collected random tweets throughout the public timeline and filled 4 or 5 of them between each spam @reply link.
      Though, they were still sending out maybe 1000 messages an hour, so that shouldn't be too hard to detect.
    • by Firehed ( 942385 )

      It's hard to detect whether this is being done by automated spamming tools or humans. We have a dashboard at our office that streams mentions of our company on twitter, and we'll often see spurts of a human spamming the link to their donation campaign at celebrities asking for handouts.

      To be fair, you may want to solve that problem as well, but it sounds like Twitter is just trying to silence the bots.

  • I'm not much of a Twitter user, but even an old fart such as myself can see that spammers destroy everything in their path. Good luck to Twitter and thanks for having a big enough pair to go after these Twits.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      I AM NOW OFFERING LEGAL SERVICES TO EVERYONE INTERESTED. I am not an authorized lawyer, but I am a really cool guy. CONTACT ME.
    • Re:Go get 'em (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Friday April 06, 2012 @02:43PM (#39600299) Homepage
      Spammers make money marketing products of others. Why is it that those who stand to gain are not also brought to a nuetral third party for judgement?
      • Look up "Joe Job".
      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        Because it's very hard to prove they hired them.

        • I don't buy it, when faceless corporations profit from the acts of others, then they to, are to blame.

          So if crime is hard, law enforcement won't do it? How about the words of Deep Thoat? That guarentees that all parties involved are brought to justice?

          And while we're on the topic of holding the worthless accountable, when are we going to see a corporation arrested?
  • They will not win this game. As long as the opportunity to make more money than invested exists, there will be spammers taking advantage of your system. Stopping one just makes a market opening for another. Trying to stop supply does nothing to stop demand, it just tends to make it more lucrative for new suppliers to get into the game when the reward for the demand goes up when the supply starts to shrink. Basic economics at work here.

    The only long-term solution is one of a technical nature, that makes

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Twitter itself is just a big spamhouse. Is there anything on there of any intellectual value?

  • Your marketing practices appear in line with our own marketing practices; our policies differ very little.
    why dont we meet in the middle?

    regards, spammers.

    P.S. we're can be just as committed to foreign uprisings in the interests of [insert country here] as you are, just let us know :)
  • Are they on their way to making certain software illegal? I don't understand how you can "sue a tool maker".

  • Sue PHP and CRON.

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler