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Blog spammers take aim at Google

Google Inc.'s free BlogSpot service has become a happy hunting ground for spammers cashing in on the easy integration of AdSense advertisements into the 'push-button' publishing tool. Over the past few days, the situation has spiraled out of control, prompting outrage from bloggers and third-party blog search providers and an acknowledgement from Google that there's a "tricky problem" to be solved. An automated spam blog (splog) attack over the weekend was first flagged by Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo, who accused Google of hosting a "crapfarm" of fake blogs. "In the past few days, I've been inundated with an enormous amount of subscribed search spam for designated keywords. To the tune of hundreds, if not THOUSANDS, of bunk entries," Pirillo railed, arguing that Google must "start putting some resources behind an effort to curb this train wreck." Pirillo's public complaint, which included a screencast of his experience wading through spam blogs in his RSS reader, was echoed throughout the blogosphere. Tim Bray, technology director at Sun Microsystems Inc. and a key backer of the Atom syndication format, called it a "splogsplosion." "When I looked at my PubSub feed, there were 31 entries, 30 splog. Just now at 9:45 there are 15 more. Technorati and Google feed search are similarly infested. "The total numbers must be mind-boggling. This particular surge is using blogspot as an attack vector," Bray said, noting that the software being used to generate the fake blogs is "pretty sophisticated." Bob Wyman, CTO and co-founder of PubSub Concepts Inc., said the situation has gotten progressively worse and has forced the company to consider filtering BlogSpot results from its search service. In an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News, Wyman said the simplicity of the Google service has become a double-edged sword. He blamed the splog explosion on the API (application programming interface) that Google offers to let users create tools to automate the creation of blogs and text entries. "The guys at Google have done a great job of making things very simple for users, but now those tools are in the wrong hands and this is the result," Wyman said. To make matters worse, Google has tightly integrated its AdSense program with BlogSpot to allow users to display advertising on sites and get paid for eyeballs and clicks. That, argues Wyman, is the crux of the splog scourge. The spammers are using scripts to hijack text from legitimate blogs and creating "tens of thousands" of blogs with high-interest keywords. "The splogs all contain keywords that are known to be interesting, keywords that people are looking for. As a result, when you search for that keyword, the fake blogs are being returned right at the top," Wyman explained. "Nobody goes and voluntarily reads spam blogs. No one subscribes to them. You only find them when using search engine so that's where the value is to the spammers." "Even though a small percentage of all blogs are splogs, a high number of the ones people find when they search for certain keywords turn out to be spam. It's a deceptive problem," Wyman added. Dave Sifry, chief executive of Technorati Inc., reckons that about 40,000 spam blogs have been created in past two weeks. According to Sifry's calculations, about 5 percent of all blogs created in the last two weeks were splogs. Mark Cuban, the outspoken serial entrepreneur who co-owns the blog search engine, is among those disgusted by Google's lax approach to addressing the problem. Cuban said IceRocket would stop indexing BlogSpot posts until Google get its act together. He called on Google to add a challenge system to its anti-spam procedure, arguing that such a move would considerably improve the quality of information available in the blogosphere. On its Blogger Buzz Website, Google acknowledged the troubles but stopped short of offering a comprehensive solution. "One group of folks who are particularly affected by blog spam are those who use blog search services and those who subscribe to feeds of results from those services. When spam goes up, it directly affects the quality of those results. "I'm exceedingly sympathetic with these folks because, well, we run one of those services ourselves," said Jason Goldman, Google product manager for blog search. Goldman said Google would consider what could be done to slow the spread of splogs but the absence of concrete assurances has angered blog watchers. At FightSplog, a BlogSpot-powered site devoted to tracking the issue, the Google response is dismissed as a public relations move. "[The] words they've used are very wishy-washy and they've failed to convince me that they are taking serious measure to address the problem head on." PubSub's Wyman said Google may have to consider charging a fee for the BlogSpot service. "You don't see splogs on TypePad," he noted, referring to Six Apart Ltd.'s hosted blog publishing service. "Spammers aren't going to pay a monthly fee to host a blog, so that's one definite answer," Wyman said. "It's an unfortunate reality but the only way to fully stop it is to move away from being free. UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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