In an article titled "Interview with a link spammer", The Register gives us an insight into link spamming (distinct from email spamming) through an anonymous interview with a link spammer who does this for a living (and makes a very good living at that!). Reading the article is a bit like driving past a motor vehicle accident on the highway. You know that what you are seeing shouldn’t act as a magnet for your attention but you look anyway with this morbid fascination.
The interviewer, Charles Arthur, spoke to a link spammer he named ‘Sam’ (there is a suggestion the link spammer may be a woman) and this paragraph forms part of the introduction to this very interesting article:
For that’s what Sam does, pretty much all day long. He – we’ll use the
male notation, it’s easier – would do this anyway for fun, but it’s
more than fun; he says he can earn seven-figure sums doing this. Sam is
a link spammer. He’s unapologetic about it. Skilled in Perl, LWP and
PHP, Sam’s first professional programming was done aged 13, when he
sold some code to a gaming company. He’s 32 now, and spoke to The Register on condition of anonymity.
Like many exploiters, link spammers take advantage of existing vulnerabilities in the servers they use to spam blogs (which are very attractive to search engines because of their changing content).
So Sam, like other link spammers, uses the thousands of ‘open
proxies’ on the net. These are machines which, by accident (read:
clueless sysadmins) or design (read: clueless managers) are set up so
that anyone, anywhere, can access another website through them. Usually
intended for internal use, so a company only needs one machine facing
the net, they’re actually hard to lock down completely.
Sam’s code gets hundreds of open proxies to obediently spam blogs
and other sites with the messages he wants posted. They usually target
comments to old posts, so they won’t show up to people reading the
latest ones, though search engine spiders will spot them and index
them. And here’s the surprising thing: link spamming is not outsourced.
These people do it on their own behalf.
You may recall that in an act of unprecedented co-operation between a number of blogging and search companies, steps were taken to cut back on comment spam. Here is what ‘Sam’ had to say about these efforts:
"I don’t think it’ll have much effect in the short, medium or long
term. The search engines caused the problem" – we didn’t quite follow
this bit of logic, but Sam continued – "and they’re doing this to
placate the community. It won’t work because most blogs and forms are
set up with the best intentions, but when people find hard graft has to
go into it they’re left to rot. To use this, they’ll all have to be
updated. The majority won’t be. And there’ll just be trackback
[Take a look at Elise Bauer’s post on how to avoid trackback spam in Movabletype]
There has been quite a bit of reaction to this article on the web. For the most part the reaction has been pretty angry, as you may imagine.
One thing for sure, this type of thing is here to stay for a while. Perhaps for as long as forums like blogs exist. It is just a matter of managing it all.