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On not passing the Turing Test

Spam: we hates it. And we (meaning me and my blog moderators) try to keep it out of the comments here.

Sometimes it's a little hard to spot ...

Most comment spam is deeply stupid; it's basically search engine optimization tricks aimed at driving a website pushing some product up Google or Bing's pagerank. My blog has a high-ish pagerank, hence the recent changes to the "email me" form to warn off the SEO folks who were gumming up my inbox with exhortations to sell them banner ads. It's no surprise that we attract spam, but blog spam isn't as heavily automated as email spam: while some spammers use bots to target standard blogging engines such as Movable Type or Wordpress or hosts such as Blogspot or Typepad, many are just ... well, a bit pathetic.

This one came up on an earlier topic (Where's Charlie?) half an hour ago:

kuaför malzemeleri | February 5, 2011 12:49 | Reply
58:

the world's oldest person as of yesterday now lives a few miles from me in Georgia. Besse Cooper, aged 114 years, 159 days, (born August 26, 1896) was a former schoolteacher who married in 1924 and has 4 children, 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and 1 g'g'grandchild. She has credited her longevity to rtyh

How did I determine that it was spam?

Clue 1: The posting seemed suspiciously disconnected from the topic of discussion. In fact, it turns out to be a cut'n'paste job of EH's comment #52, earlier in the thread. (If I'd noticed the earlier comment it'd have been "case closed" on the spot, but EH posted his bit four days ago.)

Clue 2: The posting ended in random characters (A common trick used by spammers to fool Bayesian spam-spotting tools that identify duplicate postings).

Clue 3: The poster's email address "necati.turan@windowslive.com" does not match their user name "kuaför malzemeleri".

Clue 4: Googling "kuaför malzemeleri" confirmed that the name is a googleable term in Turkish.

Clue 5: Google language tools then translated "kuaför malzemeleri" from Turkish to English as "hairdressing supplies".

QED.

Anyway. I've noticed that some of you don't always use your real names when posting comments here. If you want to avoid being accidentally misidentified as a Turkish hairdressing supplies spammer, bear in mind the clues that lead me to diagnose that a comment is spam and avoid leaving them.

This lesson bought to you by Officer Friendly of the Turing Police.

96 Comments

1:

One wonders as to how people actually make money from spamming. I don't know of anyone who has ever seen a spam advert and thought "yeah thats a good idea"

2:

Alas: in email, at least, spam is so cheap to send in bulk (for values of "bulk" measured in billions of messages) that a sales conversion rate of 0.01% represents a huge return on investment. And in fact around 10-20% of internet users respond to spam, because 10-20% of people are stupid.

Blog spam is somewhat less successful, but there are many tens (if not hundreds) of millions of blogs, and around 90% of them are ghost towns with tumbleweed rolling down the main drag; spam postings there go unnoticed, and can push up the pagerank of the marketing websites they link back to.

3:

XKCD has a 'toon on this a couple of months back, referring to the Arms Race between the programmers and the spammers.

Ah, HERE it is!

Seriously is this likely to lead to a Turing-test pass?
I think not, not with serial, non-massively internally-interconnected computers.
You need the "crosswiring" I suspect, for intelligence to become an emergent property.

4:

While it doesn't make sense that there's money in finding ways to get around the spam filters that I have created to avoid seeing ads for particular products - there are lots of things in advertising/marketing that don't make sense.

For instance - are ads for Plavix supposed to persuade me? It's a prescription drug. Or are they supposed to persuade my cardiologist? Shouldn't he be using better criteria?

5:

I did notice the other day that in the Tube system there are posters being put up warning about a 'crackdown' on using internet fraud on the elderly (with pictures of vulnerable old people for emphasis). It's not exactly a new problem though, scammers have always been around but now the scam is via spam.

6:

Ads for Plavix (whatever it is) are illegal in the UK. Or rather, ads for pharmaceuticals are strictly regulated and it's illegal to advertise prescription-only meds in fora where non-practitioners are likely to see them. (Drug ads are fine in periodicals aimed at GPs or pharmacists or nurses, but aiming at the general public is right out.)

In the USA, prescription-only medicine ads usually end in "... ask your practitioner about ..." -- which should tell you exactly what they're intended to accomplish.

7:

I don't mind signing with my real name here, though I usually go by the moniker above. If your spam filter is good, it should recognize the relevance of the comment.

I notice that John Crowley's blog at Live Journal is getting infested with comment spam, probably because he isn't a tech type and the site isn't equipped with serious controls, but also because some of it is so funny that he probably leaves it there for amusement.

8:

Charlie said: (oh ... now I have an incomprehensible cat voice in my head - my age is showing!)
"And in fact around 10-20% of internet users respond to spam, because 10-20% of people are stupid."

If I may paraphrase George Carlin:
Just think how stupid the average person is and remember that half the people are stupider than that!

9:

A robot in this family had me puzzled for most of month early last year ... I was half-convinced that there was some ring of badly-paid human blog-spammers out there writing hand-crafted comment spams, because their spams were so clearly human-written and on-topic. They were sticking to years-old posts, so it took a long time for me to twig to the fact that it was just a robot stealing on-topic comments from earlier in the same comment threads.

I wrote quite a ranty essay about it:

Spam Robot Finally Rolls 00 Versus Turing

Fair warning: That link takes you to a post at ErosBlog, my blog that is mostly about sex and porn except when I rant about tech and internet business; it is quaintly considered "Not Safe For Work" by people laboring in the American-style cubicle model of modern corporatism, where a tit in the workplace is a firing offense.

10:

The future of spam (and to some extent already the present) is the use of social networks as advertisement delivery. Doubly unfortunately, I think we'll have to put up with both types, instead of one replacing the other.

However, I have made a personal vow to punch any "friend" who accepts money to slip brand names into our conversation.

Also, while we're on the topic of great webcomic strips about spam:

http://www.thesecretknots.com/2009/03/17/on-spam/

11:

On international freelance jobs sites, I've seen "data entry" ads that were clearly asking for people to place spam on blogs and/or via contact forms (paying so many cents a hundred); the same sites carry ads from Indian-based agencies advertising their willingness to do such work.
A Turing test wouldn't stop the spam. There's an entire industry out there that depends on it.

12:

.. Actually, I am fairly sure that is wrong. The great mass of people I meet come across as being of roughly comparable intelligence, with most of their competency concentrated on either their hobbies, their jobs, or both. Then there are the outliers where you get this sneaking suspicion that something really important was missing from their childhood diet, or in the other direction, that 96% of the world, me included, must have been hit on the head with the stupidity hammer when six years old, but this person wore a helmet.

13:

Just think, in two weeks Jeopardy in the US will be running with Watson, the IBM AI project, as a contestant. We'll see how it does.

Probably, in 5-10 years, Watson's descendants will be running spambots.

I guess the question will become, what does one do when the spam one receives is more intelligent than some of the emails (or Tweets) one gets from real humans?

14:

In 2008, University of San Diego researchers published a report detailing their penetration into a spammer network. Even though only 1 in 12.5M spam messages got responses, the network was bringing in $7K per day. This is a link to a popular article:

http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/spam-gets-1-response-per-12-500-000-emails-483381

but you can also find the full report in PDF available. We don't need to assume 10% stupids; .00001% are enough for spam to be economically viable.

15:

You left out the real ending of most US pharma ads:

"...and in extreme cases may cause death..."

It still makes me chuckle.

Doctors must love it.

16:

But I have enough trouble with spam filters as it is - how will I ever get my gold out of the country?

-What worries me is last Christmas' decline in spam. What have they found to do that's more profitable?

-Phil Knight, not really president of anywhere.

17:

I've written some email antispam software. This gives me an interesting moral dilemma as to how to advertise it. (And if anyone's going to accuse this post of being hypocritical... yes, I know.)

I'm rather rapidly developing the opinion that abuse of the commons should be considered a crime against humanity: from spamming to rainforest clearance to smoking around other people. Unfortunately the actual level of damage done per offence is so trivial compared to the overall cumulative social affect that there's very little incentive for the People In Charge to actually do anything about this sort of thing --- personally, I favour flogging.

(If anyone's actually interested in said antispam software it's at http://spey.sf.net, it'll only be of interest if you run your own SMTP server and have reasonable Unix-fu, and no, it won't help with blog spam, alas.)

18:

The money generating part for blog spam is different from the 1-in-million-click-the-link model of email spam. As our host says, it's search engine optimization.

If you are Turkish and actually looking for hair products, that company is going to show up higher in Google because it has a link from Important Blog Charlie.

No one at all has to click on the link for that.

19:

I'm afraid to comment with a pseudonym, lest Charlie determine I'm not sentient. That kind of rep sticks, out here on the interwebs. Worse, he might be correct.

20:

Last year, I worked very closely with some very smart SEO people (they are definitely the exception). There is a hotly fought-over market out there for content farms. That's the "long tail" directory services that make money mostly from somebody googling a term (say, the name of a restaurant), then landing on their page (which contains content mostly scraped from other sites) and clicking on an ad. You don't think that happens too often? Check out how much money some french company paid to acquire 123people.

I'm getting more and more disgusted by this stuff (online gambling sites are the worst in terms of blog spam, but the ones that obscure genuinely useful content I find myself hating the most). But: there are a bunch of really neat almost-espionage stories their SEO gurus can tell.

For example: online poker sites fight for first-page google result placement with tooth and claw. Since google's web spam team is screening for abusive linking through (for example) blog spam comments, what you do to kick your competitor off (and thereby improve your rank) is to spam blogs /for/ them: A joe job by any other name.

God, I hate this business.

21:

Peter Watts, author of Starfish, Maelstrom and Behemoth, has an interesting take on Spam and AI in his books. He imagines sentient spambots taking over the net. Great books.

22:

I'm likely to get into SO much trouble over this intern=vention BUT, wot the Hell .. that spelling of intervention was a happy typing error .. whilst The Turing Test of Humanity is interesting I consider it would be far more interesting if there were to be a test for Sexuality .. Gender .. through a Brick Wall of Info Tech.

Is it possible to tell what Gender your Correspondent might be through that brick wall? If it were possible to tell what sex your correspondent might be then we might just be at the first stage of determining whether or not said correspondent is Human or Machine.Given that we do have an interesting array of sexual balances to explore this Test should be at least possible to subject to scientific trial and if it hasn't ..why Not?

In the mean time here is an interesting problem that may well be duplicated through other Nations news and current affairs media, but, Here it is as a BeeB B C problem ....


http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23920555-no-question-its-time-a-woman-follows-david-dimbleby-declares-harriet-harman.do

On the more immediate Spam problem? The Spamers do Learn and I was recently approached twice by ordinary Phone line by a Spammer who approached obliquely to say that The Spamer WORKED for my INTERNET service provider and that they had noticed that my Broadband was running slowly and ... you can imagine the rest as I drew out the conversation whilst savagely suppressing my giggle reflex .. they just COULDN'T believe that I would fall for this 'Load Up OUR security software paying for it with your dredit card and you WILL be SO happy !! ' line of standard patter, could they. Well not every time they wouldn't, but they were operating ..back ground sound and the voice Asian spa-mer indicated a call center ... gods even the crooks are running call centers these days!

Ah well I am in touch with the weary ..where have we heard this before ? .. Cops in the interests of Criminal Intelligence but this sort of thing has become ever so commonplace these days and so I'm unlikely to be able to contribute much more to any investigation but it does occur to me that some day soon the Asian call center spa-mer may be no more than an imitation Human.. My Phone based scammer was following a set pattern question and response formula that was only a step away from total automation.

23:

Some numbers from a story on spam I read a few years ago. There was several years ago and the tech has changed so it is probably all different today. I dont have the link, numbers are what I remember them to be, memory is unreliable, and in any case I may be an unreliable spam bot myself, reader beware.

The spammer made about $600 in the one campaign the story was about. It was an email campaign where a small pet shop in Florida gave $5.00 off a purchase to anyway who bought from the link. The spammer got something like $2 of that, so 300 people or so clicked the link. Note, this is a perfect legit biz transaction, no stealing of CC# or anything illegal, a discount coupon given out over email.

The pet shop owner entered the offer at a site after responding to a email marketing offer he got, yes in an email. He was a small shop owner and 300 in online sales was great for him but he said he would never do it again. The hate mail and anger he got for the spam greatly out striped the benefit of the sales.

The spammer was in Ohio. To get his $600, he had to send out over 5 million emails. He had bought a spam kit for about $50 online complete with over 5 million email addresses. He picked up an old laptop at a garage sale for not much more than $150. He went to the library for free internet access and used a free ISP account to send out the emails.

He was a 30 year old unemployed, HS graduate living in his mom's basement. $600 was a lot of money for him. Hell, give him some credit, he spent his own money and his own time and tried to get a biz going.

They busted him of course, based on some new spam law at the time. They never get the big guys, just the schmucks.

The point is, send out enough emails and even a tiny click through rate will make you money as long as the initial required investment is low.

24:

My blog is ranked at the top of its topic area, so I constantly receive comment spam that runs along the lines of "Wow, this is a really great post on the topic. Congratulations for writing something so useful, I'll definitely come back every day."

The first couple snuck by (I'm vain like anyone else), but some recent spam comments have been so hard to spot, it's almost as if they're being written by humans.

This seems to happen despite the "nofollow" attribute comment links receive, which suggests not every robot obeys that - or else they're simply looking for click-throughs based on the link subject matter (hair-care products).

The arms race continues.

25:

I think this is the ugly side of zero-marginal-cost communication. If you browse Mechanical Turk, there's a thriving trade in various forms of spam. Marketers are going to spend a lot of time and effort on providing incentives to people to subtly endorse things.

I really hate to say this, but the only reliable signal I see is to trust our interpeersonal relations - not that those are free of commercial bias, but (unless you're married to a PR professional), you tend not to tolerate hackerey from your close personal connections.

That the leading social network seems designed to encourage such hackery is a problem, but I suspect basic human norms to win in the end.

26:

My apologies for how mangled that last comment was (I'm the taco bell endorser). I'm getting used to an iPad, sitting in a loud pub. Not at that's an excuse.

27:

"Seriously is this likely to lead to a Turing-test pass?"

Seriously: no. The Turing test involves conversational interaction for a good reason. Chase up on the spam-robots ideas and it won't have a reply.

28:

"That the leading social network seems designed to encourage such hackery is a problem"

Only if you engage in social networking!

David

29:

As a regular reader of your blog, I can only say that is been a pleasure to read in terms of spam . go wander round say something like the dailywtf and the comments are full of spam despite the captcha (admittedly its been sop much better recently).

comment spam feels like the cold grasp of a zombie shouting at you demanding BRAIIINNNNNSSSS! Can't say that it would help , but you know , it might ...


On that note can I add a slightly comical spam ... buy lunch marmalade at www.lunchmarmalade.com (no, it doesn't exist - surprised no one did that ... )

30:
That the leading social network seems designed to encourage such hackery is a problem, but I suspect basic human norms to win in the end.

Of course, they and others are working to try and change those norms. And they seem, at least to some extent, to be succeeding - when did it become acceptable to pay for your email account by allowing the provider to extract information about your friends from the messages they send you and sell that information to third parties? (Personally I object, but a lot of people don't have a problem with it even when it's pointed out that they're doing it....)

31:

The ads are supposed to persuade you, and then you persuade your doctor. It's one of the ways that expensive brand-name meds get sold. Instead of Plavix, for example, you could take warfarin. That's just as dangerous but a lot cheaper.

32:

Case Nightmare Green alert:

"Russian scientists are set to pierce through Antarctica’s frozen surface to reveal the secrets of an icebound lake that has been sealed deep there for the past 15 million years.

Alexei Turkeyev, head of the Russian polar Vostok Station, told Reuters by satellite phone that scientists have 'only a bit left to go.' His team has been drilling for weeks in a race to reach the lake -- buried 12,000 feet beneath the polar ice cap -- before the end of the brief Antarctic summer. "

I hope the USAF got the kinks out of their Gorgon Gaze network.

33:

I don't know whether there's all that much money to be made in spamming, but I'm sure there's good money to be made in providing lists of email addresses to would-be spammers.

34:

Wasn't rel="nofollow" supposed to fix the SEO blog spam? Why hasn't it worked?

35:

I have several theories about why rel="nofollow" did not make blog comment spam go away entirely.

1) It was never universally adopted across all blogging platforms or by all bloggers. Thus, from the perspective of spammers, it's just one more reason to keep cranking up the volume of spams. If 99% of your spams are pointless, you need to crank out a thousand where last year you only needed ten.

2) Google is not the only search engine. Thus there may be some benefit (small, residual, but real) to link spam even if Google is ignoring it. A search engine that doesn't acknowledge rel="nofollow" may still reward the spam link with better rankings.

3) Even if spam links don't confer any Google juice, they may send a little traffic. A click here, a click there, if you've got six hundred million spams out there, it maybe adds up to traffic you can use.

4) The Google algorithm is very complex, and famously non-public. SEO people (white hat and black hat alike) are very superstitious and full of all kinds of odd and bizarre beliefs about what sorts of things can affect their page rankings. It's not beyond imagining that some small fraction of black-hat SEO dudes (aka spammers) have some superstitious theory or belief that blog comment links help their rankings notwithstanding a rel="nofollow" link attribute. Note that this theory need not be true; the belief is sufficient to to drive the behavior.

Obviously I've spent some time puzzling over this mystery myself. I'm not sure any of these theories are sufficient to explain the observable facts. But still, they spam.

36:

Turing's original paper introducing his test started with the idea of whether a human operator could determine whether a man or woman was on the other end of the line, then he extended it to telling the difference between a human and a computer program.

Programs that can hold up their end of a conversation and deceive some of the people some of the time have been around for many years - see for example ELIZA. I think we're seeing some of the same techniques in spam generation now as Charlie described above.

37:

It's a kind of reverse turing test, instead of seeing if a person can distinguish a computer (that has been designed to act like a person) from a person we are making computer programs to distinguish computers from people.

38:

Dunno, start dating spambots, like?

39:

The scariest thing about the Christmas/new year dip in spam is that it lasted exactly two weeks.

The most plausible explanation is that the main spamming organizations -- the Russian Business Network or their successors -- simply took a vacation over the holiday season, like any other corporation.

40:

That doesn't sound like spam. It sounds more like the mask slipping from Nyarlahotep or one of his followers. The Old Ones have you in their sights. I'd engage the services of a competent exorcist at once.

41:

The prescription ads (different from prescription spam which is trying to sell possibly hazardous fakes in many cases) have a second purpose. Fear.

Many of them try to scare you into thinking you have a particular malady and you must immediately take their brand name pill or you will DIE DIE DIE DIE. (There's one now that shows people being followed by a sinister hospital bed. I kid not.)

This leads people to rush to their doctor screaming, 'I need this pill now' or I will DIE DIE DIE DIE!"

Since in order to make money, most Doctors need to turn over patients as fast as possible (I say this with the viewpoint of someone who has handled a Doctor's financials), lazy or overworked doctors will just provide the prescription in most cases. Maybe do a test or two first to make sure it won't kill them outright, but hey, if they have liver failure from statins 10 years later, that's just more visits!

Add in that people are generally lazy (diet and exercise? Why do that when I can take Miracle-Pill? Heck, the side effects only include stuff worse than the original problem, but there is only a chance of those!).

That's why drug makers air ads to the general populace.

42:

of course, Nyalahoteph's first step in Nightmare Green is to infect the internet.. all that computing power....
GreatOldOnes.net?
or would it just turn up as a Microsoft update?

43:
I'd engage the services of a competent exorcist at once.

The problem is distinguishing the competent from the incompetent. The first test is to reject those exorcists whose heads spin around 360° and spew pea soup. Clearly their last exorcisms backfired. After that it gets harder.

44:

I just had a 'flashback' to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World where they had 'vegan police'. Turing police would fit very well into some kind of sci-fi dystopian universe.

46:

Come off it, ELIZA _does_not_ hold up its end in conversation!

47:

A friend of mine has the house-on-fire test for bots. Suppose you're talking over a TTY to something that may be a human or a bot. You say: "excuse me, but I can smell smoke. Got to go -- my kitchen's on fire."

The human says: "OMFG! Want me to call the fire brigade?"

ELIZA says: "Tell me about your kitchen's on fire?"

48:

AIGarius writes:
>Turing police would fit very well into some kind of sci-fi dystopian universe.

Neuromancer, perchance?

49:

I got another .ru spam comment on an old post in my LJ today. I'm not sure what they expect, since most people can't read question marks.

50:

"This is the Turing Police! We are taking you into custody since you are unable to act like a human being in online interactions and therefore suspect you are (insert label here - alien, android, spy, sub-normal defective, enemy of the state) and your continued freedom will lead to unpleasantness for the rest of society."

51:

Ironically, I think the last 2 comments on that "cartoon" are spam!

Also, I know I've said this before, but I'm stuck with "paws4thot" as a usertag because the back end (not just here; there are several other blogs with the same issue) refuses to acknowledge messages that associate my e-mail with any other usertag. Anyone who wants confirmation of this should just try searching for the usertag, and compare the number of hits with the number of base addresses!

52:

Marilee: the question marks just mean that your computer doesn't have the right cyrillic (Russian) font installed to render the spam. As LJ is 90% Russian these days, presumably it's meaningful to most of the readers there.

53:

Warfarin and Clopidogrel (the generic name for which Plavix is one brand name) are not very similar.

54:

"...since you are unable to act like a human being in online interactions" applies to pretty much everyone ever who left a comment on youtub.

This was mentioned on Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog a while back and struck me as exactly the kind of thing that will be widespread:
"Elias Plishner, V.P. of the interactive division of the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, boasted that, "We have an entire division in Singapore [where labor is cheaper than in the USA] devoted to seeding online forums and bulletin boards with targetted content" for our advertising clients. Worse, these people are paid to spend months, in between assignments, creating profiles and posting "neutral" messages to establish a credible online persona and background from which to post their secretly-paid advertising messages, such as to promote a newly-released movie.

BootsNAll.com founder Sean Keener left the room livid: "They're spamming me!" Shilling is a more precise term for it, but the anger is appropriate."

Source: http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001182.html

55:

For values relating to (1) the analytical chemistry of the compound, or for values relating to (2) the effect of the compound on the human biochemistry? I think Marilee was thinking of case (2).

56:

2) the effect of the compound on the human biochemistry? I think Marilee was thinking of case (2).

Warfarin and thienopyridines (clopidogrel etc) have very different effects on human biochemistry (e.g. it's no problem eating sushi when taking Plavix, big problem if you're on warfarin)
Warfarin is a vitamin K antagonist that affects a range of coagulation factors (proteins) and clopidogrel targets platelets (small cell "fragments" in the blood). Broadly speaking both have effects on clotting; however, blood clots have a different structure depending on whether they are arterial or venous. Clopidogrel is more effective against arterial clots, warfarin versus venous clots.

57:

Ok, if I'm following that correctly (I have no qualifications in biology or pharma) the answer is "both (1) and (2) from #55"?

58:

Yep, that's what i was trying to say, got a bit involved though.

Superficially they have similar effects (make your blood clot less), but they do it via very different routes.

59:

"or would it just turn up as a Microsoft update?"

No. It is a WOW clan.

You really need to check fake web page names before using them.

I NEVER use my real name on the Net. I would like my Email account to use the same name but alas it is based on a L. Sprague De Camp series instead. Ethelred is not quite unique enough on the Web.

Ethelred
Not to be confused with the Ethelred on stormfront

60:

I have to admit, having failed to jumpstart web based communities in several occasions, the temptation to let the coherent spams through just to have some activity is always there. One small forum I ran had it's longest ever thread started by a spambot... the bot was banned immediately but since people ran with the thread it couldn't be deleted, and indeed it ran for weeks. I think my posters were being deliberately cheeky about it, though, it was that kind of forum.

My failure to foster community interaction is probably down to my ambivalence towards it, human commenters are often more trouble than they're worth.

61:
Worse, these people are paid to spend months, in between assignments, creating profiles and posting "neutral" messages to establish a credible online persona and background from which to post their secretly-paid advertising messages, such as to promote a newly-released movie.

BootsNAll.com founder Sean Keener left the room livid: "They're spamming me!" Shilling is a more precise term for it, but the anger is appropriate."

Astroturfing is the preferred term, I think...

Also, be nice if on occasion one of these 'sleeper forum posters' did a Mark Kennedy and go native; "God, don't go to see MONSTER ATTACK VII, it's terrible, I can't live a lie any more!!" :)

62:

Hmm, why does anyone think that advertising is intended to "convince" or "persuade"? Do folks really think that Miller wants to argue the lightness or the tastiness of Miller Light?

Advertising is social programming. Propaganda's goal is rarely to "argue" a point, but to influence social behavior by affecting irrational responses.

63:

A few months ago, my parents were targetted by one of these sorts of scams. The scammer was clearly working in an Indian call-centre (accented English, etc) and his tag-line was "We have discovered that a computer at your address is causing a problem".

My mother referred the problem to me, and got the poor fool to call back, and wonder of wonders he did. Her computer is a fairly basic PC running Ubuntu Linux, and is sitting behind a NAT router with a firewall, so there is little chance that it was compromised or virused. So, the ploy was an obvious scam right from the start; this being the case it was game-on for a spot of "Let's torment the scammer".

First clue was that he was completely uninterested in the machine's IP address, but referred to the physical house address. He was apparently dead set on my turning on the machine, so I followed his ploy and pretended to do so (being unwilling to run up and down stairs between the PC upstairs and the phone downstairs), and ran the usual series of "plonker on the phone" tricks on him.

After "The screen looks black, should I plug it in?", "Windows, which of the windows? No, it's cold outside, I'm not opening any Windows", and slowly letting him discover that the PC wasn't actually running anything written by Microsoft (whilst trying not to giggle too audibly) the poor man was near apoplexy and busily trying to threaten me in all sorts of ways.

What finally got rid of him was telling him that the machine was an Apple Mac; that and using him as entertainment for half an hour or so. We never heard from this one again after that.

64:

@63: "After "The screen looks black, should I plug it in?", "Windows, which of the windows? No, it's cold outside, I'm not opening any Windows", and slowly letting him discover that the PC wasn't actually running anything written by Microsoft (whilst trying not to giggle too audibly) the poor man was near apoplexy and busily trying to threaten me in all sorts of ways."

I too recently filled an idle half hour winding up one of these scammers. What made me laugh was the way he got really shirty with me for wasting his time after I told him I didn't have a Windows box.

"What finally got rid of him was telling him that the machine was an Apple Mac; that and using him as entertainment for half an hour or so. We never heard from this one again after that."

Sadly they're targeting Apple users as well now, according to the Register, complete with Apple executable malware on the web site they send you to.

65:

I suppose that I could try for an inverse-Turing test and see if I can get canned for not using my name, and not even a nom de plume based on where I live (which is not in Cheshire), but instead it is moniker based on some IR software I wrote in ages past (that most here have probably never heard of anyway). Oh well.

66:

Yeah, I know. I was being silly.

67:

They're both exactly the same kind of med: antiplatelet.

68:

On the positive side, I didn't, so I learnt something.

69:

They are definitely not both antiplatelet (see my post @56). Very different targets and modes of action.

70:

Marilee: "antiplatelet" describes a prescriber's intention, not a pharmacological mechanism, much less a chemical structure.

71:

@Bacchus - I work in SEO and PPC, enough to have been used as an expert witness. The major mythology among black hatters is that NOFOLLOW doesn't pass magic link juice, but does pass relevance (anchor text). However, the main chunk of blog spamming appears to be small businesses, signed up with small SEO agencies, neither of whom are aware, or care, about NOFOLLOW. If you are a small business, and someone says "you know links are important - we'll post 2,000 links a month, high quality, of course, on relevant blogs, for only (fill in silly money)" then, why *wouldn't* you? And everyone else does, because if it didn't work, no-one would be doing it... And the agency does it, because software and third world labour makes it cheap, and at the end of every month they have a checklist they can complete - they don't really care whether 1:1 or 1:1000 are working - they can always blame the failures on competition and Google, and recommend buying more links next month.

It's much easier than "established relationship with blogger XYZ who was previously hostile, demonstrated product features in suitable environment and now we'll stop getting nasty mentions and might even get a spot of praise and some more visitors". The latter is harder to do, requires real humans proficient in the target language and some integrity in the product and the person doing the work - very hard to convince an expert blogger or reviewer in an area if you are a bluffer or an idiot. Doesn't sound like much - but it can be worth tens of thousands of spammed blog comments. Just a lot harder to sell. "So, Mr Chatfield, I can have 2,000 high quality links on relevant blogs or just one blogger - which do you think I'll pick to spend my money on?" The perception of the game, because of one-sided information holding, makes the sub-optimal choice the preferred choice. So we get cheaper-than-chips optimised spamming systems, and no real pressure to generate or help generate better informed content.

72:

I once was prescribed a "sleeping aid" that carried numerous warnings, including "WARNING: MAY CAUSE DROWSINESS".

Nowhere did it actually guarantee the danger of sleep.

I'd put my real name but it transpires that my combination of names (including my middle name) is so common it would likely be considered spam on that basis alone. After I got my first dial-up account I almost became convinced that I was a member of some vast clone grown for the purpose of defeating WAIS and the new-fangled Yahoo.

There's probably a PhD in this English Language strange attractor for someone, but infuriatingly if I were to be added by name as a co-researcher someone else would get all my kudos.

Steve Mann. No, not that one. Nor that one.

73:

As a human and an AI hobbyist, I find spambots personally amusing. But, as an (left-)anarchist, I prefer my spampoetry to be commercial-free. Unfortunately, even the reasonably small quantity of revenue involved is enough of an incentive that the likelihood of a spambot singularity is much greater with the breast-enlargement bots than with the ones who merely annoy unwitting turing-test participants on IRC (Aside: I have seen first-hand the difficulty in determining the difference between a well-trained markov chain bot and an unmedicated schizophrenic, and once observed a professional who worked in the field of NLP at Novamente argue with a markov chain bot for fifteen minutes before realizing that he wasn't speaking to a human; anyone who claims that the distinction is always obvious, even with systems like megahal or markovsky, is speaking total BS).

I was considering putting my real name up there, but I'm planning on keeping all my comments associated until I start transferring to my new handle: "Hair Dye".

74:

I saw your post and went and looked both up at their manufacturer's sites. They both say antiplatelet.

75:

Their manufacturers both say Plavix and warfarin are antiplatelets.

76:

And morphine and aspirin are both pain killers.

That doesn't mean they're similar, but that both have a use in a certain area. With painkillers, the mechanism can vary widely, and different ones affect different people in different ways (there are people who seem to doubt that codeine does anything, because it has little effect on them).

77:

And actually, another painkiller is a better example. Aspirin.

A doctor may prescribe you aspirin or Ibuprofen for pain. But they're unlikely to prescribe you small doses of Ibuprofen as a preventative against heart disease. Both painkillers, not at all similar.

78:

Ibuprofen IS NOT a painkiller, as such.
It is an anti-inflammatory.
Which, this, may relieve pain.

79:

I've never been prescribed or recommended to take ibuprofen for pain. Not surprising really, since, as you say, it's an anti-inflamatory rather than an analgesic. Ok, anti-inflamatories can have pain reducing side-effects, but their main function (and one they're good at) is reducing swelling.

80:

No? Try wandering in to your local supermarket or the line and check the pharmacy counter (assuming it is legal in your jurisdiction).

The pack in front of me as I type says

Ibuprofen 200 mg Caplets
Effective Pain Relief
For the relief of mild to moderate pain
16 caplets
This is from Morrisons.

If you don't like Ibuprofen, though, then paracetamol. There are plenty of substances used as painkillers, but that (as is apparent from this subthread) doesn't mean they're the same.

81:

Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt, well except that I actually asked a pharamacist to recommend the strongest non-prescription anti-inflamatory they could sell me and the answer was Ibuprophen 400mg.

82:

Yep, seems reasonable.

Historically, a lot of pharmaceutical research has worked on the basis of finding as many different (usually organic) chemicals as possible and trying to work out what effects they might have on human physiology. If the researchers get lucky, then there's a strong beneficial effect, with little detectable side effect. Sometimes, they will have the same effect as something else already in the pharmacopoeia, but manage it by a totally different mechanism. This is often the case when whatever they're addressing happens through a multi-stage pathway: hit the process at any stage along that pathway, and you can prevent it, even though the underlying mechanisms of why the drug (oh, I got told off for using that term by an inspector) works may be totally different.

And side effects are important. Sometimes, they're useful - it currently looks small doses of aspirin may end up being used as a daily preventative against heart attacks and strokes. But side effects are almost inevitable - the chances are that a chemical that has an effect on one chemical pathway over here in the body will have some effects elsewhere too.

Sometimes, what a drug was originally intended for, and what its final use are is startlingly different. Viagra? They were hoping for an angina treatment ...

83:

Para 3 - Side effects: I'm well aware of the possibilities of side effects, which is why I tend to avoid taking anything more than I have to, and look for a pharamacist to advise before adding anything not prescribed by a doctor to my anti-hypertensives.

84:

Funny (and definitely wrong; I hate the appeal to authority, but I actually work on anticoagulants). The (European) sites I looked at said the following:
"COUMADIN (crystalline warfarin sodium), is an anticoagulant which acts by inhibiting vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors."

"Clopidogrel is a prodrug, one of whose metabolites is an inhibitor of platelet aggregation. Clopidogrel must be metabolised by CYP450 enzymes to produce the active metabolite that inhibits platelet aggregation."

They are both antithrombotics, but warfarin is an anticoagulant and clopidogrel is 'anti-platelet'. As is aspirin, for that matter (+ provides a link with the painkiller discussion).

85:

Ok, I know I've already said that I don't have a qualification in biology or pharma, but my sis has a BSc in micro, and a Masters in Pharmacology. I don't know what you do as a job, but it's obvious to anyone who knows someone who has relevant qualifications that you have some quals in the field.

86:

And meanwhile our host is going "No, dammit, I gave up pharmacy as a career two careers ago!"

87:

LOL (complete with funny look from across the office). I'd say he either deosn't care becase the statements are right, or is silently agreeing with me that it is obvious that Anonymous isn't BSing us.

88:

Haha, probably a major faux pas on my part to get too involved. Hope it's not induced unpleasant flashbacks in our host.

89:

I wonder if any search engines track link deletion? There are a lot of other things it could be confused with, but if the index could spot spam-busting it could propagate negative index-juice back along the deleted links.

I can imagine extending the 'no follow' protocol to make this easier for indexes, but once there is a known protocol it would be open to abuse by people trying to sabotage rivals.

90:

Jeremy, thanks for clearing up what the specific mythology about nofollow links is among black hat SEO spammers ... I knew there was one, but not what it was.

I suspect, however, that your "venal selling SEO snake oil to the clueless" scenario indeed explains much more of the continued behavior.

It's ironic, too ... because many of us bloggers are highly susceptible to swag. A couple of hundred bucks of sweet merch in my mailbox would often get these boyos the nice clean links they so badly lust after. But they usually don't have the imagination or the foresight to go there ... or what they are selling is itself so fraudulent or poor quality that free samples do not impress.

91:

Yep, I just spent the last 2 years on pretty much continuous ibuprofen up to 6 months ago, then acetaminaphen (paracetamol to you right-ponders) after that. All for chronic back pain due to compressed nerve roots in the spine. The change 6 months ago was post-surgery; the surgeon recommended going off ibuprofen during recovery because of its blood-thinning effect. I can attest that the ibuprofen worked better for me for pain relief.

92:

Ah, you're right. The doctor gave me both after my first stroke, though (the Plavix was amazingly expensive which is why he switched to coumadin). And as for the NSAIDS -- one killed my kidneys the first time. I get narcotics for my arthritis pain.

93:

#93 - I spy spammers!!

95:

For them to spam doesn't require that they can make money. They only have to THINK they can make money.

The spammer who keeps trying to sell me property in India, for example.

96:

For some reason, this topic is being bombarded with comment spam. So I'm closing comments here. (I may reopen them in a little bit if the spammers fuck off.)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 5, 2011 1:22 PM.

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