Beware the Fraudulent Blog Comments Scams!

Views: 246

A quick heads-up! While I’ve routinely seen these from time to time, there seems to be a major uptick in what are apparently fraudulent comment scam attempts here on my blog. They never get published since I must approve all comments before any appear, but their form is interesting and there likely is at least some human element involved, since they’re able to pass the reCAPTCHA “Are you a human?” test.

Here’s how the scams operate. It’s typical for blogs that support comments (whether moderated or not) to often permit the sender to include their name, email address, and a contact URL with their comment submission. My blog only will display their specified name, and of course only if I approve the comment.

But many blogs include all of that information in the posted comments, and many blogs don’t moderate comments, or only do so after the fact if there are complaints about individual published comments.

The scam comments themselves tend to fall into one of two categories. They may be utterly generic, e.g.: “Thanks for this great and useful post!”

Or they may be much more sophisticated, and actually refer in a more or less meaningful way — sometimes in surprising detail — to the actual topic of the original post.

The email addresses provided with the comments could be pretty much anything. What matters is the URLs that the comment authors provide and that they hope you will publish: The scammers always provide URLs pointing at various fake “technical support” addresses.

These cover the gamut: Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Outlook — and many more.

And you never want to click on those links, which almost inevitably lead to the kind of fake technical support sites that routinely scam unsuspecting users out of vast sums around the world every day.

It’s possible that these scam comment attempts are made in bulk by humans somewhere being paid a couple of cents per effort. Or perhaps they’re partly human (to solve the reCAPTCHA), and partly machine-generated.

In any case, if you run a blog, or some other public-facing site where comments might be submitted, watch out for these. Don’t let them appear on your sites! Your legitimate users will thank you.

–Lauren–

Fixing Google’s Gmail Spam Problems

Views: 841

The anti-spam methodology used by Google’s Gmail system — and most other large email processing systems — suffers a glaring flaw that unfortunately has become all too traditionally standard in email handling.

One of the most common concerns I receive from Google users is complaints that important email has gone “missing” in some mysterious manner.

The mystery is usually quickly solved — but a real solution is beyond my abilities to deploy widely on my own.

The problem is the ubiquitous “Spam” folder, a concept that has actually helped to massively increase the amount of spam flowing over the Internet.

Many users turn out to not even realize that they have a Spam folder. It’s there, but unnoticed by many.

But even users who know about the Spam folder tend to rarely bother checking it — many users have never looked inside, not even once. Google’s spam detection algorithm is so good that non-spam relatively rarely ends up in the Spam folder.

And therein lies the rub. Google’s algorithms are indeed good, but of course are not perfect. False positives — important email getting incorrectly relegated to the Spam folder — can be a really big deal — especially when important financial notifications are concerned, for example.

In theory, routine use of Gmail’s “filter” options could help to tame this problem and avoid some false positives being buried unseen. But the reality is that many of these important false positives are not from necessarily expected sources, and many users don’t know how to use the Gmail filter system — and in fact may be totally unaware of its existence. And frankly, the existing Gmail filtering user interface is not well suited to having large and growing numbers of filters of the sort needed to try deal with this situation (either from the standpoint of actual spam or false positives) — trust me on this, I’ve tried!

So could we just train users to routinely check the Spam folder for important stuff that might have gotten in there by accident? That’s a tough one, but even then there’s another problem.

Many Gmail users receive so much spam — much of it highly repetitive — that manually plowing through the Spam folder looking for false positives is necessarily time consuming and prone to the error of missing important items, no matter how careful you attempt to be. Ask me how I know!

This takes us to the intrinsic problem with the Spam folder concept. Gmail and most other major mail systems accept many of the spam emails from the creepy servers that vomit them across the Net by the billions. Then they’re relegated to users’ spam folders, where they help to bury the important non-spam emails that shouldn’t be in there in the first place.

Since Google accepts much of this spam, the senders are happy and keep sending spam to the same addresses, seemingly endlessly. So you keep seeing the same kinds of spam — ranging from annoying to disgusting — over and over and over again. The sender names may vary, the sending servers usually have obviously bogus identities, but (unlike some malware that Google rejects immediately) the spam keeps getting delivered anyway.

The solution is obvious, even though nontrivial to implement at Google Scale. It’s a technique used by many smaller mail systems — my own mail servers have been using variations of this technique for decades.

Specifically, users need to be able to designate that particular types of spam will never be delivered to them at all, not even to the Spam folder. Attempts at delivering those messages should be rejected at the SMTP server level — we can have a discussion later about the most appropriate reject response codes in these circumstances, there are various ways to handle this.

Specifying the kinds of spam messages to be given this “delivery death penalty” treatment is nontrivial, both from a user interface and implementation standpoint — but I suspect that Google’s AI resources could be of immense assistance in this context. Nor would I assert that a “real-time” reject mechanism like this would be without cost to Google — but it would certainly be immensely useful and user-positive.

The data from my own servers suggests that once you start rejecting spam email rather than accepting it, the overall level of spam attempts ultimately goes down rather than up. This is especially true if spam attempts are greeted with a “no such user” reject even when that user actually exists (yes, this is a controversial measure).

There are certainly a range of ways that we could approach this set of problems, but I’m convinced that the current technique of just accepting most spam and tossing it into a Spam folder is not helping to stop the scourge of spam, and in fact is making it far worse over time.

–Lauren–

Location Tracking: Google’s the One You DON’T Need to Worry About!

Views: 448

I must keep the post brief today but this needs to be said. There are a bunch of stories currently floating around in the news globally, making claims like “Google tracks your location even when you tell it not to!” and other alarming related headlines.

This is all false hype-o-rama.

Google has a variety of products that can make use of location data, both desktop and mobile, and of course there are various kinds of location data in these contexts — IP address location estimates, cell phone location data, etc. So it’s logical that these need to be handled in different ways, and that users have appropriate options for dealing with each of them in different Google services. Google explains in detail how they use this data, the tight protections they have over who can access this data — and they never sell this data to anyone. 

Google pretty much bends over backwards when it comes to describing how this stuff works and the comprehensive controls that users have over data collection and deletion (see: “The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about).

Can one argue that Google could make this even simpler for users to deal with? Perhaps, but how to effectively make it all even simpler than it is now in any kind of practical way is not immediately obvious.

The bottom line is that Google gives users immense control over all of this. You don’t need to worry about Google.

What you should be worrying about is the entities out there who gather your location data without your consent or control, who usually never tell you what they’re doing with it. They hoard that data pretty much forever, and use it, sell it, and abuse it in ways that would make your head spin.

A partial list? Your cellular carrier. They know where your phone is whenever it’s on their network. They collect this data in great detail. Turning off your GPS doesn’t stop them — they use quite accurate cell tower triangulation techniques in that case. Most of these carriers (unlike Google, who has very tight controls) have traditionally provided this data to authorities with just a nod and a wink!

Or how about the license plate readers that police and other government agencies have been deploying like mad, all over the country! They know where you drive, when you travel — and they collect this data in most cases with no real controls over how it will be used, how long it will be held, and who else can get their hands on it! You want someone to be worried about, worry about them!

And the list goes on.

It’s great for headlines and clickbait to pound on Google regarding location data, but they’re on the side of the angels in this debate.

And that’s the truth.

–Lauren–

Google Must End Its Silence About Censored Search in China

Views: 535

It has now been more than a week since public reports began surfacing alleging that Google has been working on a secret project — secret even from the vast majority of Googlers — to bring Chinese government-censored Google search and news back to China. (Background info at: “Google Haters Rejoice at Google’s Reported New Courtship of China” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/03/google-haters-rejoice-at-googles-reported-new-courtship-of-china).

While ever more purported details regarding this alleged effort have been leaking to the public, Google itself has apparently responded to the massive barrage of related inquiries only with the “non-denial denial” that they will not comment on speculation regarding their future plans.

This radio silence has seemingly extended to inside Google as well, where reportedly Google executives have yet to issue a company-wide explanation to the Google workforce, which includes many Googlers who are very concerned and upset about these reports.

With the understanding that it’s midsummer with many persons on vacation, it is still of great concern that Google has gone effectively mute regarding this extremely important and controversial topic. The silence suggests internal management confusion regarding how to deal with this situation. It’s upsetting to Google’s fans, and gives comfort to Google’s enemies.

Google needs to issue a definitive public statement addressing these concerns. Regardless of whether the project actually exists as reports have described — or if those detailed public reports have somehow been false or misleading — Google needs to come clean about what’s actually going on in this context.

Google’s users, employees, and the global community at large deserve no less.

Google, please do the right thing.

–Lauren–

Google Haters Rejoice at Google’s Reported New Courtship of China

Views: 667

UPDATE (August 9, 2018): Google Must End Its Silence About Censored Search in China

– – –

It’s already happening. Within a day of word that Google is reportedly planning to provide Chinese government-dictated censored search results and censored news aggregation inside China, the Google Haters are already salivating at the new ammunition that this could provide Congress to pillory Google and similarly castrate them around the world — for background, please see: “Censored Google Search for China Would Be Both Evil and Dangerous!” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/01/censored-google-search-for-china-would-be-both-evil-and-dangerous).

While Google has not confirmed these reports, the mere prospect of their being correct has already brought the righteous condemnation of human rights advocates and organizations around the globe.

And already, in the discussion forums that I monitor where the Google Haters congregate, I’m seeing language like “Godsend!” – “Miracle!” — “We couldn’t have hoped for anything more!”

It’s obvious why there’s such rejoicing in those evil quarters. By willingly allying themselves with the censorship regimes of the Chinese government that are used to repress and torment the Chinese people, Google would put itself in the position of being perceived as the willing pawn of those repressive Chinese Internet policies that have been growing vastly more intense, fanatical, and encompassing over recent years, especially since the rise of “president for life” Xi Jinping.

Already embroiled in antitrust and content management/censorship controversies here in the U.S., the European Union, and elsewhere, the unforced error of “getting in bed” with the totalitarian Chinese government will provide Google’s political and other enemies a whole new line of attack to question Google’s motives and ethical pronouncements. You can already visualize the Google-hating congressmen saying, “Whose side are you on, Google? Why are you helping to support a Chinese government that massively suppresses its own people and continues to commit hacking attacks against us?” We’ll be hearing the word “hypocritical” numerous times during numerous hearings, you can be sure. 

We can pretty well predict Google’s responses, likely to be much the same as they made back in 2006 during their original attempt at “playing nice” with the Chinese censors, an effort Google abandoned in 2010, after escalating demands from China and escalating Chinese hacking attacks.

Google will assert that providing some services — even censored in deeply repressive ways — is better than nothing. They’ll suggest that the censored services that would be provided would help the Chinese citizenry, despite the fact that the very results being censored, while perhaps relatively small in terms of overall percentages, would likely be the very search results that the Chinese people most need to see to help protect themselves from their dictatorial leaders’ information control and massive human rights abuses. Google will note that they already censor some results in countries like France and Germany (for example, there are German laws relating to Nazi-oriented sites).

But narrow removal of search results in functional democracies is one thing The much wider categories of censorship demanded by the Chinese government — a single-party dictatorship that operates vast secret prison and execution networks — is something else entirely. It’s like comparing a pimple with Mt. Everest. 

And that’s before the Chinese start escalating their demands. More items to censor. Access to users’ identity and other private data. Localization of Google servers on Chinese soil for immediate access by authorities.

Worst of all, if Google is willing to bend over and kowtow to the Chinese dictators in these ways, every other country in the world with politicians unhappy with Google for one reason or another will use this as an example of why Google should provide similar governmental censorship services and user data access to their own regulators and politicians. After all, if you’re willing to do this for one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, why not for every country, everywhere?

As someone with enormous respect for Google and Googlers, I can’t view these reports regarding Google and China — if accurate — as anything short of disastrous. Disastrous for Google. Disastrous for their users. Disastrous for the global community of ordinary users at large, who depend on Google’s search honesty and corporate ethics as foundations of daily life.

Joining with China in providing Chinese government-censored search and news results would provide haters and other evil forces around the planet the very ammunition they’ve been waiting for toward crushing Google, towards putting Google under micromanaged government control, toward ultimately converting Google into an oppressive government propaganda machine.

It could frankly turn out much worse for the world than if Google had never been created at all, 20 years ago.

I’m still hoping that these reports are inaccurate in key respects or in their totality. But even if they are correct, then Google still has time to choose not to go down this dark path, and I would strongly urge them not to move forward with any plans to participate in China’s repressive and dangerous totalitarian censorship regime.

–Lauren–