«  Amazon's new book reader destined to fail Main Explaining Google's role in Trackback and Comment Spam  »

I read this on CogDogBlog:

It took less than 5 hours after a recent blog post for this first link farm spam trackback to arrive.

As bad as that is, the give credit to someone else or am I really known as "Kick-Fiend"?

Hello Google! Your Page Rank incentive is killing us bloggers! Do Something!

And the problem is Google. Sure, "Do No Evil" is a snappy tag line, but in terms of providing the incentive for link spammers that clog us bloggers along every reach of the long tail- Google sits idly by, collecting Adsense $ and does nothing.

With all that incredible brain power that can develop cool apps and services, is it possible they cannot throw a few engineers at the problem and put some better logic into search that would punish link spammers?

So perhaps that does not qualify as "evil" but it is not "good".

I am ready for some public action, are you? As a bloger, do you enjoy filtering out spam from your blog? Does it consume any of your time dealing with unwanted, unconnected comments/trackback spam that hit your blog?

Google- We have a Problem.

This blog just recently suffered a spate of comment spam. And my other blog was so overrun by comment and trackback spam a few years ago that I considered just trashing it all. But I, like others, resorted to quick-fix technological interventions. So far, so good. It's not perfect. And it was a major pain. But it's all I had at my disposal.

The problem with blog-by-blog (or generally, case-by-case) technological measures is that they do nothing to mitigate the larger, collective problem of Web pollution. Such Web pollution not only messes up many servers and blogs and costs too many hours of cleansing labor. It also corrupts and warps the PageRank results that Google relies on to deliver dependable and trustworthy (at least useful) search result.

So Google has an incentive to do something about the problem. But does it have an equally powerful incentive NOT to do something about it? I suspect that Google has a stronger incentive to limit comment and trackback spam. But it's moves so far have consisted of those case-by-case technologies.

These filters and registration systems (available for Google's product: Blogger) are a great example of what we get when we rely on new technologies to correct for the errors and excesses the previous technologies generated. It's a result of an ideology that I call "technofundamentalism."

In this case, it's like asking everyone to use Kevlar vests to stop errant bullets because preventing a shower of bullets in the first place would be too inconvenient for someone's "business model." Individual responses to collective problems do not solve the problems.

Perhaps a better example than bullets is free speech. Let's pretend that we live in a country in which free speech is generally restricted. Think China, for instance. In this country, some elites have free speech. Or, rather, they have either the resources, power, or technology to protect their own speech from state censorship. Let's say they use proxy servers, strong encryption, and/or bribe government officials to let them get away with stuff like promoting religion or democracy. In this case, you could say that censorship is not a problem. After all, those truly motivated have market-based and technological resources to "route around" state censorship. Fair enough.

But that's bad faith. Just because a handful of elites may write and read freely does not mean that the society at large does not suffer from the widespread restrictions on speech that have strong effects on those without resources.

What does this have to do with spam? Well, individual technological measures solve the problem for my two blogs. And maybe they solve it for thousands more. But for how many non-savvy bloggers did comment or trackback spam generate too high a cost to continue the practice? Thousands? Millions? We will never know.

We do know that it's a general, collective problem on the Web. And its costs affect us in ways that vary from increased server and bandwidth costs to lost labor hours to the general chilling effect on frustrated bloggers. As the Web continues to be a Hobbesian world, we all should strive for better modes of governance. We all pay the price, after all.

So I don't expect Google alone to jump up and solve this problem any time soon -- although I would not be surprised to hear that Google has some really smart people working on just this problem. Nor do I think it's Google's responsibility, necessarily (although I am willing to be convinced that it is). It's everyone's problem.

This is an interesting case in which to raise the question: Is Google becoming the Web? If so, Google has a responsibility to address this and many other general Web issues. And perhaps we should invoke state power to require it to. If it is not, then Google has no such responsibility and we should generally leave hands off.



Comments (2)

Hi Siva,
I think the current problem of combating pingback and trackback spam is technically complex, but a problem that Google helped create. A few years ago Google, Yahoo and some others worked together to create the Nofollow html attribute to fight comment spam. With this, blogs 'voluntarily' (i.e. by default) excluded links in comments from being indexed by search engine crawlers.

This may have made comment spam less attractive (though my blog's spam filter disagrees), but it also displaced the problem: the trackbacks from pingback spam are generally not indexed, so their effect on Google's index and ranking is minimal.

In other words, the current technical problem can be traced back (at least in part) to a previous technical solution, something 'technofundamentalism' may have trouble admitting.

(I wrote about some of this here.)

Shower of bullets is a bit overdrawn, but delightful, it is more like trying running a society without public health.

I've written about this question a bit, for example here.

The end-to-end principle is over valued.

Post a comment

We had to crank up the spam filter so it may take a little while to appear. Thanks.

A book in progress by

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan

This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

» Send links, questions and ideas:
siva [at] googlizationofeverything [dot] com

» To reach me for a press query, please write to SIVAMEDIA ut POBOX dut COM

» To reach me for a speaking invitation, please write to SIVASPEAK ut POBOX dut COM

» Visit my main blog: SIVACRACY.NET

» More about me


Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

About this Book (16 posts)

Other books by Siva:


Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

Copyrights and copywrongs cover

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


  • Sivacracy.net
  • if:book
RSS Feed icon  RSS Feed

Powered by Movable Type 3.35