Spam was nearly dead, then it became an essential tool for crime and came roaring back

In the early 2000s, a mix of legislative action, vigorous prosecution and advanced countermeasures looked set to kill spam: the terrible economics of mass-scale marketing could easily be disrupted by even moderately effective curbs.

But the years since have seen a massive spike in spam, thanks to newly profitable avenues for spammers: spam has become the prime vehicle for initiative frauds (much more lucrative than mere marketing) and this has sparked enormous investment in spam techniques, including systems for harvesting, aggregating and sharing databases of potential victims, whose potential returns have made hack-attacks on websites and other services economically viable.

The early spam wars were built around the idea of reducing the complexity of online ecosystems by creating chokepoints, like blacklists of untrusted mailservers, so that the use of the internet could be made contingent on the approval of self-appointed "good guys" who would keep it spam-free.

It is true that all complex ecosystems ecosystems have parasites, but even the radically denuded walled gardens have spam problems, thanks to the favorable economics that crime confers upon spam. So Facebook — the gold standard in autocratic walled gardens — is riddled with spam, even though the company has the unilateral ability to prohibit anyone from communicating, at whatever granularity it wants.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too — TechCrunch writer Jordan Crook wrote in April about how she idly downloaded an app called Gather that promptly spammed everyone in her contact list. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls. "There is no recourse for me," lamented Troy Doliner, a student in Boston who gets robocalls every day. "I am harassed by a faceless entity that I cannot track down."

Spam is Back [Jon Christian/The Outline]

(via 4 Short Links)