Some recent Google spam problems

September 24, 2011

With my anti-spam hat on, I'm not a fan of Google. It's not that they're active spammers themselves, it's that their services are not infrequently used to send spam in various ways and Google is famously indifferent to it, or at least apparently indifferent, and has been for some time.

(I've felt for years that there was basically no point in trying to file any sort of anti-spam report with Google because it would just go into a black hole, assuming that they didn't reject it outright.)

Every so often spammers find a new way to exploit some Google property for spam purposes, and I get to be irritated at Google all over again. There have been two particularly noteworthy incidents relatively recently, one from phish spam and one from a spammer for hire. The phish spam issue is due to Google Docs, as opposed to any of Google's mail-sending properties. Google Docs allows you to make forms and then collect replies to them (in a Google Docs spreadsheet, apparently). Oh, and you can evidently supply a significant amount of styling to these forms if you want. You can guess how phish spammers can put this feature to use, especially since one of the perennial problems for phish spammers is hosting the phish form somewhere reliable and then collecting the results. Given that phish spammers continue to do this, I expect that Google Docs is also reliable in not closing them down.

The second and even more irritating recent spam incident is that a 'spam for hire' outfit in the middle east appears to have worked out how to use Google Groups and other Google services to actually host their mail lists and do their spam mailouts. Google evidently allowed them to import a huge mailing list (over 20,000 addresses), did not make any attempt to confirm addresses, and now lets them send plenty of spam to and through it. Of course there is no 'report this mail as spam' link in the messages and I know better than to bother trying to find any abuse contact for Google Groups.

(I know how many addresses it has because the spam mailing list is a public Google Group so you can see its 'subscriber' count if you look it up. Since the spam list they put me on is helpfully called 'total005', I can also make some decent guesses at the existence of other ones.)

Now that one spammer has blazed this trail, I expect that I can look forward to blocking lots of other Google Groups in the future. (I block them on my end, not by using any Google feature. At this point I have no trust in anything Google Groups might offer to keep me from getting spammed.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2012-02-21 06:08:37:

I've been hit with the spam from the same Google group, apparently it's still very much active, and is up to 28K members. It's possible to report the group from its main page.

By cks at 2012-02-21 12:46:08:

I generally don't bother trying 'report abuse' things because they almost never do any good and thus they're just a waste of time. I'm especially unlikely to bother with Google (who have never appeared particularly welcoming to spam reports), and doubly so given all of the ways that Google Groups mailing lists fell down on responsible mailing list management (cf).

This isn't to say that reporting the group as spam might not do some good. However, a better way to deal with the problem on a personal level was pointed out in a comment here; unsubscribing the address that was being spammed does appear to have worked. See the comment there for instructions on how to do it.

Written on 24 September 2011.
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Last modified: Sat Sep 24 00:35:11 2011
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