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Stopping Spam in the Era of Social Networks

Stopping Spam in the Era of Social Networks

The rise of sites like Facebook and MySpace has brought surprising challenges for those who want to share their personal information with friends and colleagues. While these sites take great pains to make sure their users are all real humans, it is perhaps unsurprising that spammers have found ways to harness these sites and cause problems for unsuspecting users.

In the past five years, the amount of email spam worldwide has increased by nearly five times. During the same time span, in spite of efforts to enact strong do-not-call list legislation in most countries, those same spammers are harvesting users’ private information in order to make phone calls — frequently to cellphones — advertising unwanted products and services.

Many services exist to identify and block email spam. Bad emails are increasingly hard to identify because spammers have improved techniques aimed at bypassing filters. Still, collaborative filtering, where users across the Internet identify which emails are spam, is an effective tool for removing spam from most people’s inboxes. So, the impact of harvesting personal details from social-networking sites is much less pronounced that it otherwise would be for email.

A different situation exists for those with cellphones and landlines which might receive unsolicited telemarketer phone calls. These calls are almost never invited, and in many cases the recipient has registered with the appropriate do-not-call list to prevent such a call from even coming in.

While many social networks do not allow users to provide phone numbers, with the rise of mobile-phone usage for social networking via SMS, such services are becoming more common. Alongside them, spam text messages and actual phone calls have doubled in frequency in the past five years.

Luckily, there exist services like collaborative email spam filters for telephone spammers. By sharing information based on what the caller said, and the actual phone number the person called from, online users are fighting back to block these calls. One of the most successful of such sites is Telemarketer Catcher, a free social network where users can exchange their experiences with solicitors and spam callers.

Dean Vesuvio writes on telephony-related topics, with specific emphasis on conference calling and telemarketing. He recently discovered the new area of phone-solicitor blocking, and TelemarketerCatcher.com in particular.

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