Sep 052008
 

I use Akismet to filter my spam, and I have to say it does a pretty thorough job.  I hardly ever get an offer of free Viagra, Cialis or Phentermine, and almost nobody leaves a comment saying The Regard! The Excellent forum! Thank you fucking dogs!

So all in all I find it good.

But in the last week or so, Akismet has started to treat two of my regular correspondents as spammers, even though they are most certainly not.  One is Dan Sullivan, a local political blogger, and the other is a longstanding acquaintance of mine, The Nut.

Now, if I found myself on Akismet’s list of spammers I would like to know three things.

How did I get there?

How can I get myself off the list?

Where can I appeal if Akismet decides not to remove me from the list?

Spam filters such as Akismet are extremely useful tools that save people like me having to wade through hundreds of shit spam comments every day, but they have another side.  It seems to me that such filters also have the potential to silence people, to sentence them to exile without the benefit of a trial.

Therefore, it seems to me that legitimate bloggers, like Dan, and like the Nut, can be silenced on a whim, without recourse to any explanation or any appeal.  Your jailer is also your judge when you find yourself in cyber-Guantanamo.

Now, perhaps I’m wrong and perhaps there is some independent arbitrator I could appeal to if somebody decided wrongly that I should be on a spam list.  I hope so, because otherwise it would be a simple matter for companies like Akismet to silence anyone they didn’t like, and that would be very sinister indeed.

______________

UPDATE

I’m grateful to Primal Sneeze for pointing out that Akismet is not a company but a single person.  This information makes me even more uncomfortable.

  18 Responses to “Spam Filters: The Guantanamo of the Internet?”

Comments (18)
  1.  

    Bock, I had a similiar problem until I changed to a T -Mobile wireless dongle and re-routed it through my son-in-law’s office in the Midlands down in England. Not only does it provide me with a ‘floating’ IP address, but also filters and informs me of hackers and spammers. To date it has stopped ‘shutting out’ or confusing regular commenters with the usual deritus found on line.

  2.  

    Talk to Matt Mullenweg – he’s not a “company”. If Akismet is dropping comments from known ok-folks into spam even though you’ve “unspammed” them before then he’s the man to contact. He wrote Akismet.

  3.  

    So are you saying that one man has the power to decide who gets blacklisted?

  4.  

    No. But the algorithm he wrote does.

    That said, the algorithm is designed such that it learns when you correct an error, i.e. clicking “not spam”, and doesn’t make the same mistake again.

    If it keeps blocking certain genuine commenters then there is a fault/bug and that should be reported. Use the form at the Akismet site – it will end up in Matt’s inbox.

    ps. The comments that are incorrectly flagged as spam on my site are always ones with 3 or more hyperlinks. I could up this to 4 or higher (in WP Admin > Settings > Discussion) but I find any value higher than 3 causes more real spam to slip past.

  5.  

    I wouldn’t have any concerns about the algorithm.

    What I’m wondering is what happens after you write to Matt.

    Is his word final?

  6.  

    I wonder can I respond? Yep, I seem to off the blacklist now. A strange few days. I’ll have to post my thoughts on the hows and whys of this type of filter. After all, something that catches 99% of known germs is a good thing but if it kills kittens too then it’s not so great.

  7.  

    Yes. He “owns” the product. It is one of the projects carried out by his company, Automattic. (Others are WordPress and Gravatar).

    Folks getting mistakenly flagged as spammers can happen for a number of reasons. Contacting Matt/Akismet using the above form gets it corrected. Obviously, if it is not reported he/they won’t be aware something needs fixing.

    Of course, if you really don’t like Akismet there are other blockers you could use, such as Defensio, but I personally believe Akismet to be the best currently available.

  8.  

    Spam Sullivan.

  9.  

    I have nothing against Akismet. I’m just wondering what checks and balances exist. If Matt decides someone is a spammer, is that the end of them?

  10.  

    I used the contact form on the page and at the 2nd attempt after a few days I appear to have been removed from the blacklist, the question it now raises in my mind though is why was my blog or IP added to it.
    In any accountable system, much like version control, if someone is providing the system with bad info with the deliberate intent wouldn’t it make sense that they would lose their privileges to make tag people as spam? I have strong suspicions as to who it was that tagged me as spam, and it’s someone whose blog I’ve not even attempted to comment on in 8 months because they altered my comments and then blanked them out so as to present their side and their side alone of an argument. They’ve got both the motive and the opportunity to have sought to stop me from commenting on the blogs of others too. Of course, the only way to know for sure is if akismet allows people to know who it was that tags them in order to censor them. At present it seems the system is too open to being gamed by people higher up.

  11.  

    my head hurts reading this…

    god be with the days of controlling yer spam by not letting the slippery stuff outta the tin in the first place…

  12.  

    Spam is also popular apparently with peoples who at one time ate human flesh.

  13.  

    Hi, I work with the team at Six Apart that makes TypePad AntiSpam, which is another great option for blocking spam on your blog, but it’s free (no matter what you do with your blog, unlike Akismet) and open source. One of the reasons we made the engine open source was so that, if people wnat to run their own services and be more transparent about their criteria, they’d have that option. It’s completely compatible with the Akismet interface, so you can use it instead as a replacement and see if you get better results — some of the biggest WordPress blogs around use it and say it produces fewer false positives.

    You can check it out for free at antispam.typepad.com. (And just for background — while Matt is definitely an individual person, Akismet is run by Automattic, which is a corporation with $30 million in funding, which charges companies for the use of Akismet and they say they provide support in exchange for doing so, in addition to not imposing any volume limits on comments. In contrast, TypePad AntiSpam is free regardless of what you do with your blog or how many comments you get.)

  14.  

    It would appear that bocktherobber.com has made it onto the corporate firewall filter list. I haven’t been able to access it at work for a while now.
    Must be all the bad language……

  15.  

    Of course, it depends what you mean by “bad”.

  16.  

    This is really getting on my nerves now. I was told it would sort itself out but after 5 days i am still being sent to the spam folder.

    I’ve realised that it’s my URL that seems to be doing the damage – but this has never happened before. Grr!

  17.  

    Could it be a fatwa against blogs associated with Limerick? As Bock has noted part of the problem is no one knows who does the tagging, they could have sensible reasons, they could have malicious ones, the one being tagged is none the wiser after the fact. And there is nothing to prevent them doing it again from what I can see.

  18.  

    Among others, Thriftcriminal recently hit the spam bucket on my system (sorry Thrifty). Have de-spammed him now, we’ll see whether Askimet ‘learns’ from that.

    Meanwhile, I have some V|@GR@ for $ale.

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