It used to be that spam was something that clogged our inboxes. And email was just part of how we lived our lives. But as the web has gone from the edge of our world to the electronic center of how we live, spammers have taken up new evil ways clog not just our inboxes, but our lives.
Facebook spam is the most uncomfortable, because it forces you to rack your brain to make sure you don't know anyone named Burt Smith. Of course, your first reaction is almost always right -- but unlike the Nigerian prince who wants to send you his fortune after you wire him a hundred dollars, Facebook spam makes you have to think. What if this friend request is from someone from a long time ago, or a person you met at a conference or someone you're mildly acquainted with? Because responding to Facebook spam requires brainpower, it is truly disruptive.
Twitter spam makes me ultra-angry. Someone who's "just found a really funny picture of me" and sent me a link. Again, I need to report them as a spammer, block them, and sadly miss the 'funny picture' that never existed. Oh well. This fast growing network of tweets and DM's is rapidly full of danger and spam -- and that really sucks.
Craigslist spam is both personal -- and destructive. When you're looking to sell a piece of electronics in your neighborhood, the inevitable request to pay your asking price plus 'a bit extra' so you can ship the item to a son who's in the army overseas is so clearly crap. Yet, every time I post on Craigslist, I get a few of these. I want to respond: "You are a Spammer and you suck," but that would reveal my email address, and therefore make me vulnerable. But Craigslist scammers tear at the fabric of trust that makes Craigslist work -- with folks asking for phone numbers, and I being resistant to share my number with folks I don't know. Again, the crooks and con artists make the digital world a bit more distrustful.
And then in email there's the growing number of spammers who send endless requests to 'print your company's business cards' or other come-ons that don't offer any unsubscribe or response email. I click 'spam' and work to train my spam filter, but again, it's little bursts that make the web less safe, less like a neighborhood, and more like a dangerous alley late at night. The result, I tense up as walk down the digital street -- on alert rather than open to engagement and new ideas.
It's digital pollution and its impact can't be overstated.
But, happily help is on the way. Unsubscribe.com is a tiny piece of free software that centralizes and automates the unsubscribe function -- and crowd-sources information about where spam is coming from and how to stop it.
"Unsubscribe.com puts the power back in your hands. With our software we give you the ability to control who and what information companies can access from your online identity and what email can make it into your inbox. Our tools provide you access to simply remove unwanted or malicious applications and connections from social networks, allowing you to also notify your friends and family of potential threats to their information as well."
UnSubscribe has a team that monitors social networks -- analyzing apps and provides reporting on threats that varies subscriptions might pose. By monitoring social networks, they're able to see when an app is trying to connect to your profile, altering your information they may want to gather. They track developer reputations, and provide recommendations as to what apps are a potential threat.
The idea that we can -- together -- report spam and use services like Unsubscribe.com to stop malicious software as a group rather than one inbox at a time is the light at the end of the tunnel. And the idea of crowd-sourcing anti-spam is taking hold. Yaron Samid has a cool startup called Bill Guard that reviews credit card transactions looking for minor charges from known rip-offs and cons, and allows users to report potential scams. They call it 'anti-virus' for your credit card.
So, the good news is that there are smart folks looking to fight back against spam. But the bad news is the number of places where spam can raise its ugly head is on the rise. Tumblr spam? FourSquare Spam? LinkedIn Spam? They're all places where people hang out -- so the bad guys are there too.
What can we do? Well, to begin with -- we need to recognize that the open web isn't something that is safe unless we protect it. And secondly -- don't let spammy practices creep into your daily life. Social networks are meant to be social -- so let's work together to keep them that way.
Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/magnify