Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

Summary: Two of the main things that gripe me are new sites which rip off the idea from a more popular one, and Twitter spamming with sneaky, human-like messages. I thought it was about time to name and shame. Article


When Twitter is used as a marketing tool to either promote a cause, a post within a website or a leading brand, it can reach far more people provided you have something to truly offer the recipients. However, many are abusing the API to mass-tweet dishonest but seemingly genuine messages to the Twittersphere.

Through ordinary day-to-day use of my Twitter account, this evening I was tweeted with a message and a link which put me through to a FMyLife-type website. By investigating the tweets sent out by this user, I was made aware that this account was not only serving tweets through the API, but that all of the messages were very similar and providing a shortened URL to the same page.

The rise in spam has increased proportionally with the popularity of the site, although things are slowly improving. The average Twitter user may not notice this, but two things stuck out to me: the shortened URL had some strange extension (which now I realise allows the link creator to monitor and track clicks), and the client sending the tweet was the API.

My suspicions were aroused.

Not only was I furious at the fact someone had the audacity to promote a website in this way, but to find out what the website actually was, I was utterly livid. They had copied the exact identical concept from the ever-growing popular website, FMyLife, with the exception of a few tweaks and a conflicting colour scheme.

While I don't even want to give them the satisfaction of a direct link back, the website is

As with many popular websites, the format can often be adapted in a way - the wiki is a good example. But taking a website and shamelessly ripping it off, but taking in a different type of user inputted content is plain unethical.

Sites like these shouldn't exist. The Twitter API shouldn't be open to abuse like this. What annoys me the most is that I cannot see for the life of me how this rip-off website is even making money. There isn't an advertisement in sight.

The problem with the API is the genuine side of business. Even here at ZDNet, we publish every hour or so a bulk of links which people can choose to follow. This maintains our profile on a very social and popular area of the web, but is used in a legitimate way.

Restricting the API to reduce spam messages simply wouldn't work, as genuine and non-genuine API users perform the same actions internally; only the output - the tweets - are different.

Should Twitter tighten up the API controls to restrict spamming in this way? With online web publishing standards being one side to supporting the web, should their be a global ethics policy for this sort of behaviour? Leave a comment.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser, Software Development

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  • Interesting...

    ...a guy who has no problem violating copyrights complaining about a lack of ethics.

    Carl Rapson
  • SPAM on Twitter!!! Say it isn't so!!

    Why is this worthy of a ZDNET blog entry. Is your next entry going to be about how you hate to get those EMail's that say "You've Won $15,000,000" or "I saw this and thought of you" with links to get viagra from Canada. These scams are as old as the web. Why are you suprised that migrated to twitter.
    • ....and

      And why the heck would anyone click on a link from an unsolicited / unknown source? This is the twit FAIL. If I cannot ascertain the legitimacy of a URL before clicking on it, which is essentially every tiny URL, then good bye. We are smarter with email, so why do we trust links sent to us from Twitter?

      Prediction: Twitter will be a footnote in 2 or 3 years, or will have to morph into something completely different to be secure.
      • But surely that would...

        Entirely negate the point in having shortened URL's. You cannot ever be certain that a link will go to the place it suggested - what is written might go to a different link, and server side scripts which look legitimate could forward you to somewhere entirely different.
  • Why the outrage?

    Geez, what's up with you? All mass communication media eventually are commercialized. This includes anything on the web (email, myspace, facebook, twitter). The inherent problem is the url shortening technology that blinds (to the end user) the destination. If you want to be constructive, why don't you develop a twitter spam filter that would validate the links. Otherwise, get used to the idea that twitter is just another advertising medium.
  • RE: Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

    How about a Spam Complaints Voting button.
    Twitter admins can set the threshold which if exceeded, freezes the originating Twitter account,.............unless some poor innocent is hosting a trojan!.........oops!.........who cares, freeze his ass anyway, he should have kept his security up to date.
  • Someone who actively promotes ....

    ... downloading copyrighted materials over P2P has a lot to learn about ethics. Why is it more wrong for someone to spam you then it is for you to download other peoples work without paying?
  • I always wonder what sort of fool uses Twitter.

    No one with a real life would be my guess.
  • Have you looked to the right on ZDNet...?

    ZDNet seems to be doing some shady ads too - look to the right of the replies, and there is a series of rotating ads such as the classic "Congratulations!! You have won our daily prize in Unknown!!", or the fun mobile device "IQ Quiz" that slaps a deceiving monthly subscription charge on your cell phone bill! --SIGH--, even ZDNet needs to make a shady buck! All mixed in among the ads for IBM and SAP....
    • RE: Have you looked to the right on ZDNET?

      [b]I am looking to the right, and do not see anything.[/b]

      OH, I know why, it must be that [u]Ad Blocker Plus[/u] addon for Firefox. Now that I have popped up the 'blocked items, let me see what I am missing. These are the filters that have blocked things from being downloaded:*
      http://adlog/* (lots of those)*/Ads/*

      These filters have hidden things through CSS:


      Shame on me for stopping those advertisers from throwing their visual [b]noise[/b] at me.

      [b]Hint: [u]NOT[/u][/b]

      • To be fair, I have the same...

        Any adverts - even on the site I write on - annoy me. But adverts keep the Internet free...
        • There is a fine line

          There is a fine line between a genuine advert as with the case of the
          'piggy banks' regarding virtualisation by Microsoft, and those who are
          blatent lying. You at ZDNet could easily refuse to accept advertising from
          such organisations who make false advertisements, just as a Christian
          website will refuse to allow advertisements from organisations peddling
          alcohol or gambling.
      • Have you looked to the right on ZDNET?

        bfilipiak you missed a couple of parasites; About:blank,, I have long complained and confronted several of the so-called information gathering sites. This is a quote form Sorin Brabete with ?Those sites are all world renowned, well established legitimate advertising networks.? Somehow, I think if someone was gathering this same information on his school age daughter, he might feel different. The only reason this is legal, people are lazy and self-absorbed with no regards for their privacy.
  • Just "unfollow" the spammer [nt]

    • Although I have no use for Twitter,

      trying to unfollow every spammer is like trying to 'blacklist' everyone that sends me spam e-mail. You can take that approcah, but it's a never-ending battle. Spammers change names, addresses, and accounts on a regular basis, some as frequently as after each set of transmissions.
  • RE: Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

    I recently signed up for a Twitter account to explore the possible uses for legitimate business puposes. I'm in IT Professional Services and am always looking for nitch skill sets for my clients. After browsing the Twitterverse and seeing the white noice, I'm still not sure of it's promise of a viable business communication outlet, but the amount of Spam lends me to believe that any posts I do will simply be viewed as another worthless spam post. The jury's still out on how/if I utilize it on a regular basis, but it would certainly help if it wasn't a tool that was abused by the masses.
  • I'll bet the lack of ads on the site...

    will be remedied when they get enough hits to jack-up their site ranking on Google. Then the advertisers will come knocking - and that may be their entire business plan!
    • Hey Wait!!

      That's a good idea. I'm going to remember that when I start my on-line business...
  • RE: Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

    This page has been trojaned. McAfee says this trojan is detected when I load this page:

    About this Trojan
    Detected: JS/Exploit-Packed.c.gen (Trojan)
    Location: C:\Users\xxxxxx\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Low\Content.IE5\OIIOVX2C\polls-js-packed[1].js

    Trojans appear as legitimate programs but can damage valuable files, disrupt performance, and allow unauthorized access to your computer.
    • I saw a lot of that yesterday on ZDNet's sister site

      TechRepublic had several problems with that yesterday. I know the PTBs over there and who to report it to. I don't hang out here much and don't know the PTBs, but I suggest you report the problem directly to them.