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Innovation

Bad ethics in the wild: Twitter spamming and site stealing

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
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

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.

spam-twitter-1.png

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 www.dumbemployed.com.

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.

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