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Hitting Comment Spammers and Plagiarists where it Hurts

I’ve decided in the last week or so to take my own fight against Comment Spammers and Content Thieves to the next level.

Every day I find people wasting my time and trying to make a quick buck from my blogs in ways that are either illegal, malicious, morally corrupt or deceptive. Most of them do so using some sort of mainstream Ad network (usually AdSense) and I’ve decided to report each one of them to AdSense using the built in mechanism on each AdSense ad.

Every Adsense Ad has a ‘Ads by Gooooogle’ link on it and if you click that link and look for the ‘Send Google your thoughts on the ads you just saw’ link on the page it takes you to you’ll be able to tell AdSense what you think about the ads.

  • If the site is one that is using comment spam to promote themselves – tell them about it and demand they take action.
  • If the site is one that is stealing your content without giving any attribution – tell them about it and show them where your content is and where the thievery is taking place.

Before Reporting them – before people accuse me of hurting innocent publishers who might not have intended to spam me or take my content I’ll explain what I do before I report people to AdSense. I never immediately do it and like to give people a chance to mend their ways. Here’s my approach:

Comment Spammers – My tolerance for comment spam is very low however I do understand that some people do it innocently enough without realizing either because they just don’t know it’s frowned upon because they are new to blogging or because I’ve misinterpreted their comment as spam. If I see people doing this I delete their comments and shoot them an email politely requesting that they take a look at my comment policy. But if they continue to do it, especially if they do it in an obviously automated and mass way I report them using the above method.

Content Theft – Once again, I know that some people don’t seem to realize what they are doing here, especially when it comes to reproducing RSS feeds. In every case, before I report them to AdSense I attempt to contact these people either through their blog or through their hosting via the Whois information that their blog has. In most cases people are happy to comply and will modify how they use the content or will remove it. If they ignore my approach (I always do it in a way that invites them to journey with me on it) or refuse to comply generally try other measures before reporting them to AdSense (or other advertisers).

My theory is that when you take away the ability for people to make money in this way that you begin to take away their motivation to do so. Most AdSense publishers have multiple sites connected to one account so to lose one can have a pretty significant impact. While I know my efforts are just a drop in the ocean I wonder what would happen if more bloggers fought in this way.

In most cases people comply and reporting to AdSense is a last resort. The threat of such a report seems to work wonders also!

What does AdSense do?

When you report a site in this way the first thing you’ll get back from AdSense (if you do so with your email address) is an automated email saying that they’ve got your email. Generally I then get a followup email a day or two later saying they are looking into the case.

At this point you either get silence, a further email asking for more details and on some occasions a response saying they’re doing something about it. I’ve not had results on every occasion but I do know that some of the sites I’ve complained about are either not around any more (often blogspot blogs) or are without AdSense ads on them. Not all end up like this but some have. Whether it’s my complaint or something else that has caused the result I don’t know – but I’m willing to stand up and have my say.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Nice post Darren, I didn’t realise you could actually report adsense ads.

    btw, have you thought about perhaps turning off comments? … but leave trackbacks on.

    I’m sure you know that Steve Pavlina did so and didn’t see any reduction in traffic.

    … it would help a lot with reducing the admin time needed and comment spam

    cheers
    nathan

  2. Stuart says:

    Nathan – I certainly hope that Darren doesn’t turn off the comments. I understand where he’s coming from with the comment spam but having comments on helps build a sense of community among the people who read Darren’s blog.

    Sometimes I find the comments here rather frustrating but at the same time they do serve a very useful purpose.

  3. Darren Rowse says:

    i won’t be turning off comments on this blog – comments are where the smart people hang out in this blog.

  4. I don’t bother with the sort of comment spammers you’re talking about; as you said, they generally don’t realize that they’re doing anything wrong (the first time) and since the comment spam is rare enough, I generally just ignore it.

    Content theft, on the other hand, is a more serious problem. Every time I have seen this, it has turned out to be an automated blog-and-ping service using software designed specifically for that purpose (e.g. “WordPress Elite”). I don’t bother contacting these people, as they certainly know they’re doing something wrong. I just skip directly to contacting AdSense for them. Though lately I’ve been finding someone beat me to it and the AdSense ads are already gone…

  5. Paulo says:

    I’ve tried to be fairly assiduous about reporting Adsense policy violations for sites which use referrer/weblog spam, but the lack of response or action from Google is a big discouragement.

    (Speaking of spam, also check out Spamhuntress’ entry on the resolution to Michael Pollitt’s guestbook spam issues. The comments include some rather vapid feedback from the spammer himself, which should give you some insight into a spammer’s mode of “thought.”)

  6. Maria Palma says:

    I’ve been noticing some of my content showing up on people’s “blogs” but when I click on the link associated with the content, instead of going to my website, I end up on another page full of Adsense Ads! I was wondering what I could do to combat this because apparently most of these people don’t have a “contact us” or email on the blog so I could tell them to stop…(wonder why!)

    Thanks for sharing this, Darren… I’m going to file my complaints with Google…

  7. I’ve been doing this with spam weblogs for a few months now. No results from Google (that I know of) but at least I’m doing my part.

    I don’t bother to contact them first if it’s obvious spam.

  8. Andy Merrett says:

    Content theft is the big issue. With comment spam I usually just let Akismet / Spam Karma take care of it – it takes longer to report spam like this than just block it, and to be honest it’s bad enough having to read their junk in the spam filter without visiting their site to find out who they are (that is, after all, what they want you to do – I often wonder if comment spammers are actually targeting site owners more these days…)

    Content theft is worth taking more time to deal with, but not significantly more. A polite email to them first, followed up as necessary.

  9. Darren,
    I took the hint, about “blogspot blogs”.And realize that some of mine
    comments was looking like a spam.
    But as said Michael Hampton-”they generaly don’t realize that they’re
    doing anything wrong”. I’m from real estate business and just two months ago start blogging. So if I’ll do something wrong again- just let
    me know.Thanks.

  10. kca says:

    You re too bad Darren!! :O)

    You re too bad Darren!! :O)

    I was thinking about this option… But after thoughts it could be dangerous if somebody decided to turn it against you.
    For you it will not be a problem, but for me or others small little blog, just like mine, it could be a lethal injection.
    You should include in your post that everybody is not “Darren” and does not have some buddy in Google office to check carefully the content of their site.

  11. Greg says:

    Hi Darren, its always good to see someone taking the fight to someone trying to take advantage. But a question, short of regularly searching google for your own posts and discovering them elsewhere is there any easy tips you can offer that might allow people to easily identify when their blogs are being copied and posted elsewhere ?

  12. Darren Rowse says:

    Alexander – as I say – I let people know before doing anything. If your comments (like your one on this thread) have something relevant to say about the topic I don’t mind. If not watch out :-)

    kca – I don’t send my notices to a special buddy in Google. I’m just like everyone else.

    Greg – copyscape is a good tool, as is the one feedburner has inbuilt into its system. It’s also amazing what turns up in technorati and bloglines searches :-)

  13. Andy, that’s why there’s Bad Behaviour – so you don’t have to look at spam. It should be used in conjunction with Akismet or Spam Karma, to cut off spam before it reaches your blog. This becomes especially important when you get big and spammers start really targeting you. On one of my sites, Bad Behaviour blocked over 78 000 attempts in five days. I don’t want to read through all of THAT spam!

    Greg, a great way to catch blog-and-ping blogs swiping your content is a technorati blog search for your own blog. I have mine in an RSS feed so I can see not only who’s linking to me, but who’s swiped my content.

  14. Makes sense. But talking about attribution: who made that picture?

  15. Good job Darren, hurt them where it hurts the most. Preceisely…. I should take a leaf out of your book sooner or later.

    And the first comment was a bad idea, horrible. A weblog without comments is just a log, interactivity is the true purpose of any blog. Hmm…Should write something on this later.

  16. brem says:

    The drawback of me using bad behaviour and akismet is that I don’t see who spams me anymore :P

  17. calvin says:

    and what if the spammers and content thieves don’t use Adsense? and what if they have their Whois Masked?

  18. Not seeing spam is a drawback? :)

  19. Stuart says:

    Darren, I think you’re being too generous. How much of your time do you spend “inviting them to journey with you on it”.

    As others have mentioned comment spammers can largely be dealt with by Akismet and other tools, but content thieves are a different matter entirely. IMO if someody has enough knowledge to set up a blog and reproduce your content from an RSS feed, then it is their responsibility to know what they can and can’t do with it.

    If they steal your content, I’d suggest dropping them an email advising them what they’ve done violates your terms and copy them the report you’ve already sent to Adsense — “we’re sorry, the horse has already bolted, you’ve already been reported, now do something about it”. Any other approach imo is a waste of your valuable time.

  20. Darren Rowse says:

    calvin – most have some advertiser. I’ve contacted more than AdSense (the most common one).

    Stuart – I’m being too generous with some – but the results speak for themselves. I have more luck at threatening them and getting them to remove contact than any other method :-)

  21. Darren Rowse says:

    marco – click the picture and it links to it’s source on flickr

  22. Gary Fugere says:

    Those of us white hat publishers owe each other an obligation to help Google rid itself from the spammers. I try real hard to report violators and have found that Google is very responsive.

    Just think, if each and every one of us reported one new violator per day, we could make their antics very unproductive, Eventually they we’ll move to higher pursuits.

  23. eSearing says:

    Darren said “click the picture and it links to it’s source on flickr”

    [devils advocate ]
    If you look at that flicker member’s other pictures it is obvious he did not take the picture and likely “borrowed” it from somewhere else. If you are not getting your images from stock houses or individuals then you can not be assured you are not violating someones copyright. As someone who writes a digital photography blog you should be more than aware of copyright restrictions and use due dilligence to determine usage of images that are not yours.

    You dilligently fight those who copy your websites, content, and those who violate your copyright. What if others did the same to you? (question for all of us, not just Darren).
    [/devils advocate]

    - This is both a question of Law and Ethics. Legally you may never be prosecuted for use of the image, morally you have to judge yourself.

  24. Jon says:

    Just to play the devils advocate….if I came and comment spammed a site using my competition’s URL…you’d report them to Google?

  25. @ Darren: sorry, I am so stupid sometimes :)

  26. Darren Rowse says:

    sigh – no Jon. I’d look into it and contact your competitor to get their side of it.

  27. maxpower says:

    Hi Darren,

    You scooped me! Grrr, I was working on an article about this very issue and you beat me to the publish button. I guess thats why you make the big bucks. Anyway, two tidbits of info:
    - according to jensense who heard it from matt cutts, use the keyword ‘spamreport’ in the form to tell google what you think to have your issue forwarded tot he right google dept, and;
    - In an email from google, they state, “In the future, to allow us to investigate any issues more efficiently, you can email our specialists directly at [email protected].”

    So there are two methods to report an individual. As a side note, in my experience reporting spam sites to google does get their ads removed.

  28. Jon says:

    Sorry Darren, I wasn’t trying to be a pain.

    It’s important to realize what you’re up against with the spammers. Everything they have is disposable/re-creatable/automated, including their Adsense account…banned from Adsense…form a new corporation and get a new one…no problem. If you’re a fan of Star Trek Generations…they are the Borg.

    Personally I had to abandon my hand coded Smart Money Daily site because I it was being destroyed by comment spam. I realized that all I could do was to find a way to prevent it getting their in the first place. Since moving to WordPress 2.x I’ve had very little problem with comment spam.

  29. Razib Ahmed says:

    Thanks for the nice post and since you first mail a person who is either comment spamming or stealing away your content, I do not see normal and innocent newbie bloggers getting hurt anyway. You have full right to protect your blog as it is one of the most successful blogs in Internet today. Secondly, your success has inspired many bloggers like me to take up blogging as a profession. So, of course, we would like to see that you have trouble free time so that when we reach near you someday (hopefully) we can have some calm atmosphere too. Actually, your war on comment spamming and content theft will make our life much easier and ensure a better future for all of us who are trying to make a living or pay some bills through blogging.
    I wish you all the success in your effort.

  30. james says:

    “It’s important to realize what you’re up against with the spammers. Everything they have is disposable/re-creatable/automated, including their Adsense account…”

    That depends on the spammer. I had trouble with one person who started republishing content from about five good blogs on “his” blog, via an automated RSS scraper. The site’s whois was masked, but I was able to use the “advertise…” link on his AdWords ads to track him down.

    All it took was one polite yet firm email to get him to stop stealing my content. Had that failed, I would have filed a DMCA copyright infringement complaint with Google – not hard at all.

  31. Jon says:

    James, what you ran into was a ‘script kiddy’. A real SE spammer would never make the mistake of scraping a complete article from an RSS feed.

    A very amateur mistake and completely unnecessary for the spammer’s goals. The real spammer just scrapes fragments that will never violate copyright. He doesn’t care about quality content, only keyword density so no need to take the risk of grabbing complete articles.

  32. Since I got aggressive several months ago with the spambloggers, they’ve already morphed. I complained enough to Google that most of the homegrown spamblogs are gone.
    http://gregwhoffman.blogspot.com/2006/02/great-spamblog-trademark-fight.html

    Now, I’m stuck with spamblogs that look like search engines and Google is actually indexing them. These fake search engine results are showing up under our trademark names.

    It’s very frustrating.

  33. James says:

    I’m pretty new to blogging and have a question on the plagiarism issue. If you find a good post on someone’s blog and would like to put part of it on your blog with a link to their blog, is this acceptable or frowned upon? What if you put their part in quotes? It seems like it would be ok to put your own introduction, and then perhaps an excerpt from their article in quotes with a link to their blog post. Any thoughts on this matter?

  34. Speaking of using someone else’s content -and I don’t want to distress you or suggest anything untoward- but the image of the boxer is copyrighted material. It’s a demotivational poster off of despair.com. I don’t know where you found it but it didn’t belong to whomever you got it from. I’m surprised nobody noticed it. You can find it here:
    http://despair.com/ag24x30prin.html

  35. Darren Rowse says:

    James – the key if you’re using someone elses content is to always use an attribution link to show where you got it and to acknowledge that you’re not the author.

    It’s also important to only use a part of the content (ie a quote) unless you have permission to do otherwise.

    Kathleen – thanks for that – I’m going to get rid of the picture – it seems to be causing more trouble than it’s worth :-)

  36. Simone says:

    Good post, thanks!

    I have just come across someone linking to me, on ‘Blog Mall’
    http://blogmall.net/blogs/wheelbarrow/8925/
    They’ve not used the whole post, and have linked to the original post, but I still think it’s weird, and don’t like it!
    Is there anything I can do about it?
    It hasn’t got any adsense, and only a couple of what look like advertising links in the header. No email address or anything about who they are.
    Is this what we call a ‘spamblog’?? It looks like it!

    Thanks,

    Simone

  37. Greg says:

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Darren has written a post entitled “Hitting Comment Spammers and Plagiarists where it hurts” in which he outlines how he deals with the timewasters and thieves who clutter his blogs with spam, steal and republish his content, and generally irritate. [...]

  2. [...] So its somewhat ironic i guess that ten minutes later i am reading a post by this post by Darren Rowse of Problogger about him taking his fight against comment spammers and plagiarists to the next level. So i went back to the comment spam and visited the website it linked to discover amoungst other content Adsense advertisements on the site. Here is a good suggestion from Darren’s post: [...]

  3. [...] Hurting Comment SpammersEvery Adsense Ad has a ‘Ads by Gooooogle’ link on it and if you click that link and look for the ‘Send Google your thoughts on the ads you just saw’ link on the page it takes you to you’ll be able to tell AdSense what you think about the ads Though this might not be the mighty deterrant we are looking for, if every blogger made it a point to report one spammer every day, we could take away some of their revenue. How many times in the recent past have you clicked on a link from a comment thinking it was benign and was faced with a link farm of some kind. I wish in all those cases I would have done what Darren suggests. Anyone know of a Greasemonkey script that can automate the process of reporting?   [...]

  4. [...] Last week I got two spams that seaped through comments on problogger. I sent Darren a short reply sharing my disappointment that these “undesirables” slipped through his filters. Today, I see Darren has written about hitting comment spammers and plagiarists where it hurts by reporting the ones that use Adsense: Every day I find people wasting my time and trying to make a quick buck from my blogs in ways that are either illegal, malicious, morally corrupt or deceptive. Most of them do so using some sort of mainstream Ad network (usually AdSense) and I’ve decided to report each one of them to AdSense using the built in mechanism on each AdSense ad. [...]

  5. [...] I first read about this on Darren’s site, ProBlogger, where he suggested it. This morning I read it again at Weblog Tools Collection…. and it suddenly clicked. [...]

  6. [...] http://weblogtoolscollection.com/archives/2006/05/15/hurting-comment-spammers/ links to http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/05/15/hitting-comment-spammers-and-plagiarists-where-it-hurts/, where the author discusses reporting spammers to AdSense. Again, it’s about time one of larger 2.0 advocates starts injecting a worthwhile idea in the hive. [...]

  7. [...] Un excellente idée ici : Hitting Comment Spammers and Plagiarists where it Hurts: ProBlogger Blog Tips I’ve decided in the last week or so to take my own fight against Comment Spammers and Content Thieves to the next level. Every day I find people wasting my time and trying to make a quick buck from my blogs in ways that are either illegal, malicious, morally corrupt or deceptive. Most of them do so using some sort of mainstream Ad network (usually AdSense) and I’ve decided to report each one of them to AdSense using the built in mechanism on each AdSense ad. [...]

  8. [...] The first step in fighting SPAM is to use something like akismet or bad behavior, to prevent that spam ever sees different eyes than the admin ones. Another second step was started by Darren Rowse. The step works in the following way: You get spam and they spam for their site and they have on their site something like Adsense or so, you’re going to report it to the Advertise-program that this site is using Spamming to create traffic. Most of them will use AdSense to report this page you can click Ads by Goooogle then you click feeedback of what you just saw and report that this site spams blog or what else. If they take down the account the spamming is loosing money . I’m going to join this fight against Spammer, join Darren, me and many other bloggers to fight the spam. More for informations look at Darren Rowses Blog entry. Technorati-tags: Darren Rowse, SPAM, blog [...]