The Independent’s front page asks (a bit rhetorically) today: “This man set up an internet poker site 7 years ago. Yesterday it emerged that he has made £750m. So what about the losers?”
I’ll tell you about the losers. It’s sites like this blog, and every other blog out there, who get pounded with poker spam every minute of every day, aiming to attract people who want to lose their money online because they don’t have enough to do in their lives. I’d really like these people to sod the hell off and just play poker, if that’s what they want to do, and leave the rest of us the hell alone. Nothing in particular against poker, I suppose. More against the tactics used to draw people to it.
You want examples? The UK climbing site that I help out at has huge databases of climbing walls and crags around the country. It’s really special: nowhere else can you type in your postcode and find out what the nearest crag is, and what the weather will be like there for the next five days.
We also allow people to leave comments about crags and climbing walls. It’s buried quite deep in the site – you have to look at a wall, and then click a button, but the comment will appear.
But the spammers will find anything, eventually. The other day we got three comment entries to three different crags added from “online poker”. It was just a rat’s nests of online poker/texas hold’em/etc links. But as every comment added goes through me (although it appears on the site straight away), we spotted it.
“Act now,” I told the tech guy. “This is the start of a big attack.”
Happily, he acted quick, and put in blocks against certain words and HTML links. Just in time: last night the site got attacked. And repelled the attack.
What’s so annoying about this is the reality of it. Here’s what Netaloid has to say, in a closely-researched piece about comment spamming, following the money:
More than 90% of the comment and referral-log spam lobbed at Netaloid comes from a single spam operation. Conversations with other bloggers suggests that this operator is also responsible for at least a major chunk of the spam that appears on many other Word Press and Moveable Type blogs.
→ This spammer is a member of the affiliate marketing program for 13 online casinos. He makes his money by sending as many potential customers as possible to the casino sites. Each time a person visits one of the spammer’s web sites, follows a link to one of the casinos and then spends money gambling there, the casinos use a tracking method to credit the spammer for finding the new customer. The tracker can be observed in the page code on some of the spammer’s sites. (And yes, Netaloid has copies).
Some casinos pay affiliates 25% or more of the money spent at their operations by new customers the affiliate brings in. This is not insignificant pocket change; industry watchers estimate more than 1.8 million “real money” players are active online each day, and increasing in numbers by about 10% per month. Daily wagers reportedly top $178 million.
→ Our spammer typically registers new domain names once or twice a month to put in play as part of his operation. At first, he fills the index page of the new domain with stilted-sounding text containing hundreds of repetitive key words like Texas hold-em. Identical pages show up with titles such as internet-poker proceeding the new spamdomain.com. The spammer then attempts to fill blogs’ comment areas and referral logs with links to this spamdomain.
→ Shortly thereafter, the spammer includes a script on the spamdomain’s index page that would lead a visitor to believe that the site has been shut down for abusing the site host’s terms of service. However, the site still is active. By typing “poker.spamsite.com” into one’s browser (and substituting the real domain name for spamsite, of course) one finds oneself on a page describing and linking directly to 13 online casinos.
So who is this Major Spammer? Netaloid can’t ascertain that, at least not yet. Like most pro spam operators, this one makes use of the thousands of readily available misconfigured servers that act as open proxies on the Internet.
However (and this could be an important factoid), the online casinos do know the spammer’s identity. They may not know (or likely will pretend real hard not to know) that he’s a spammer by trade, but they do know his name and contact information. After all, they’re paying him regular affiliate marketing fees. The same goes for the spammer’s web host, and his registrar.
This is why, when PR people call me up and invite me to come and meet so-and-so from an online betting or online poker or online whatever firm, I have to resist the urge to punch them in the nose when or if I come face-to-face with them. The economies that these people are encouraging to develop online are destructive of everything around them. They are the Indonesian forest loggers of the internet. I particularly wish they’d stop using the affiliate scheme. I can see the attraction for them. However, the disaffiliation I feel for online gaming in all its forms must be worth something. Perhaps in their next life they’ll be trees in an Indonesian forest, and see people advancing on them with chainsaws. Now that would be karma.
If, that is, there are any forests left to log by then.
PS: don’t use the word “poker” in any comments you want to make. Nor clever versions of it such as p0ker. The reason is left as an exercise for the reader…