Posts Tagged ‘spam’

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet Excerpt, Part 2

July 27, 2018

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet Fascinating discussion of #LitSpam: how the #spam arms race led to the development of Bayesian filters & then, in response, a bizarre mash-up of free literary texts meant to evade them


“Let us return to Turing, briefly, and introduce the fascinating Imitation Game, before we leave litspam and the world of
robot-read/writable text. The idea of a quantifiable, machine-mediated method of describing quali- ties of human affect recurs in the literature of a variety of fields, including criminology, psychology, artificial intelligence, and computer science. Its applications often provide insight into the criteria by which different human states are determined—as described, for example, in Ken Alder’s fascinating work on polygraphs, or in the still understudied history of the “fruit machine,” ….is the so-called Turing Test. The goal of Turing’s 1950 thought experiment (which bears repeating, as it’s widely
misunderstood today) was to “replace the question [of ‘Can machines think?’] by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.” Turing considered the question of machines “thinking” or not to be “too meaningless to deserve discussion,” and, quite brilliantly, turned the question around to whether people think—or rather how we can be convinced that other people think. This project took the form of a parlor game: A and B, a man and a woman, communicate with an “interrogator,” C, by some intermediary such as a messenger or a teleprinter. C knows the two only as “X” and “Y”; after communicating with them, C is to render a verdict as to which is male and which female. A is tasked with convincing C that he, A, is female and B is male; B’s task is the same. “We now ask the question,” Turing continues, “‘What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?’ …

What litspam has produced, remarkably, is a kind of parodic imitation game in which one set of algorithms is constantly trying to convince the other of their acceptable degree of salience—of being of interest and value to the humans. As Charles Stross puts it, “We have one faction that is attempting to write software that can generate messages that can pass a Turing test, and another faction that is attempting to write software that can administer an ad hoc Turing test.” …

Surrealist automatic writing has its particular associative rhythm, and the Burroughsian Cut-Up depends strongly on the taste for jarring juxtapositions favored by its authors (an article from Life, a sequence from The Waste Land, one of Burroughs’s “routines” in which mandrills from Venus kill Eisenhower). Litspam text, along with early comment spam and the strange spam blogs described in the next section, is the expression of an entirely different intentionality without the connotative structure produced by a human writer. The results returned by a probabilistically manipulated search engine, or the poisoned Bayesian spew of bot-generated spam, …

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet [excerpt, Part 2]

Put your email inbox on a low-spam diet : Naturejobs Blog

April 15, 2018

Put your email inbox on a low-spam diet by @j_perkel #Email hygiene for the researcher – ie how to escape fake conference & journal invites + #spam calendar invites

The practice of publishing their email addresses on journal articles and university web sites makes research academics ready targets for email spammers. Spam, Clemons insists, is not merely a nuisance but a time-sink. Mark Gerstein, a professor of biomedical informatics at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, estimates that maybe a quarter of the 200-or-so messages he receives in a day are important. “I spend many, many, many hours a week, days a week probably, going through my correspondence,” he says.

Gerstein, for instance, uses a multi-tiered approach to triage his correspondence, relying on Gmail filters, labels, and artificial intelligence. Gerstein has a whitelist — a list of ‘approved’ email addresses. Messages from those addresses are automatically routed to his inbox, where they receive the highest priority. New senders can get on that list by placing a special keyword (available on his web site) in the subject line of their message — which is how I was able to contact him.

Below that top tier are departmental messages, messages from mailing lists, and the like. At the very bottom is the obvious spam, the stuff that gets picked up by Google’s spam-detection algorithms. And in the middle is what Gerstein calls ‘almost-spam’ — messages from predatory journals and conferences, spam invitations to join editorial boards, and even spam calendar invites, which automatically add themselves to his calendar and clog up his schedule.

Gerstein advises researchers to use multiple email addresses in dealing with journals, vendors, and the like. Then, by funneling those messages to a single inbox, one can sort the messages by account and prioritize them accordingly.

Gmail is particularly useful for this purpose, Gerstein notes. Suppose you have the address ‘’. Google allows users to modify their addresses by placing a plus sign and additional text between the username and the at-symbol — for instance,
‘’ and ‘’. These messages all go to the original address, but users can sort their messages based on the specific address used.

“You can use that quite powerfully to create unique addresses for all sorts of things, and to filter your email on the basis of that,” Gerstein says.

Still, Gerstein admits, spam inevitably falls through the cracks. How to spot it?