PLEASESPAM.US – 2007

A Collaborative Voting System for Spamming Unpopular Email Addresses.

Description

PleaseSpam.Us (PSU) is a web (2.0) based collaborative filtering project and voting system that encourages people to submit email addresses and vote on whether those addresses are worthy of attracting spammers. If an address receives enough “votes”, it is then placed on the front page of the website which is built with the intention of attracting “SpamBots” that will eventually deliver messages to those implicated. The project attempts to critically re-examine the proliferation of electronic communications systems such as email that are built to facilitate instantaneous communication between people as well as to question the advent of collaborative filtering (used by sites like DIGG and all of the “DIGG copycat sites” and “Reputation Systems” (as found on many commercial and community oriented sites). The ultimate intention with the project is to explore the tensions of utilizing spam as a cultural and social tool to encourage the debate of how these social systems often work to polarize opinions and pigeonhole debate into specified channels. Instead of voting on general topics of interest which is the focus of these types of sites, PSU is focused on giving a collaborative voice to bringing the abuse of email as a mass broadcasting system into public attention and discussions. The project is also meant to expose the methods and ways Spammers are using to find people’s email addresses for spamming and implicate ways of stopping this from happening.

Screenshot:

PleaseSpamUs

Background

With the advent of the Internet as a global communications network that enables multiple forms of connectivity and communication, the proliferation of “spam” or “junk email” is becoming a problem that is often blamed for the glut and wasted time of the “information economy”. Typically spam is often considered a harmful byproduct of the shift from paper to electronic messaging, although most people still receive large amounts of physical junk “snail mail” in their mailboxes daily. In 2002, the Center for Democracy and Technology conducted a study study on spam from unsolicited commercial sources over a six month period by “planting and tracking” the attraction rates of spam to hundreds of email addresses which were then analyzed by their placement on the web as to where and how successful each address was at attracting spam. The results of the study found that addresses posted on websites or on newsgroups attracted the most spam since they were the most visible and easily accessible to the “bots”. They mention in their initial report that “spammers use software harvesting programs such as “robots” or “spiders” to record e-mail addresses listed on Web sites, including both personal Web pages and institutional (corporate or non-profit) Web pages.” These “bots” examine individual web pages for valid email addresses and then collect and insert them into a database. Once collected, they are then sent hundreds of messages within several different time intervals.

Intent

The intention for PleaseSpam.us is to eventually lead to the end of unsolicited hate mail or other forms of “improper behavior” by people who are using email to act in harmful or confrontational ways. It is also meant to bring up a discussion about how spammers find legitimate addresses for their mass-mailings and to eventually stop people from posting email addresses to their websites with “mailto:” HTML tags and other forms Spam attracting code. The aim is that eventually those ways of finding potential addresses to Spam will disappear which will make it more difficult for spammers to cultivate an audience for their useless, time-consuming, and bandwidth clogging messages.

Users who submit addresses are allowed to give a justification as to why people submitted should have the potential to be spammed, and if their argument is convincing enough, others in the community can “vote” on whether or not the address should be placed on the front page of the site alongside its total vote tally. The front page of the site is built to attract “spambots” and other forms of searches conducted by spammers in order to cultivate valid email addresses. Note: Since the “justifications” for putting someone on the front page could be “fabricated” by people trying to “break or discredit” the system, they are ultimately judged by several SuperUsers before being placed on the front page for open distribution.



PleaseSpam.Us on display at Transmediale 2008, Media Lounge. (thanks to MK for the pic!)

System

The project is a software, web-based interface that allows registered users to create an account and login to both cast votes as well as submit valid email addresses to attract spam. They must also post a “justification” as to why others should vote a particular address on in the community and how the owner of that address is abusing the system or the user in question. Once the votes have reached a high enough tally (20 votes), the address is then put on the site. If users addresses are put on the list, they have a chance to “appeal” this mass ruling by posting an “appeal” to this section of the website (this will be realeased soon). If their appeal is voted on by enough users, their address is then removed from the main site.

The site will also feature a “Hall of Fame” ranking for users with the most “voted on” addresses. This is the ensure that their addresses continue to attract spammers throughout the length of time the site is active and to encourage caching of their addresses. Other stats will be added as the site develops.

Software

The project was open source, written in “Ruby on Rails” and worked with a MYSQL database to store email addresses and vote tallies. It may go back online in the future.

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Credits:
Jonah Brucker-Cohen, thanks to Peter Brindisi (Developer / System Administrator).
Exhibitions:

Transmediale 2008: Media Lounge, Jan 30-Feb 3, 2008, Berlin, Germany.
Web Biennial 2007, Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, August 2007, Istanbul, Turkey.
Offload Festival, Online exhibition, Sept 13-16, 2007, Bristol, UK.

Main Link
Currently offline until we find a new server…

Overview:
PleaseSpam.Us (PSU) is a web (2.0) based collaborative filtering project and voting system that encourages people to submit email addresses and vote on whether those addresses are worthy of attracting spammers. If an address receives enough “votes”, it is then placed on the front page of the website which is built with the intention of attracting “SpamBots” that will eventually deliver messages to those implicated.
Press/Media:
PleaseSpam.US, serving spam as a revenge., Neural, 3/4/08.

PleaseSpam.Us – Collaborative voting for spam-worthy addresses, DIGG, 9/3/07.

The “Law of the Number” Polarizes The Opinions of the Internet“,
Ecrans (La Liberation), (Translated from French)
France, August 1, 2007. (Original French version here)

Revenge is a Dish Best Served By Email: How To Get Someone Spammed to Death, Art Threat, 11/23/2007.


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