Twitter hauls spammers into court

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Social networks, Spam, Twitter

Twitter has taken its fight against on-line spam to the courthouse.

The instant messaging powerhouse filed documents last Thursday in the US District Court in San Francisco.

This brings civil action against a raft of defendants who, says Twitter:

* Distribute software tools [which are] designed to faciliate abuse of the Twitter platform and [are] marketed to dupe consumers into violating Twitter's user agreements, or

* Operate large numbers of automated Twitter accounts through which they attempt to trick Twitter users into clicking on links to illegitimate websites, again in violation of Twitter's user agreement.

One of the websites operated by the defendants was the uncompromisingly-named TweetAttacks.

At the time of writing, the site had contracted to a basic holding page containing a 1x1-pixel icon.

But on-line promotions are still forthcoming with information about the shuttered site.

MoneyMakerGroup describes TweetAttacks as the ultimate twitter auto follower, auto unfollower, tweet scraper, reply generator, auto retweeter, tweet spinner and tweet scheduler.

Build Success Online enumerates TweetAttack's strengths in a neat list of selling points, notably that it can automate Twitter marketing without getting noticed and protect your account from getting banned.

Other sites explicitly mentioned in the lawsuit are TweetAdder and TweetBuddy.

(TweetAdder is still alive, and still offering to get you 250 followers as part of a free trial. The company graciously offers that it "won't even ask you to remove all the targeted followers you gained" if you decide not to purchase.)

I wish Twitter all the best in this lawsuit.

Taking a public stand against those who abuse our goodwill online by bombarding us with unsolicited and unwanted messages, and against those who offer software and services to make this sort of bombardment easy, is to be commended.

While we wait to see what happens in this case, here are some tips to keep you and your online friends out of harm's way:

* Check your Twitter account for rogue applications which let the crooks spam out messages in your name.

* Let friends know if they're tweeting you with offers, prizes, contests and the like which you find hard to believe they'd actually endorse themselves.

* Be wary of recently-created Twitter usernames which are already following a large number of people. That's not a natural pattern of Twitter use.

* Report spammers directly to Twitter. It's easy - you do it directly from the offending account's profile page.


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12 Responses to Twitter hauls spammers into court

  1. CJH · 1278 days ago

    Good to see them doing something about it, even if it's an uphill battle they may not be able to win. Spam brings in cash, which will continue to drive the development of these kinds of tools.

    Most will go underground.

  2. It great to see Twitter taking a stand against spam, and I have no doubt that those tools that were mentioned specifically exist to serve a client-base of automation spammers.

    No reputable internet marketer/marketing organisation can find any long term value in pushing out auto-spam or purchasing followers. Those are things that frustrate me immensely as a bloke working in social media.

  3. denim · 1278 days ago

    Good luck to Twitter. Meantime, would it be useful or possible to have a browser add on to disable any page containing malicious or tiny icons (At the time of writing, the site had contracted to a basic holding page containing a 1x1-pixel icon.)?

    • Paul Ducklin · 1278 days ago

      As far as I'm aware, unreasonably small images (what room is there for artistic expression in anything under 5x5, for instance?) are still widely used on non-bad sites as tracking objects. Even with scripting turned off, the fetch of a tiny image is a way of tracking web traffic via third-party URLs.

      Same sort of story with executables (and JavaScript, PHP, etc. code). You'd think that using an obfuscator (aka packer) to disguise the purpose of published code would be universally considered a Bad Thing. But it isn't. Legit coders and legit web sites) love to use much the same sort of tool which makes the Bad Guys' job easier....

      So we can't use "Who Would Even Think Of Doing That?" as an uncontroversial goodware/badware discriminator.

      Pity. But that's the way of the world, alas.

  4. Robert Gracie · 1278 days ago

    Finally the Spammers are gonna take the rap for this one could you imagine of facebook did something to this they would have an absolute field day with them but its good to see the social networks fighting back and they will always win against you no matter how hard the spammers try they...will...always...get....caught!!!

  5. Slade · 1278 days ago

    I report as many of these spammers as I can. However, the ability to report spam is not available on the mobile web site or from most Twitter apps. Seesmic seems to be the only software offering it, but I'm not a fan of their software anymore. I have their phone app strictly for reporting spammers.

    • Mrs. W · 1278 days ago

      TweetDeck has a "Block and Report" option.

      Also, when I detect an easily searchable spam campaign, I use to find the offending string and bulk report all accounts tweeting it (unchecking those who are silly enough to RT and respond to the bots, of course).

  6. Frithjof · 1278 days ago

    This is very good news! Thanks for sharing

  7. Yoky Liadinata · 1094 days ago

    Hi Paul...

    This is old post to get comment.. I know.. but, I'm curious to get answer..

    TweetAttacks and TweetBuddy has already taken down..
    But, why TweetAdder still alive??

    I want to invest to twitter marketing tool, afraid I have wrong decision to buy..


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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog