Deja News joins antispam war

Tired of being clogged by spam from Usenet newsgroup postings, the service hits back with antispam measures.

3 min read
Tired of its service being clogged by spam from Usenet newsgroup postings, Deja News is hitting back today with new filters to block postings of unsolicited commercial messages.

Deja News, a popular service that archives newsgroup discussions, says two-thirds of all Net discussion group messages that it archives on its service are spam-related. The service not only allows people to search and read others' postings, but it also provides access to post to newsgroups.

Finding spam in the archived newsgroups not only angers some of the estimated 3.5 million people who use the Deja News Web site each month, but droves of unsolicited newsgroup postings also cause undue strain on Deja News' infrastructure, it complains.

Today Deja News announced that it is deleting all archived spam from its service using Cancelmoose and Zippo News Service. The site also will filter incoming spam with in-house technology that uses artificial intelligence to look for machine-generated postings, such as the same text message being sent to thousands of newsgroups at one time.

"We will eliminate most spam before it makes it into our database," Deja News founder and chief technology officer Steve Madere said today. "I don?t know that spam would have brought us down, but it does bring up the cost of running Usenet. Spam is like getting collect [call] telemarketing because everybody who is operating a Usenet server has to pay to support those messages."

Deja News also will prevent those who use the Web site to post Usenet messages from sending out spam, the company said.

While most Netizens are likely to applaud the move, not all are cheering today.

"Any move on the part of a search engine like this to filter content is pure censorship," said Sanford Wallace, who is infamous for flooding the Net with another form of unsolicited commercialism: email spam.

"What are they going to do next--filter out anti-abortion posts? We don't spam newsgroups, but this makes me want to do it," he said.

Others are more likely to appreciate the deletion of spam from the archives. However, while the practice is likely to clear out unwanted bytes of information from the popular archival service, it may not have much of an impact on the newsgroups themselves.

Usenet activists fearful that the Usenet system will actually collapse under the weight of newsgroup spam have taken it upon themselves to fight against it.

A small group of them issue commands daily to cancel thousands of spam messages. Without the cancels, they say there would be so much spam that the newsgroups would be virtually unreadable.

In fact, spam has gotten to be such a problem that when the antispam activists notice an overwhelming amount of it being sent from any particular provider, they issue what is known as a Usenet Death Penalty, or UDP, in which all messages from the provider are canceled until the provider changes its policy and makes it harder for its members to send spam.

Deja News users also are worried about email spam. According to a recent Deja News sampling of its users, many expressed concern about their email addresses being collected from the site and subsequently used to send email spam to them.

Junk emailers frequently "harvest" email addresses, as the practice is called, from newsgroups. And the Deja News site has provided them a ready way to do that.

But it is not the only way to harvest email. Recently, in an unrelated incident, the online auction site Onsale was accused of harnessing Netizens' email addresses from the site of its rival, eBay. Onsale stopped the practice, but eBay's visitors' email identities are still vulnerable.

Deja News is trying to block that practice as well.

"We did have some robots coming in to pick up email addresses from our sites," said Claire Campbell, a spokeswoman for Deja News. "We did some things recently to block that. We don't want people harvesting our email users' names or sending spam."