Social Gaming: the next frontier of spam?

For the past week or so, I've been getting irritated by Mafia Wars updates in my Facebook stream because, apparently, my having blocked the app in my settings did not, in fact, stop this spam stream. Curious, I started digging and came across this November 2009 article in TechCrunch: How to Spam Facebook Like a Pro, an exposé of online social network scam schemes, tricking unwary players into parting with their cash. What the article doesn’t discuss, however, is the way these games spam the players’ social networks in the hopes of luring new victims.

Since tis the season for reminiscing and looking forward, I started thinking through all the unwanted, unsolicited messages that mindless and thoughtless businesses have assaulted us with. First, we had to contend with door-to-door sales people peddling their myriad wares; we were unsophisticated consumers, then, so it was hard to distinguish the real deal from snake oil. Luckily for most of us, we started leaving home for the office, so this foot traffic sales approach became less effective since no one was home.

We might escape them during the day, but we still had to come home at some point. Enter telemarketing and junk mail, rammed down our throats through our phones and mail boxes. We thought we could escape both when we moved online, but alas: junk mail found their way into our email and voice mail boxes, too. In 2009, Canadians won the right not to be assaulted through Canada Post and on our phones: as a condo dweller, I could exercise my option of declining unsolicited, unaddressed mail with a simple sticker on the delivery side of my mail box; and I could go to the trouble of registering myself on the national no-call list. Awesome.

Of course, like viruses that always find a way to adapt, the Spammers found a way: social networks. Ostensibly innocent good fun, social games harbour insidious ways to fill the spam stream through automatic notifications and updates from its players. The “everyone’s playing it” siren call can be powerful. Those of us too jaded and wary for this sort of thing did the obvious: we opted to block these updates, but the updates continued to stream through.

I’m not certain if this is a known Facebook glitch or have these social gaming outfits simply found an unwatched door – something for further investigation – but my sense is that social games are the latest front in the Spammers’ Borg-like assault against consumers. Yesterday, @davefleet wondered in a blog post if Spammers have become smarter. Pardon my cattiness, but I suspect that Spammers are like the flower beetles that survived the Mythbusters' extreme irradiation experiment. They didn't survive due to smarts; they're just wired that way.

Makes me long for the good ol' days of simple junk mail.

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