Spammers target social networks

2012-08-16 07:21
Social network users should be wary of brands targeting them with spam. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Social network users should be wary of brands targeting them with spam. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Spam served via social networks is expected to grow as spammers increasingly target trending topics in the hopes of directing more internet traffic to their websites.

Consumers should be aware of the practices that spammers will use to win clicks on networks like Twitter, an industry insider has advised.

"You can be sure that people will look for loopholes around Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter, for example a tactic used by spammers is to look for trending topics," managing director of Dr Pieter Streicher told News24.

Streicher has long campaigned against unsolicited messages and is particularly vocal about SMS spam.

Companies have realised that as consumers move to social networking platforms, it represents a new opportunity to target spam.


Many spammers will follow Twitter users and tweet their names with a link to spam or malicious website. It has also become more common for them to abuse the hash tag for trending topics in order to snare unwary users.

"Social networks are not immune to spamming tactics; you see it also on forums on the internet. People are discussing a certain topic and suddenly there's a completely unrelated comment with an advert," said Streicher.

Current legislation doesn't forbid spam and obliges the receiver to opt out, as in the case on cellphone messages.

Streicher believes this approach is erroneous because the user may incur costs to opt out, and the opt out only prohibits that particular company from sending spam, it does not prevent them from selling a consumer's details to a third party.

"It allows that practice until the point that you are about to get message and the only onus on the company is to check that you have not opted out before," he said.

He advised consumers to use the social networking tools to name and shame brands that employed spamming tricks as well as online portals such as HelloPeter.

"My advice to consumers is that if brands behave in a way that they regard as unacceptable, to simply tweet about that. Consumers have a lot of power today because new communication tools allow them to tell everyone what is happening."

The Protection of Personal Information Bill (Popi) is aimed at regulating what can be done with personal information and seeks to enforce openness about how and where personal data will be used.

"That [Popi] works on an opt in basis - that's the first legislation in South Africa that actually looks at how personal information is dealt with. There's basically a principle throughout this act that there should be consent," said Streicher.

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