Microformats and spam

Paul Walsh poses an interesting question on the Segala blog when he asks are Microformats perfect tools for spammers?

Machine readable contact details using the hCard format, for example, potentially make it very easy for spammers to automate harvesting of info to populate their databases.

I have already made it very easy for spammers by including my email address on this site and consequently I do get a lot of spam.

I don’t know enough about microformats to comment on this.

Conor, Chris, anyone else care to comment?

UPDATE: I see Paul is giving away free dinners at one of his restaurants in Dublin for anyone who happens along. This may be a chance to educate him on Microformats and get some free food while you are at it.

8 thoughts on “Microformats and spam”

  1. It’s the usual story with any information you put out there Tom. If you are ok with people seeing it and making use of it then it doesn’t matter whether it is in hCard or not. hCard just makes it easier to use the information for good or for bad. You choose how many or how few details you want to make available.

    I put all my details as a hCard on Argolon and my email spam levels are still pretty low. Tells you how popular the site is 😉 I get almost zero junk mail and I never get junk phone calls.

    Pointless obfuscations like blah [at] blah can be overcome by any spammer with 50 bucks to throw at rentacoder. Hell you could do it as Captcha style and it’ll still be overcome.

  2. Pointless obfuscations like blah [at] blah

    I don’t think it’s ‘pointless’ if it makes it a little more difficult for some.

    I do support Microformats. My post was intended to raise awareness around how they can be misused as I haven’t seen anyone else highlight anything negative. I don’t think it’s right to ignore the spam element and only focus on the good.

  3. Pointless obfuscations like blah [at] blah can be overcome by any spammer with 50 bucks to throw at rentacoder. Hell you could do it as Captcha style and it’ll still be overcome.

    I read the arguement that the spammers can get you anyway if they try hard enough. The point is that many won’t. If you can harvest 100 million unprotected email addresses or increase that to 101 million if you put more effort in, how many will? And if they’re smart enough to circumvent obfuscated email addresses they may even be smart enough to work out that any recipient going to that effort will have good spam filters in place too so the spam will get trashed unread in any case.

    I lock the door on my house and set an alarm when I go out. I know full well that anyone who is sufficiently determined will kick the door down and zap the alarm but that doesn’t mean that leaving the door open and the alarm off would be an intelligent decision.

  4. I know I’m a little late and had planned a more detailed post, but suffice it to say, spam is a problem that is orthogonal to microformats and is something that any web format will have to contend with.

    Simply because you’re able to mark things up in a more semantic way doesn’t mean that they naturally become ridden with spam; on the contrary, they only specify what *may* be contained underneath, just as executables that pose as text files or other malicious tricks like virus-laden mp3s.

    Dealing with these issues is outside the scope of the format, since as far as the format goes, it can be used for either good or evil.

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