Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Blogger: flagging spam blogs which hide the flag

Have you noticed the increase in spam on Blogger/Blogspot blogs lately?

For a start, there are still spam blogs (or "splogs") on Blogspot.com that have slipped through the net. Even worse, some of them now sneakily hide the Flag as Objectionable button at the right of the Blogger navbar at the top of the screen, to stop us from reporting them to Blogger.

They do this in several ways, but there's a common one I've noticed recently. I've figured out what they did and how, but I'm not going to spell it out here - you just shouldn't do it, it probably violates the Blogger TOS or terms of service, though unfortunately Blogger are far from clear about what bloggers using Blogspot can or cannot do regarding the navbar, see my post on that subject. (A revision of their TOS to clarify things like this is long overdue, but that's another post..).

However, if you really want to see an example, here's a post on a test blog I've done (opens in a new window) where the flag has been hidden.

And here's another post on the same test blog where the flag is still visible (again opens in a new window).

So, what can we do? Well I've produced a very very simple Greasemonkey script which will restore that flag in Blogspot blogs, so that you can then use the flag to report the spam blog to Blogger. (Yes, I've expressed concerns before about the possible abuse of the flag by people acting collectively to censor or delete blogs they just dislike, and more transparency on the part of Blogger as to how they decide what action to take on flagged blogs would be good - but hiding the flag has got to be a violation of the Blogger TOS, and unhiding it won't make a difference on the abuse front, I think, so I don't feel too guilty about providing a means to restore the flag in blogs that have hidden it.)

Get the script.

Spammers are cunning though. There are all sorts of ways to hide the flag, e.g. hiding the navbar altogether. My script only deals with one way, so it won't work with all spam blogs on Blogspot (and of course it only works with Blogspot blogs, as they're the only ones with the Blogger navbar and flag). Hopefully, as other ways emerge, the script can be expanded or other scripts can be written to shoot 'em down. Kirk will I am sure be coming up with some much more comprehensive and better scripts. [Updated 21 March:] yep, he's done it. For a script which tackles all manner of navbar hiding methods, see this post.

Here's an example of one spam blog which has hidden the flag in this way, where my little script will work to restore the flag once you've installed the script.

Go get them spammers!

(Separately, is it just me or is there much more comment spam on Blogger blogs lately, despite the word verification? I've certainly noticed it on my own blog. I do hope Blogger sort it out somehow, it's getting beyond a joke and I really don't want to have to turn on comment moderation.)

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Jasper said...

I din't think it's a good idea to reuse the existing flag button. You can easyly remove it with some Javascript. Also only setting it to inline doesn't work on most blog that hide the navbar. Something like this would be better:

var flag = document.createElement('a');
flag.innerHTML = '<img src=http://www.blogger.com/img/navbar/4/flag.gif width=55 height=15>'
flag.setAttribute('style', 'display: block; position: absolute; z-index: 32767; top: 6px; right: 83px;');
flag.setAttribute('onmouseover', 'showDrop()');
flag.setAttribute('onmouseout', 'hideDrop()');
flag.setAttribute('href', 'javascript:toggleFlag()');

This is still not bullet proof, the toggleFlag function could also be overwritten using Javascript. You should also embed it in the user script.

Improbulus said...

Thanks Jasper. As I said it was very very simple, just focussed on reversing the effects of one particular trick.

Of course there are loads of ways to get rid of the flag like hide the navbar altogether, and that needs to be addressed. A combined solution would be great. Thanks for the great script suggestion, as always!

Babsbitchin said...

This is probably the 3rd time I've tried to leave a comment. I got hit 500+ times today by different spammers and had to put on word verification which is such a pain in the ass. But your greasymonkey wouldn't work on a site like this, would it?

Improbulus said...

Babs, the script only works for sites which use Blogger as their blogging platform and are hosted on Blogger's Blogspot servers. The flag serves as notification to Blogger that the site may be dodgy and they ought to take a look at it and see if it should be deleted. If a spam site isn't hosted on Blogspot, you can't flag them as they won't have a navbar - and even if you reported them to Blogger, I think there's nothing they could do about it, especially if they use some other blogging software.

James Newton said...

Here is what I don't understand: If Google says they will do no evil, and they own blogger, why do they not police their own users? If hiding the flag is a violation of TOS, how hard would it be for them to make a script that just checks each blog for a hidden flag, and kills the account until they un-hide the flag?

This is Google doing evil by hosting spammers. Plain and simple. And all the valid users of blogger are paying the price. My wiki / blog system now automatically trashes all posts that include a reference to blogspot.com.

While your attempts here are laudable, it is a tiny band aid on the teenage face of blogging which is afflicted with a horrible case of spam acne.

Improbulus said...

James, a very belated reply, but I agree. Their Blog Search seems to index too many spam blogs too.

Excellent analogy, and sadly all too true!

Ty Buchanan BA(Griff) MBA(CUQ) said...

No flags on either of your two examples. Turn on a Captcha.