On the surface, the United States seems to be a hostile location for spam blogs. The DMCA makes it trivial for copyright holders to get their content removed from sites hosted in the U.S, anti-spam laws make things uncomfortable for email spammers, which often go hand in hand with Web spammers, and most hosts are very cooperative in removing junk from their servers.
Yet, out of the last 40 spam blogs I’ve looked at, 32 of them were located within the United States. The few that remained were in countries such as Iran, Russia and Ukraine, where copyright law makes it hard to stop them.
So why are so many spam blogs American despite the obstacles to setting up shop in the United States? The answers are surprisingly simple but do not bode well for the future of fighting spam here or abroad.
An American Tradition
The beautiful thing about the Internet is that it is possible to set up shop just about anywhere in the world and, in turn, have anyone else in the world come visit you. Geographic borders are meaningless, until you look at legal issues.
Legally-speaking though, the U.S., much like the EU and similar legal climates, seem to be very hostile places for spammers. Not only does copyright law give easy recourse for those who are scraped, but hosts are very well versed at dealing with spam and often take action without prompting.
It seems logical that spammers would start to take their operations and move them overseas, into countries with weaker laws and enforcement. A stable home would mean longer-running spam operations, that would mean more trust with the search engines and, theoretically, more money.
But despite this, spam seems to be an almost purely American tradition. American hosts are rife with spam blogs and there seems to be no rush on the part of spammers to move to other nations. Despite greener pastures, the purveyors of junk are fine working with in the United States and, when one looks at the reasons, it is clear why that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Spammers aren’t staying within the U.S. to make it easier for American bloggers to shut them down, rather, they have their own interests in mind. Consider the following:
- Cost: Hosting is extremely cheap in the United States and, with the dollar falling, it is only getting cheaper. For six dollars per month you can get a hosting account that lets you host unlimited domains. It is cheaper to risk having accounts cut than to pay a premium for hosting elsewhere.
- Free Hosts: The vast majority of free hosts are located within the United States. Spammers that want to target sites such as Blogspot are pretty much forced to stay within the country.
- Still Vulnerable to DMCA: Even if a spam blog sets up shop in another country, they would still be vulnerable to American laws with regards to the search engines. Since Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask are all American companies, a copyright holder can still use the DMCA to effectively blacklist them from search.
- Search Engine Trust: Though I have not been able to find evidence of this, it seems only logical that search engines would put more trust into sites closer to their searchers. A site hosted in Iran may do well in Iranian searches, but would not likely perform well in the bulk of search results.
- Cooperative Hosts: Despite the laws in the U.S. that prohibit this, there are still no shortage of lesser-known hosts that will gladly turn a blind eye to spam and copyright infringement. These hosts can typically get away with it because U.S. law makes it so difficult to sue for copyright infringement.
The end result is that the life of a U.S.-based spammer is far from easy, but it certainly is fruitful and, with a little bit of creativity and effort, the obstacles can be easily overcome.
Mitigating the Problem
With the current legal and hosting climate in the United States, there is very little Webmasters can do to outright stop this problem. However, there are steps that we can all take to minimize this issue.
- Use The Laws: The fact that most spam is within the United States is something of a gift. Most hosts respect the DMCA and will remove infringing works. Taking advantage of that is a powerful start. The DMCA has been around in the U.S. for ten years and most hosts have effective policies for dealing with such notices.
- Target Search Engines: Hosts that are uncooperative need to be pointed out to the search engines in the form of spam reports. The reason is that, if enough spam is reported in an IP range, Google will start to distrust the entire host and that will affect their bottom line, both driving away spammers and legitimate customers.
- Use Search Engine DMCAs: Though working with Google may be tricky, once a spam report has been filed sending a DMCA notice to the search engines can decapitate the spam attack, making it useless.
These are not perfect solutions, but they are ways that everyday Webmasters can hit back at the spam problem without having to go through the hassle of finding an attorney.
The U.S. is in no danger of being dethroned as the Web spam king. Though spammers will diversify as the Web becomes even more international, like wolves hiding in a flock, they will follow the rest of us in a bid to fit in.
But as frustrating as this is, it does serve to our advantage and give us some powerful tools to fight back. All it takes is the no-how and willingness to take action.
Fortunately, it seems that more and more are fed up with Web spam and are doing something about it.