Tag Archives: spam

Kickstarter & IndieGoGo misuses continue to surface with wearable video recording projects.

Vergence Lab’s Kickstarter project suspended.

Wearable glasses that record video are becoming a becoming a “lense” which puts the focus on some of the key issues with crowd funding. A previously popular project, Eyez,  has been labeled as theft, and a new project by Vergence Lab has been suspended by Kickstarter and now resurfaced on IndieGoGo. While the Vengence Lab teams seems to have some technical expertise and mainstream press coverage, their apperent spam techniques likely resulted in their Kickstarter suspension and even prompted a Google Glasses engineer to comment on the situation.

Wearable glasses that recored video

The Eyez by ZionEyez HD Video project was a hit on Kickstarter raising over $340,000 in July of 2011. But since the funding was raised, the project creaters have not delivered the product, and updates have gotten less frequent. Chase Hoffberger wrote a piece on this situation that leads with this line, “Kickstarter bandits have made off with nearly $344,000.”

I was actually a backer of the Eyez project. I wasn’t particuarlly upset about the lack of actual results, but it has made me think more deeply about how the Kickstarter system works. It also linked me (or at least my email) with the likely designation of “a mark”.

Email Spam

This morning I received an email with the subject line:

Holy crap! Even better than Google Glass

The body of the email stated:

Social video glasses record your life handsfree!

Look at this fun crowd-funded project at IndieGoGo!

Social electric eyewear video-record your POV experience:

http://www.indiegogo.com/socialvideoglasses

Tell your friends and help spread the word!

To unsubscribe: http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=pNcfyRP9

At first I thought it was just the Eyez guys doing the project again, but after reading coverage by The Daily Dot and BetaBeat, I realize it is different group…

Vergence Labs

Vergence Lab’s IndieGoGo page.

Vergence Labs looks more legitimate with at least one of the member having a Stanford degree as well as a history in being in the incubator program StartX. They also got a brief writeup on Tech Crunch.  Unlike the Eyez project, Vergence Labs seem to have a working demo as evidenced by their IndieGoGo video gallery.

But as the BetaBeat article indicated, Kickstarter suspended the initial project hours before it would have successfully been funded.

Despite Vergence Lab’s more legitimated pedigree, the email I was sent was spam. I had no previous association with IndieGoGo or the Vergence Lab’s team. The email address it was sent to is not one I use regularly. The most likely scenarios are that Vergence Labs got hold of the Eyez email list in some way, or someone is trying to set them up. I would think it was the latter, but…

Twitter Spam

The IndieGoGo project being promoted with @spam on Twitter.

Vergence Lab is using bots to send spammy @messages on Twitter promoting the IndieGoGO project at the rate of five tweets a minute.

Example account: https://twitter.com/#!/HyperViral

On Friday morning it looked like they were slowly  shutting down the @message spam, but it has increased again this afternoon.

Based on looking at Twitter url sharing records, they sent over 10,000 Twitter messages just associated with the IndieGoGo project.

Since Kickstarter won’t comment on why projects are suspended, we won’t be getting an official word, but it is likely that  the Twitter spam is the reason that the project got suspended. Kickstarter’s Project Guidelines naturally prohibits spam to promote a project, and the guideline actually mention @message spam in particular.

I got in email contact with a representative of Vergence Lab and sent some questions. Since this spam is ongoing and the project continues to get backers, I will add any of their comments if they respond.

Google Glasses engineer comments on the aggressive/spam nature of promotion.

Stephen Lau, a senior software engineer at Google, likely got it right when he answered a question on Quora about why the Vergence Lab’s Kickstarter project might have got suspended. He wrote in part:

(Full disclosure: I work on Glass and have no particularly strong opinion on the Vergence Labs Epiphany Eyewear product one way or another)

I suspect it was likely due to the spam (or perceived spam) sent by “Sergey ‘Grin'”, or perhaps the comments left on many articles/blogs covering Project Glass pointing readers to the Vergence Labs Kickstarter.  The Kickstarter Community Guidelines at http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines do explicitly say:

  1. Spread the word but don’t spam. Spam includes sending unsolicited @ messages to people on Twitter. This makes everyone on Kickstarter look bad. Don’t do it.
  2. Don’t promote a project on other projects’ pages. Your comments will be deleted and your account may be suspended.

Implications for crowd funding

This may be the case of a couple ambitious college grads trying to drum up interest in a project that they are passoionate about, but their use of least two different spam methods puts a cloud over the project. In addition, the fact that they almost raised $50,000 on Kickstarter, and currently have raised over $20,000 on IndieGoGo points to the effectiveness of pitching a compelling project and using spam methods to get backers.

When you contribute to Kickstarter you are not entering into a two way contract. If the project reaches the funding goal, your contribution is charged to you, but any perks associated with the project or even the completion of the project are not guaranteed. If the project isn’t completed, or even started, you don’t get any type of refund.

Not surprisingly, those with an idea, but not the experience to execute the project are frequently on Kickstarter. When the project is producing and new album or piece of art, the scrutiny is justifiably low, but some of the most popular Kickstarter projects have focused around unique tech projects that require and ask for substantial funding.

This same method could be used by modern day scammers by associating hot product ideas like the iPhone accessories, and the current crowd funding model doesn’t provide any accountability to whether a project is even attempted. The crowd funding communities will have to continue to be vigilent to make sure that those with an idea have the experience to execute it and that the projects themselves are being created with the proper intent.

 

Actual Pinterest CAPTCHA That Got Rejected

Pinterest now preventing some users from pinning.

The problem of spam is one that Pinterest has been dealing with since the beginning of the year, but their efforts to stop it have some users unable to pin.

Today Heidi Kay of PediaStaff emailed to let me know that she was seeing a CAPTCHA when she tried to pin on Pinterest.

The actual CAPTCHA and message that Heidi received.

More troubling, even when she entered the correct CAPTCHA characters, she was unable to pin.

This isn’t the first time Heidi has had an issue with Pinterest. Heidi also had her ability to comment on pins taken away this month and was unable to get Pinterest to resolve it despite sending emails to Pinterest and @ messaging Pinterest engineers on Twitter. Heidi told me she often would post ten comments in the morning on her own boards as she actually uses Pinterest as way to communicate.

What we were trying to do is to develop discussion groups around certain pins where therapists could look at an idea and suggest ways it could be modified for use in special needs classrooms.   I thought it was a pretty innovative way to use the platform, but as I explained in my blog post I guess Pinterest didn’t like all the commenting I had to do to make it happen.   I think maybe it was because I was cutting and pasting the same comment to attract activity to my pins, but who knows.   Might just have been volume and the quick succession of timing.  Never got a clear answer from the engineers on this in February as to what was triggering the freeze, but when it seemed to stop for a while I thought we were home free and then when it started again in April it was ruthless.

In this latest episode starting April 3rd I couldn’t make more than 2 or three comments, and then it was 1 and now none.  I didn’t try to comment for about 5 days and still could not comment as of yesterday.

Why pins are being blocked

The best explanation for why Heidi is experiencing these issues is that she is a Pinterest power user, and her behavior might trigger anti-spam measures. Her Pinterest account for PediaStaff is one of the most active on Pinterest. While Pinterest itself doesn’t provide rankings, third party service Pinreach has the Pedia Staff account in the top 20 users as evaluated by reach.

In this case it could be an issue of pinning the same image to multiple boards. I asked her how many pins she did today before she got the CAPTCHA and she told me:

Today I pinned about 25 or 30 pins first thing this morning no problem.    Then around 2 PM I created a pin, duplicating it 5 times for the various boards I wanted it in (this is something I do all the time for the long term viability of my boards.   Sometimes pins overlap into several categories.   (I even have a pin that explains why we do multiple pins )

It is possible that Heidi might have to change the way she uses Pinterest or continue to deal with these issues. While no legitimate user should have their ability to pin taken away, it should be noted that the PediaStaff account is not the only one dealing with this failed CAPTCHA issue. I posted about this issue on the Facebook group page for #Pinchat, and while most users hadn’t experience the issue, one person did have the exact same experience. She tried to pin an image, got a CAPTCHA, entered the text correctly, and still wasn’t able to pin. She indicated that she doesn’t pin frequently so this issue could start to affect more people. Later she reported that she was able to pin, so this may be a temporary issue that Pinterest has now resolved.

Pinterest Spam

The point of a CAPTCHA is to stop bots run by spammers from pinning. Two posters on Black Hat World (a forum frequented by grey/black hat marketers, i.e. spammers) reported that the they were also unable to pin when they enter the CAPTCHA. It is unclear if they were using bots, and in the case of the poster who started the thread, he seemed to indicate it was no longer an issue.

Lauren Orsini brought attention to the spam issue with her piece on the spammer who claimed to be making over $1000 a day spamming Pinterest. As I told Lauren when she interviewed me, I actually alterted Ben Silbermann, the CEO of Pinterest, about Black Hat World as a place to check out what spammers where up to. At that time there wasn’t much talk of Pinterest, but now there are dozens of individual threads posted each week about spamming Pinterest.

Pinterest is addressing the spam issue (they actually published a blog post on the issue this past Friday), and while it does make sense that some legitimate accounts may have issues as Pinterest’s tries to stop spam, preventing a legitimate user from commenting and pinning is troubling.

Importance of Pinterest

Heidi told me that Pinterest is so important to PediaStaff’s business that they actually paid for audio/video hookups for the American Occupational Therapy Association Conference so they could incorporate their Pinterest boards into their booth. The conference is in two weeks, and she is concerned that all their work could be for naught if they can’t get normal access to Pinterest again.

Heidi has an email out to Pinterest on this issue. I have called Pinterest to get a comment, but I haven’t heard back yet.

 

spamfeatured

Official Twitter account enters world of @ “spam”.

Almost every frequent Twitter user has complained about @ spam.  Tweet the word iPad, taxes or anything that has a commercial element, and you will occassionally get a @ message sent to you with a link to a product, deal or even just a scam.

Twitter must see the effectiveness of this method as they are using @ messages to try to help new users find accounts to follow.

Today while reviewing the @ mentions for the @free account I run, I saw this surprising tweet.

At first I thought this @TwitterSuggests account might be trying to falsely use the Twitter name and be run by someone else, but the link in the account profile confirms that is an experimental Twitter idea.

A review of who is being sent @ messages shows that most accounts are following less than 10 people, but there are examples of accounts that follow over 300 people being messaged.

You don’t get the option of opting into suggestions, which is why it has the feel of @ spam, but you can opt out by blocking the @TwitterSuggests account.

It would not surprise me if future advertising efforts by Twitter follow a similar model.  Promoted tweets don’t do a good job focusing on what you are interested in at the moment.  @ messages obviously can target by keywords.  If Twitter fails to monetize using its current ad system, I believe it is only a matter of time before they co-opt what spammers have long done, and starting selling keyword based @ message ads.

Has your account been suggested by a @ message or have you received suggestions this way?  I am interested in what you think of this process and if it is truely helpful or too intrusive.