Wednesday 15 February 2012

Overcoming LinkedIn spam

Perhaps it was just down to the fact that it was St Valentine’s Day yesterday. I’m not quite sure of the reason. But it does appear that some miscreants have been busy on the LinkedIn site, and have been sending unsolicited commercial emails, promoting the Canadian Family Pharmacy.

No, Connor Ross, I wasn’t that interested in your email, sent last Friday. Nor, for that matter, was I interested in Linda Spencer’s email sent the day before, which told me all about how to order Viagra, Viagra Super Active+, Viagra Professional ,and even Viagra Super Force from the Canadian Family Pharmacy. I didn’t realise that Viagra had so many variants.

I’m sure that, by now, the ever efficient Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Dr Ann Cavoukian, has received a few complaints about this outfit and is well onto the case. It’s a shame about the geographic distance between them - Google Maps tells me that it’s a good 5 hour drive from her offices in Toronto to the Canadian Family Pharmacy’s registered office in Ottawa. Little chance of her dropping by unannounced, then ...

What did occur to me, though, was remarkably how few spam emails seem to find their way to me through the LinkedIn network. I’m absolutely not complaining at this – far from it – and I won’t be asking any searching questions about just how LinkedIn manage to identify and trap messages that might be potentially spam. I’m just grateful for whatever it is they do, and I wouldn’t want some privacy wonk embarking on some campaign or other to outlaw whatever it is that they are doing. Especially if the result was that I received more stuff that was of no (commercial) interest to me.

I only hope that LinkedIn's cunning plans to add more encryption to the messages sent through their network won’t degrade the effectiveness of their spam detection techniques.

Is there much more that LinkedIn could do to overcome this problem? I’m sure they’re working on ever more clever techniques. After all, in the end, they will have their self interest at heart, as if they can’t provide professionals with a space which can be used to share stuff which really is of interest, there’s always the danger that we LinkedIn folk will just transfer our business to a more convenient space.

So, I would hazard a guess that spam will continue be countered just as fiercely by service providers, who will suffer commercial angst if their customers migrate, than by regulators who hope that miscreants will take note of the restrictions that are being imposed.

We shouldn’t expect regulators to feel obliged to resolve all the ills in the world. They should allow data controllers the latitude that is required to occasionally act as they see fit. Even if it requires people to be named and shamed, rather than respect their wish to be forgotten. And if that necessitates the sharing of personal information of people who have potentially been associated in unlawful (or, occasionally, unsocial) behaviour, then so be it.