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Why not making accounts creation more complicated?

Asked by Cedric Wannaz on 6 Jun 2014
Latest activity Commented on by John D'Errico on 14 Jul 2014

We've seen a dramatic increase of the spam that we get on the forum lately, and I am wondering if it isn't the right moment for increasing the complexity of accounts creation. Would it only be with two captchas, that could pretty easily be implemented : one graphical and why not, as we are on Mathworks, one mathematical (e.g. basic arithmetic with a few levels of parentheses, enough for screwing up most regexp-based parsers)?

Cheers,

Cedric

EDIT - some arguments from my comments below

I don't really care about clicking on multiple threads to see whether they are spam or not. What I do really not like though, is to have to do it multiple times for the same user. I think that any solution which allows a same user account to send multiple posts after one has been closed or flagged as spam by a high enough rep. member, is not adequate.

If I look at the list of members with a rep above even 1000, I don't see anybody who should legitimately not be trusted about using adequately a mechanism which allows to block an account until a high rep member (2k+, 3k+,editor,admin?) decides to unblock or to cancel/delete it. This mechanism could even be limited to accounts with a rep below 25 or 50, because no spammer will ever pass this threshold (see Jon's comment about this point).

EDIT - There could/should also be a list of forbidden domain names for creating TMW accounts, typically those which allow the creation of anonymous/disposable accounts automatically. The rational is that no professional/student should have any valid reason for using such email accounts for creating a TMW account.

35 Comments

Cedric Wannaz on 10 Jul 2014

Hi James and Image Analyst,

Thank you for asking, but I have enough "specimens" to feed my engine during the development phase. It is not going to be overkill though, because I had only a limited amount of time (a few lunch pauses), but it may be useful, in particular to check that accounts known to have spammed are not active anymore.

I saw your script Image Analyst, and I am just extending a bit the approach with a crawler which checks flags, closed threads, known accounts, and analyzes threads' content, so we don't have to open everything to check.

After playing a bit with the first version, I realize that the most interesting, as far as I am concerned, is the tracking of known accounts, so we can check whether TMW deletes them or not.

Cheers,

Cedric

Image Analyst on 10 Jul 2014

I'm not sure that's that interesting because I know for a fact that they don't delete them . I've checked ones I've sent them back in May and they're still there. I think they just disable them, but I can't even be sure about that - how could I tell? But anyway I'd be interested in seeing your program when it's fleshed out enough to share.

Cedric Wannaz on 10 Jul 2014

I've also seen these old accounts, reported many times already, which irritates me. If TMW takes spam very seriously (as mentioned below), there is no objective reason for keeping spammers' accounts, .. I am hoping that if we provide a list of these accounts using the official support channels, they will be deleted. But for that we need to keep track of them for a moment.

Cedric Wannaz

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2 Answers

Answer by Image Analyst on 6 Jun 2014

I don't think they're bots posting. I actually saw one person respond to the spammer saying that the tv/movie web sites were probably illegal and the spammer actually responded saying he didn't think so. And each account only posts 1 to 20 or so posts. So I think that actual real live people are posting , not bots. We've discussed ways before, such as suspending an account if the editors delete more than 2 posts or the account has any posts flagged as spam, but the Mathworks is keeping any possible solutions secret for now. All I know is that they're working on some kind of solution but I don't know what form that will take.

By the way, Steve's blog has a captcha where you have to do math to post a comment. And Google is famous for that, like in their help wanted ads or billboards like this:

10 Comments

Star Strider on 7 Jun 2014

Interesting!

This was 10 years ago?

Cedric Wannaz on 8 Jun 2014

With hpf in the code written by Jon above available here.

John D'Errico on 8 Jun 2014

Just for kicks, I had to look for larger primes. It is surprising that to find the first 500 digit prime in the digits of pi one only need to look as far as digits 35:534 of pi.

Image Analyst
Answer by John Kelly on 10 Jun 2014

At MathWorks we are also frustrated with the recent trend of spam being published to MATLAB Answers. It is a top priority of the MATLAB Answers Team to have more efficient spam controls in place very soon.

5 Comments

Kelly Kearney on 10 Jun 2014

I assume there's no benefit to multiple people flagging content? I've come across several posts that have already been flagged as spam, but not yet removed by someone with power... perhaps there could be some procedure put in place where lower-rep members could combine their points to remove a post.

Star Strider on 11 Jun 2014

Those who now have the ability to lock Questions (RP >= 1500) and make questions flagged as ‘spam’ disappear, can’t see the flags unless we click on the Questions. Eliminating the extant Tags and replacing them with ‘spam’ helps.

A Question flagged as ‘Spam’ should have a visible signal symbol that we can easily see. Perhaps simply displaying the ‘Flag’ symbol on the Question — probably on the right margin — would be enough. If I knew to look for it there, it would immediately draw my attention.

A red ‘Flag’ symbol would indicate a flagged Question, yellow an Answer or Comment that need to have the spam edited out (RP >= 2000) or the Answer or Comment deleted (RP >= 3000).

John D'Errico on 14 Jul 2014

By the way, adding a spam tag is quite helpful for me. That way I can search for any recent spam and delete it.

John Kelly

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