November 7th, 2012

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What Would Bill Gates Do?

They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers.
But what’s the real cost?
‘Cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper.
(The Flight of the Conchords)


I mentioned recently that spam had forced me to put CAPTCHA on anonymous comments. Both dorianegray and owlfish reported that doing this hadn't stemmed the spamflow for them, and I've got to say that it hasn't worked for me either, so far. I'll stick with it a little longer, but if CAPTCHA plus reporting to LJ don't work, I'll have to consider banning anonymous comments altogether. There are only so many adverts for cheap Ugg boots that I can take.

What intrigues me is, how are they getting around CAPTCHA? Is someone laboriously typing in the two-word phrase each time? According to Wikipedia, the answer is yes:

Spammers pay about $0.80 to $1.20 for each 1,000 solved CAPTCHAs to companies employing human solvers in Bangladesh, China, India, and many other developing nations. Other sources cite a cost as low as $0.50 for each 1,000 solved.


Even at those low rates of pay, though, it's hard to make sense of the economics. On LJ, for example, many people (including me) screen anonymous comments, and delete spam before it's seen by anyone. And of those few that make it into a comment thread, the number that result in someone clicking through to a site for Viagra or Uggs and actually making a purchase must be vanishingly small. Spam works because it's possible to send a million messages with the click of a button, but if sending a million messages actually costs $500 in CAPTCHA decoding, surely that's going to make it uneconomic?

On the other hand, if by having CAPTCHA I'm helping to eat into the profits of spammers, and even helping to employ people in developing countries, perhaps I should put up with it, in the same spirit that I do Free Rice puzzles when I'm on hold?

Data point: I've received two spam comments in the time it's taken to write this post.