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There are many inactive user profiles on SO that were clearly registered by spammers. The spam posts (if there were any) are already removed but the profiles remain. Some of them put their spam text into the "about me" field, see for example deleted and deleted. If you google this text, it has been spammed all over the web. I guess that the purpose is manipulating search engines - when searching for particular keywords a website with a link to the spammer's site will likely come up as a result.

Is that something that we need to worry about? I can see why the answer would be "no": unlike spam in questions, this isn't a problem for SO - nobody sees these profiles. So this isn't really worth investing effort into. Then again, I hate spam and don't like making spammer's life easy.

If the answer to the previous question is "yes", what can be done about it? Obviously, anything requiring much effort from the community or the devs isn't going to work. One solution I can think of: stop displaying "about me" text for profiles that have neither answers nor questions and that have been inactive for at least a month. Maybe stop displaying the webpage link as well.

Edit: I found many dozens of user profiles (now all deleted) when searching the user database by the keywords "sms", "market", "website", "free", "cheap", "gift", "flower" and "florist". If you then sort by all time reputation score and concentrate on accounts with reputation 1 to 11 it isn't hard to find lots of spammer accounts. (Some of them have the necessary keywords in their user name, they don't use the "about me" text then.) Still, combing through the user database like this requires far too much effort and I definitely don't think that it is a viable solution.

As staticbeast notes in the comments, the Data Explorer is great for finding these profiles.

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marked as duplicate by gnat, Martijn Pieters, ChrisF, hims056, Azik Apr 29 at 5:31

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9  
This for me, whilst not being a major concern, is another reason why we should have the ability to flag user profiles as well as content. –  razlebe Sep 6 '11 at 11:14
1  
They look burninated now... –  Marc Gravell Sep 6 '11 at 11:29
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interesting, how did you find these profiles? That's the tricky part.. –  Jeff Atwood Sep 6 '11 at 11:29
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@Jeff: I've noticed spam from the account "mobile marketing sms" so tried searching for the keywords "market" and "sms" in the user database. I then noticed that "website" and "free" are also good keywords to search for spam accounts. –  Wladimir Palant Sep 6 '11 at 11:31
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Ohy BABY that felt good. I burninated all edit2's that smelled funny (left a couple that had personal info in their profiles). The SMS users I burninated gave me a funny tickly feeling in my pants when I did it. –  Won't Sep 6 '11 at 15:33
    
@Won't: Feel free to have fun with "edit3" as well. –  Wladimir Palant Sep 6 '11 at 18:44
    
@WladimirPalant: Silence of the Flowers, angry birds and soft peckers. –  Won't Sep 6 '11 at 19:27
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Coupon makes for good hits: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/q/111799 –  staticbeast Sep 6 '11 at 19:44
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SEO is another good one: google.com/search?&q=site%3Astackoverflow.com%2Fusers+seo –  bkaid Sep 6 '11 at 19:47
    
@OffBySome: After that round of deletions, I bet there are a lot of SEOre asses out there... –  Won't Sep 6 '11 at 20:25
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@Won't: And since I care about your fun - there you have some more great user profiles. Maybe StackExchange should simply build a competing service to Yellow Pages. There is already enough content, it only needs to be categorized. –  Wladimir Palant Sep 7 '11 at 6:31
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I sure wish we could flag these accounts for moderation attention. With no posts/questions, we can't flag the posts. –  staticx Sep 7 '11 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

The trick is finding these spam profile user accounts, really.

For reference here are the two accounts, now burninated, in picture form:

enter image description here enter image description here

If anyone has protips on what to search for to find accounts like these, I'm all ears.

Note that

  1. Links in your "about me" field don't work for low-rep users; we don't allow more than 2 links by new users in this field, and they aren't actually hyperlinked until you have 15 rep.

  2. The "website" field is not hyperlinked until you generate 15 rep.

... so the damage potential here is small.

That said of course we hate spammers and I love killing their user accounts, but there is a weird little edge condition of users who set up accounts with spam profile info but never ask or answer questions.

It's much harder for us to detect, so.. any tips, techniques, or ideas are welcome.

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I edited my question to include the approach I used. But I think that the effort required isn't justified for a minor issue like this. –  Wladimir Palant Sep 6 '11 at 12:01
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I think that profile that was created but has no activity whatsoever for X days (one week?) should raise a flag, if it contains "website" link and About Me information. Let members review such profiles with the ability to send moderator flag same way we can already review bad posts for example. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 6 '11 at 12:09
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Get an Akismet key, shoot them a little money and start running profiles through it in the background. After that, let "Community ♦ " raise a flag if a user's profile scores a hit in the future. Our SPAM could help Akismet get better, and I know of no better way to find these than to run the whole lot through an algorithm. –  Tim Post Sep 6 '11 at 13:26
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@Jeff - this is the exact reason I suggested adding the ability to flag user profiles: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/101538/… –  JNK Sep 6 '11 at 14:16
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Maybe a new mod tools tab for new, suspect accounts? Could be unregistered users with a website, registered users with low activity, but an "about me" field or a website, and anyone who has a spam flag on their content deemed valid. –  lunboks Sep 6 '11 at 14:24
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Also don't forget that there's a minimum of 2000 rep. before nofollow is removed from even the Website field, let alone the About Me field. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 6 '11 at 16:09
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What about feeding the current found spam user details and normal user details into a Bayesian filtering, I think Joel was written software that uses them in the past. –  Ian Ringrose Sep 7 '11 at 11:58
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I just noticed this user with 59 stack exchange accounts but not one post as yet –  Martin Smith Feb 4 '12 at 15:38
    
@martin we'll deal with that, sorry -- don't hesitate to email us if you find these, and we'll fix ASAP –  Jeff Atwood Feb 4 '12 at 17:53
    
@JeffAtwood: I've proposed a solution here. –  DragonLord the Fiery Aug 25 '12 at 5:33
    
but Sir Jeff, my little concern here is - don't you think you might be helping these two spammers? by using their pic profile - because there are 636 views-(at time of me posting this)- which automatically qualifies to 636 hits.. that's more of a good job done thou..lol.. that's just my lil tots or concern –  Elltz Nov 26 at 19:35

It still appears in Google results so in my opinion it's not good situation: Stack Overflow is indirectly linked with Spam.

Inactive accounts should be deleted after six months of inactivity, but it's too long for spam accounts.. IMO such accounts need to be zapped by moderator on spot.

share|improve this answer
    
They normally are. The problem is if users decide to put flag-weight over good use of the flagging system. If a user is Moderator Attention flagged for spam, his account will be squeezed into a tiny box (which itself will be thrown into the sea, where it will be eaten by a bigger fish), but if that does not happen, the account can live on by chance. –  Time Traveling Bobby Sep 6 '11 at 11:30
    
Thanks, guess we'll just have to report such spammers who live by chance in here and moderators will come over and eat their account. :) –  Shadow Wizard Sep 6 '11 at 11:40
    
I don't think that inactive accounts are deleted - see stackoverflow.com/users/356122/website-development-new-delhi for example. –  Wladimir Palant Sep 6 '11 at 11:57
    
@Wladimir thanks, looks like it's a bug then, according to this and this - probably the deleted posts are taken into account as activity. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 6 '11 at 12:03
    
Yes, Google search results are still ugly. And some of these are very old so the automatic deletion definitely doesn't work. –  Wladimir Palant Aug 28 '12 at 16:18

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