Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Google Automated Spam Filter Blocked My Spreadsheet

Google finally replied to me about "blacklisting" my spreadsheet. Apparently there are one or more link shorteners that are marked as spam sites. By putting links in my spreadsheet to them, an automated filter singled out my spreadsheet to be blocked. Here's the email I finally received:

Based on the spreadsheet URL you provided in your email, it looks like
some of the links in your spreadsheet were detected as spam by our systems
and caused your spreadsheet to be blacklisted. When putting links in a
spreadsheet it would be best to make sure that they do not redirect to
spam sites.

We have restored your spreadsheet and will use this case to help inform
our systems moving forward.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.


The Google Team

I have a few observations to make about this incident:

  1. Google can be responsive to problem reports - and a real person will investigate reported problems.
  2. I am happy that Google is working to reduce the spread of spam and mal-ware on the Internet.
  3. I would have appreciated some form of prior notification before my spreadsheet was blocked. Notice that Google has never explicitly identified which link they object to. Are they worried that this would allow spammers to game the system? Are they afraid of libel suits or allegations of restraint of trade ?
  4. I should take a bit more care in adding sites to this list. I have reviewed most of the domains to make sure they are bona fide URL shorteners; it can be difficult or impossible for me to determine if they are used as vectors for spam or malware.

I appreciate that Google apologized for unpublishing my data - and I accept their apology. But note that Google's Terms of Service allows them broad latitude in removing users content when they use Google products to publish it:

8.3 Google reserves the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service

This teaches that if you want to express yourself freely on the Internet - you should refrain from using Google publishing sites.

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