Google comes in fourth on list of spam-friendly providers

Google has yet to stop a rising number of spammers from abusing Google Docs according to junk mail watchdog Spamhaus as Google is ranked fourth on a list of spammy ISPs.

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Google has yet to stop a rising number of spammers from abusing Google Docs, its Web-based collaboration and spreadsheet application, according to junk mail watchdog Spamhaus.

On Tuesday, Google ranked fourth on a list of spammy ISPs (Internet service providers) and other Web services providers updated daily by Spamhaus. Google has been in the top 10 list over the last several weeks, said Richard Cox, Spamhaus' CIO.

Google could not be immediately reached for comment.

Like peers Microsoft and Yahoo, Google's free email accounts are frequently used to send spam. Antispam filtering software is unlikely to block messages coming from the domains of those companies due to their wide use, although spam can be stopped through more sophisticated analysis of an email.

But a greater problem is how spammers are manipulating Google Docs, Cox said. The application has a feature where users can share a document that is assigned a URL (uniform resource locator).

If opened, those documents contain a "redirect" command that pushes them to spammer Web sites, which often sell pharmaceuticals, Cox said.

Spamhaus has had trouble getting top-level attention from Google about the problem, Cox said. That's in contrast to Microsoft, which took steps recently to stop spammers from putting redirects on free Web pages and sending out the links as spam.

A top Microsoft executive finally took note of the problem after being alerted by Spamhaus, Cox said. Microsoft hasn't detailed how it is stopping the nuisance, but their method appears to be working, Cox said. Spamhaus has had less luck so far with Google, he said.

There are a couple of fixes. One would be to simply halt the use of redirects, Cox said.

"We don't see why when Google and Microsoft hand out free Web pages to people they should then allow those people to put a redirect to another site," Cox said. "The only people using redirects are the spammers."

Another method would be to check the URL to which a redirector points. If it is listed on Spamhaus' Block List (SBL) of verified spam operations, the message could be blocked, Cox said.

Services such as Tiny URL, which make long URLs shorter, block those URLs that redirect to sites on the SBL and thus don't have the problem, Cox said.