I used to think of Google as a friend in my personal battle against spam. The company has done an exceptional job of keeping my inbox free of unwanted pharmaceutical ads. Unfortunately, I’ve recently come to realize that Google may have a double standard when it comes to physical junk mail.
Over the past few weeks I’ve received several marketing letters from Google by way of the U.S. postal service. Each letter was unremarkable by itself. Each included an identical offer of credit towards the Google AdWords service. The only thing notable about these letters is that each one was addressed to:
Captain Copyright Has Left the Building
If I understand this correctly, someone at Google thinks that Monday February is a person who works in the Captain Copyright Has Left the Building department at Medialoper.
The first time around I found the letter amusing. The second time I began to wonder how a Google bot could make such a careless parsing error. By the time I received the third letter I became convinced that something truly odd was happening.
I did, in fact, write an article titled Captain Copyright Has Left the Building, published on Monday February 5th, 2007.
It seems pretty obvious that Google is using a program to crawl websites in search of data to feed into a mailing list for marketing purposes. Spammers do this sort of thing all the time. It’s called address harvesting and Google considers it a very bad thing. Unfortunately Google appears to have an address harvester of its own, and a broken one at that.
While harvesting physical mailing addresses from the web isn’t technically illegal (at least not that I’m aware of) it is certainly against the spirit of Google’s ongoing effort to fight spam.
I contacted Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, via Twitter for comment. So far the only answer I’ve received is that “people are still checking on it“. I’ll be interested in hearing what those people have to say, because it sure looks like Google is engaging in the same practices that it claims to be fighting in its war on spam.