If you give stuff away for free, people will abuse it

In what is starting to sound like a broken record, one of my favorite companies, Google, is being abused by spammers - again.  First we found spam blogs in Blogspot, then we found spam coming from Gmail users, and now I have found a third abuse - spammers are using Google Analytics to track visitors to their site.

If you're unfamiliar with Google Analytics, it's a tool that lets people track visitors to their site - where they are from, what browsers they are using, page references, average time spent on website, etc.  And, the tool is free.  It's a pretty neat idea, but it's obviously a new offering because Microsoft does not yet have a similar product.

Unfortunately, just this past week we found some spam sites that were using it to track visitors to their sites.  That's actually a very clever marketing tool and it comes as no surprise to me that spammers have figured out a way to use this to their advantage.  I suspect they'll use this to target particular demographics of PC users and probably geographical demographics as well.

This illustrates the title of this post - if you give stuff away for free, people will abuse it.  Is it any coincidence that spammers abuse email because it is such a low cost?  Is it any surprise they abuse Blogspot and Gmail because they're free?  In economics, the laws of supply and demand state that when demand goes up, supply goes down.  However, when those laws are circumvented we will get abuses; so, if the price of something is kept artificially low people will use too much of it.  The higher the price, the less people can afford access to it and this results in reduced consumption.  If all of these free tools that spammers use started costing them more money such that costs exceeded reward, it would keep spamming from being a profitable business.  On the other hand, trying to redesign the internet mail system is a task that may be trouble than it's worth.

On the other hand, maybe Google should just screen their URLs with a URL reputation service...