Editor’s note: If your website is suddenly receiving a ton of referral traffic from this article, it’s most likely not actually coming from us but is instead spam from another source. More information is available here.
Spammers just don’t quit. A prolific Russian traffic master called Vitaly Popov has used Google Analytics to spread links to websites he controls, and in some cases, has included pro-Trump messages in his spam, too.
The alleged Motherboard spam. It’s not us. Image: Paul Anthony / Twitter
Now, someone is apparently bombarding websites with links to Motherboard’s own article about Popov’s Trump-loving campaign. It’s all very meta, and also highlights a lingering cat and mouse game between Google and analytics spammers.
Shortly after publishing an interview with Popov, Motherboard received several inquiries, tips, and complaints about links to our article popping up in a load of Google Analytics dashboards.
“My website’s getting suspicious traffic from motherboard.vice.com—all from Russia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc. The traffic caused me [sic] site to go down for a couple hours this morning,” one person wrote in an email to the main Motherboard inbox.
“We are being spammed from motherboard.vice.com the traffic is coming from Moscow,” another wrote.
To be clear, this is not anything that VICE or Motherboard is doing. Instead, someone is including a link to the article in their own Google Analytics spam. The likely explanation is Google’s “Measurement Protocol,” which allows developers to send data directly to Google Analytics servers. It looks like the traffic is coming from Motherboard, but, in reality, it’s not.
Popov did the same thing when The Next Web published an article about his tactics back in November, and it seems likely the same may happen with the article you’re reading now. Popov did not respond to a request for comment on this latest wave of spam, and there are workarounds that analysts can use to stop the flow of unwanted, fake referrals.
Analytics spam isn’t new, and some analysts think that Google has curbed the problem, at least temporarily, over the years.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the spammers to respond and soon the spam was flowing again,” Carlos Escalera writes on oHow.co. Google did not provide comment in time for publication.
As for why Popov is pushing analytics spam, part of it is about “personal glory. I like my name—Vitaly Popov and want that it was known,” he previously told Motherboard.
With that in mind, some victims of the spam want to stop Popov for good.
“I think I figured out how to take Vitaly Popov out of commission. I’m going to hit him where it hurts, the one thing he loves most: his name,” Michael Sitver, a “maker” and political science student at the University of Chicago, told Motherboard in an email.
Sitver has purchased vitalypopov.com, and in an open letter says he will redirect the domain to wherever Popov wants. As long as Popov agrees to stop spamming Google Analytics, that is.
“I’ll even redirect it to the website of your favourite person, Donald Trump,” Sitver writes.
However, at the time of writing, vitalypopov.com redirects visitors through to the Urban Dictionary’s page on “asshole.”
“someone being arrogant, rude, obnoxious, or just a total dickhead…” the entry reads.
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