“Money. Traffic is money.”
Photo: Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock
Editor's note: A link to this article has been included in a wave of Google Analytics spam. Although it may appear that traffic is coming from Motherboard to your site, that is not the case. More information can be found here.
Spam is everywhere. Whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, or, of course, in your emails, someone is always trying to sell something.
But one prolific Russian spammer has taken to Google Analytics—a collection of tools used by websites to track how many people are visiting and where they are coming from—to spread his own message. And it's not just to peddle some low quality pharmaceutical knock-off: it's to promote his love for Donald Trump.
"Help to Trump and Russia. I like Trump. I even sacrificed traffic to help him," Vitaly Popov, who is behind the recent wave of Google Analytics spam, told Motherboard in an email.
As Analytics Edge reported in November, websites have noticed referrals from lifehacĸer.com and ɢoogle.com. Check those URLs again; they are not the real Lifehacker or Google domains.
Instead, Popov has registered websites that use the latin version of letters, meaning he can get a URL that looks very much like google.com, but directs visitors elsewhere. And Popov has been including pro-Trump messages in his spam.
"Secret.ɢoogle.com You are invited! Enter only with this ticket URL. Copy it. Vote for Trump!," one spam message read, according to The Next Web.
Popov explained that he started the spam three days before the election.
"I was fully prepared from April, but I wait. I could begin in a month before the elections and on a wave of the anti-Russian hysteria to receive a lot of traffic," he said.
Popov's Google Analytics strategy isn't new in and of itself; he's been filling peoples' screens with the stuff for two years, he said. Some have even responded and developed counter-strategies to block out his messages.
"I can because I live in Russia. If I live in USA or Europe, I'll not begin. God bless Russia!" Popov added.
But spreading pro-Trump messages isn't the only reason Popov upped his Analytics game: Popov has something of a grudge against Google specifically. According to Popov, many years ago, Google blocked his account on Adsense, the company's system for placing ads on websites.
"Revenge to Google," he wrote.
The spam is for fame too, and Popov makes no effort to hide his identity (Motherboard found a contact email address in the WHOIS record of a related domain).
"Personal glory. I like my name—Vitaly Popov and want that it was known," he wrote. "Intellectual and technical superiority against strong opponents in a really important and competitive field—money and influence."
"Money," Popov wrote. "Traffic is money."
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.