Fighting Spam at Flickr

Mikhail Panchenko (New Relic), Simon Batistoni (Yahoo! Inc (Flickr))
Location: 2006 Level:
Average rating: ***..
(3.83, 12 ratings)

Flickr has always taken the spam problem seriously. Ignoring spam is unacceptable for any social site, as it destroys credibility, ruins the user experience, and stifles communities. As a site grows it becomes increasingly lucrative to spammers, and they continue to get incrementally more creative and resourceful in abusing it. Sadly, they have caught us with our pants down on several occasions. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and would like to share our experience in the hope that it helps others head off spammers more quickly.

We will talk about:

  1. the evolution of spammers and the captcha arms race that has resulted
  2. being prepared for a massive spam attack
  3. past anti-spam efforts at Flickr and lessons learned
  4. the economic incentives behind spam and how that can inform spam fighting
  5. a new approach to fighting spammers, derived from #3 and #4

We’ll discuss how technology can make anti-spam efforts more efficient using clustering, machine learning, and input from humans, both endusers and staff.

Photo of Mikhail Panchenko

Mikhail Panchenko

New Relic

Mike joined Flickr in July as a backend engineer. Before that, he worked on internal tools at Yahoo! Before that, he attended Washington University in St. Louis and played around with THE INTERNETS a lot. Before that… well… he sort of crawled around, drooled a lot, and was generally incoherent. Because he was a baby.

Simon Batistoni

Yahoo! Inc (Flickr)

Simon is still surprised that he’s a software engineer, despite the fact that he’s been doing it for a decade now.

After a varied career involving Estate Agents, internet radio, amateur writers, fine art, international websearch and babelfish, Simon joined Flickr in late 2006 as the site’s lead internationalisation engineer.

You may know him from such Flickr features as the site’s invites system, and “People in Photos”. He now leads Flickr’s Application Engineering team, and still spends a lot of time dreaming up new and inventive ways to combat spam.

Comments on this page are now closed.


Paul McKeever
05/09/2010 9:24pm PDT


I thought this was a really good session. The content was fascinating, well explained and totally relevant.

It was great to get some insight into how you’ve had to deal with this in the “real world”, and have gone beyond a reactive approach.

I also liked your style of delivery which was very engaging.

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