Ringtone Verboten

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 8, 2007

Filed under: Rants 26 comments

I’m not impressed with htAkismet. I see no effect in the number of spam comments that hit this site. Maybe it hasn’t started to do its thing yet. I really wish it had some kind of “here is how I work and here are the IPs I’ve banned” control panel.

At any rate, I just got 600 spams in a three hour stretch, two-thirds of which were for “ringtones”. We all have different tolerances for this sort of business, but this is more or less my personal limit. I have added “ringtones” to my list of forbidden words, which is my orbital death-ray solution. Note that if you drop that word into a comment the system will eat it without even telling me. I’ll never see it. I suggest humans switch to using the term “ringsongs”, or perhaps, “crap nobody wants like, ever, man.” Either one. It’s a trade-off between brevity and accuracy, really.

And let me just add that I see ringtones as one of the sleaziest, most lothesome scams to emerge from the mobile phone revolution, which is really saying something. The average cell phone bill is an incomprehensible ten-page morass of gibberish and nonsense leading up to the “Ammount Due” on the last page, a number which is clearly generated using the Mersenne Twister. I’m careful to never read the fine print of my bill aloud, lest I summon some slime-covered demon from the lower planes. Despite this danger, I have to give them credit for actually selling something people want in the midst of bewildering and then subsequently screwing them.

This is not the case with ringtones. I’ve always thought that the $1 per song on iTunes was excessive. That’s about the same ammount I would pay for a song on CD, except the CD version comes with – you know – a CD, as well as album art, lyrics, and a nice jewel case to protect these treasures. I can play it anywhere without having to ask Steve Jobs first and without needing to infect my computer with “install” iTunes. But ringtones take this ridiculous transaction and turn it into something far more absurd. Song rental.

The ringtones on my phone aren’t $1, they’re $3. You’re not just limited to listening to them on your iPod, you’re limited to listening to them on your phone. When someone calls. You aren’t getting a song, you’re getting part of a song. Oh yeah… you’re not buying it, you’re renting it for 90 days. This is like charging someone twenty dollars for a half-eaten hamburger.

The “free” ringtones, I’m sure, represent something even more horrible. There must be a reason spammers want to get people to download them. I can only guess, but I’m betting this is a way to get a user’s phone number and a way to circumvent the “do not call” list. Hey! We have an existing prior established ongoing and totally legit business relationship with this guy. He downloaded a ringtone from us! That deal is a lot worse than renting part of a song for $3.

What? I’ve gone off-topic? Twice? In each paragraph? Sorry. Where was I? Oh right:

Don’t use the word “ringtones” in comments.

UPDATE: This sucks. Akismet apparently does its thing BEFORE checking for forbidden words, which, in effect, removes that feature from WordPress. So annoyed.


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26 thoughts on “Ringtone Verboten

  1. Carl the Bold says:

    Just to see if it posts: “ringtones”

  2. Kris says:

    So, Shamus, dude… I like, totally hacked my phone to create my own crap nobody wants like, ever, man. Want to know how? Check it out here:


    Be the coolest geek with your own custom crap nobody wants like, ever, man!


    I think it would sell.

  3. I like the observation (which I think I read on Everything2, but E2 is borked at the moment) that modern cellphones allow ordinary people today to do the stuff that all us dorks were doing in 1989 on our Amiga 500s.

    Crummy Asteroids clones, cheesy music, slow-loading barely viewable porn; all there.

    Except, of course, we were getting all of that stuff for free, on a huge 14 inch monitor with a giant 3 inch speaker. And when we got sick of it, we could play Carrier Command or Speedball.

  4. Bogan the Mighty says:

    The best part about the stupid things is that phones are starting to turn into ipods to like that lg chocolate that I got which now really does double as an ipod for me. Anyway you’d think with the ability to save a song onto your phone they’d let you use it as a ringer? Ha! No way why would they allow you to use free music when they can charge you. Even if i’m guilty of it, but its Super Mario Bros. man.

  5. Justin says:

    Anyway you'd think with the ability to save a song onto your phone they'd let you use it as a ringer? Ha! No way why would they allow you to use free music when they can charge you.

    Hack the phone. It’s the first thing I did when I got my current phone. Well, at least after I paid extra for the data cable and software. Now I can use the thing as Motorola intended it to be, not how Verizon neutered it.

  6. Even worse on the “screwing” front is the charge for text messages; even an “all-you-can-eat/send” plan is a rip-off, but take a look at the raw charges if you don’t get one of those plans. AFAIK, since I didn’t spring for the dumb plans, it’s 10cents to send and 2cents to receive… up to 160 characters, is it? (For all I know, it’s changed since then.)

    We haven’t seen byte charges that bad in any other domain since the 1980s, at worst, possibly even the 1970s.

    We’re on Verizon, which can call other Verizon subscribers for free, and in an amazing stroke of luck, everyone we call is also a Verizon subscriber. So, it is ironically much cheaper to call someone up and use the bandwidth of around 20 SMS messages per second then to send one SMS message with what we wanted to say. Not to mention the phone packets are also quality low-latency packets, whereas the SMS messages can be high-latency packets.

  7. RodeoClown says:

    An easy way to get rid of 99% of spam is to stick a non-changing CAPTHCA on your comments form.

    If you look at the Coding Horror website, Jeff Atwood uses the same word every time, and it blocks 99.9% of spam.


    Check the article, then check out his comment form to see it. That word you have to type in is ALWAYS the same. And easily readable for a human. A very small hurdle with huge effectiveness (and no false positives).

  8. SteveDJ says:

    Note that I don’t have iTunes, but I’ve been told by a friend that this works. She just burns her downloaded iTunes to an audio-CD, then re-rips it back into the computer. Now the songs are DRM-free.

    I don’t know if this just works, or if she is using some hacker-type software to do the original burn (but it seems to me that if it required hacker software, then she’d just use such hacker software to remove the DRM and skip the whole burning process – so I think this is something that doesn’t require tricky software).

  9. Pixy Misa says:

    That’s a standard iTunes feature.

    Yay for DRM.

  10. Shamus says:

    SteveDJ: Yup. I used iTunes for a while and that works fine. The only drawback is the waste of discs, and the fact that when you re-rip them you lose all of the track info.

    So really iTunes entire DRM scheme is reduced to a needless expense and an annoying hassle. I’d actually think about using it if the prices were a little lower, and if iTunes wasn’t such a bloated pig.

    For reference, I get my tunes via emusic (emusic.com) and I’m happy. It’s mostly oldies, classical, and indie music. (No top 40) But tracks are about 30¢ or so, depending on the plan you use. Most importantly, you download DRM-free MP3’s.

  11. I use SpamKarma 2 on my WordPress. Very, very rarely does a piece of spam get by it. It has a counter as well and lets you fiddle with settings to your heart’s delight. Free, but you should donate if you like it. See it here:


  12. Eric Meyer says:

    “‘And easily readable for a human. A very small hurdle with huge effectiveness (and no false positives).”

    Easily readable for a human who can see. For the blind, it’s a potentially insurmountable barrier, unless audio quivalents are provided. That’s what led me to write WP-Gatekeeper (http://meyerweb.com/eric/tools/wordpress/wp-gatekeeper.html), a text-only CAPTCHA, though I admit I stopped using it when I started using Akismet, which has been great for me. So far it’s caught just over 228,000 bits of spam. Whee!

    CAPTCHAs of any sort are also, of course, helpless against human-submitted spam, but those are rare. They exist, but they’re rare.

  13. RodeoClown says:

    >Easily readable for a human who can see. For the blind, it's a potentially insurmountable barrier, unless audio equivalents are provided.

    The CAPTCHA the article talks about is a static image, it never changes – is ALWAYS the same word. You can just make the alternate text say “type the letters o, r, a, n, g and e.” or even just “enter the word ‘orange'”. Then screenreaders can read it too.

    The static version rules out 99% of all spam, as most are automatically sent to the blogging software directly, and don’t ever use the comment entry form. Easy enough to get rid of.

    Another alternative in wordpress is to rename the file comments are sent to (obviously changing it in the code too), and that way more of the spamming will miss as the comment php file is not what the spammers are looking for.

  14. CaptainBooshi says:

    I have to admit that I actually like crap nobody wants like, ever, man. Not paying for it, though, that just seems stupid to me. I just make my own and stick on my own. Not only that, but my dad has bought ringtones (b/c he really doesn’t care about the charge) and the sound quality is horrible. Barely sounds like the song he wanted, and not as loud as it should be, either.

  15. Cineris says:

    Regarding htAkismet, I’m thinking there’s supposed to be a submenu that shows up under plugins that doesn’t show up (Guess that’s what we get for using version 0.0.1, eh?). Looking at the code for the plugin I can see that it doesn’t simply autoban an IP on the first try, but it requires repeated (configurable) attempts in order to deny an IP. There’s also a display for all IPs blocked and fields for adding/removing IPs from it.

  16. Phlux says:

    I suggest a new word for all your readers to use. From now on when you want to say “ringtones” everybody says “rangtons”

    I really hope that word catches on, because I love saying it. Rangtons.

  17. Phlux says:

    Allow me to suggest that instead of this forbidden word, we now all refer to them as


    I really hope that word catches on because I love saying it. Rangtons.

  18. Phlux says:

    Oh, and there are other ways for mass converting itunes songs into regular MP3s with no DRM, including ways that do not technically bypass or crack the DRM, making it completely legal.

    It is essentially like having two sound cards. You play the audio through one and record it into the other…perfect digital copy, no DRM, and I think it will copy the file names too, so your track and ID3 info is safe.

    The downside, obviously, is that you have to play back the songs in realtime, so a 1000 song library will take days to convert.

  19. Fernmonkey says:

    Someone once sent me the link to HotCaptchas: http://hotcaptcha.com/

    I presume that I have unusual tastes in men and women, because I keep getting these wrong. Even when I make my selections based on “what the media considers hot” rather than “what I personally consider hot”.

    Ooh, I rolled a critical!

  20. Steve says:

    Shamus, you might want to check on any excluded word or phrase you include in your “kill list” that the Regex pattern works as you intend.

    I was recently snagged in a ludicrous but potentially nasty false positive on a company e-mail filter when I tried to forward a flyer from Novel to another e-mail account I own.

    The (long and tedious) details are here.

    Hope you stumble on a magic spam killer soon.


  21. Steve says:

    Oh, and although the post above got through, I was told in a reply page that I’d been caught by your spam & virus filter, so it might not be working at all.


  22. Luke says:

    Shamus – try the Bad Behavior wordpress plugin. I went from getting 20-30 spam posts a day to 2 or 3 random manually entered spams in the last 4 months (these got captured by Akismet though). It’s amazing how well that thing works.

    It simply locks out all the bots that try to send POST requests to your website based on their behavior, user agent string and etc..

  23. Barbara says:

    Yeah, iTunes can be a hassle and is certainly a memory-hog, but it lets me play my music wherever I want: on my iPod, my computer or my stereo (either through the iPod or from a CD burnt using iTunes). And you get the album-art with it for your iPod and computer.

    The last jewel-case CD I bought wouldn’t do that: it would play only on the stereo, not on a computer or mp3 player (at least, not without hacking the DRM). It didn’t give me lyrics either (most CDs don’t these days). I was hardly ever near the stereo when I wanted to play the music, so I threw away the CD and downloaded the music instead. Haven’t bought a jewel-case CD since.

  24. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    I got an iPod this last Christmas. Other than the fact that it is ONLY 2GB in size (8 times larger in capacity than my previous player) I am loving it. Being a closet Apple/MS hater, I have been using WinAmp with the iPod plugin for managing it. I’ve never had to worry about iTunes.

    As far as getting music, I admit that I do take advantage of eMule for finding individual songs and torrents for albums, but generally I use my local library. At least in Canada, our library system has made sure I can freely and legally obtain copies of whatever music I may like. I choose to get mine through the library as long as they have it on hand.

    Barbara: Something has puzzled me, and you seem to be in a position to help me. I use my iPod and my computer to listen to music, most often while doing something else (even if it is just napping). Why would I want to use up space by storing album art?

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