WhatsApp is a popular messaging app used by over a billion users around the
globe. Due to this popularity, spam on WhatsApp is an important issue. Despite
this, the distribution of spam via WhatsApp remains understudied by
researchers, in part because of the end-to-end encryption offered by the
platform. This paper addresses this gap by studying spam on a dataset of 2.6
million messages sent to 5,051 public WhatsApp groups in India over 300 days.
First, we characterise spam content shared within public groups and find that
nearly 1 in 10 messages is spam. We observe a wide selection of topics ranging
from job ads to adult content, and find that spammers post both URLs and phone
numbers to promote material. Second, we inspect the nature of spammers
themselves. We find that spam is often disseminated by groups of phone numbers,
and that spam messages are generally shared for longer duration than non-spam
messages. Finally, we devise content and activity based detection algorithms
that can counter spam.

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