The penalty for illegal spamming appears to be rising. Facebook's award tops the $234 million judgment won by MySpace in May against Sanford Wallace and Walter Rines. It also exceeds the $177,500 fine and $1.1 million ill-gotten-gain forfeiture that Jeffrey Kilbride and James Schaffer were ordered to pay in October 2007 for the pair's porn spam operation.
"We've all experienced spam -- those unwanted and, sometimes, inappropriate marketing messages," said Facebook director of security Max Kelly and deputy general counsel Mark Howitson in an e-mailed statement. "The bad guys behind those messages are always looking to find new ways to annoy people and Facebook's users have been among those targeted. We don't take this affront to our users lying down."
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel handed down the award last week following four months of litigation. In addition to the monetary judgment, the ruling prohibits the defendants, Adam Guerbuez and his company, Atlantis Blue Capital, from accessing Facebook for any reason or assisting others in doing so.
Kelly and Howitson acknowledge that it's doubtful Facebook will be able to collect the full judgment. "It's unlikely that Guerbuez and Atlantis Blue Capital could ever honor the judgment rendered against them (though we will certainly collect everything we can)," their joint statement says. "But we are confident that this award represents a powerful deterrent to anyone and everyone who would seek to abuse Facebook and its users."
Like Wallace and Rines in the MySpace spam case, Guerbuez didn't show up in court. "We are going to go after him," said Sam O'Rourke, senior corporate counsel for Facebook, in a phone interview. "We know where he is and we're in the process of executing the judgment."
According to the complaint that Facebook filed in August, Guerbuez, a Canadian citizen and resident of Montreal, is the sole owner of Atlantis Capital Blue, a business entity listed in Internet domain registration data to be in Panama City, Panama.
The complaint names 25 unknown defendants, or "John Does." But O'Rourke said that this is a standard practice, in case additional people are implicated. In this instance, he said that Facebook doesn't expect to charge additional people.
Between March and April, Guerbuez sent more than 4 million spam messages to Facebook users, the complaint states. He allegedly did so by stealing Facebook users' logon details using phishing messages and through data obtained from third parties. He then allegedly used botnets to spam Facebook users' message posting pages, or Walls, with messages from the hijacked accounts of spam recipients' Facebook friends.
Unlike e-mail spam, which is generally viewed and/or deleted in private, social networking spam may have social repercussions. The Wall-post spam was visible to anyone viewing an affected Facebook profile, and appeared to be endorsed by the account owner and the friend who posted it.
People may believe spam messages on Facebook are more credible when they appear to come from a friend, O'Rourke acknowledged. "In that sense, just because Facebook does provide for interaction, it can be more damaging," he said.
"The spam promoted numerous products and Web sites that, on information and belief, are offensive and embarrassing to [spam recipients and the owners of hijacked accounts that sent the spam]," the complaint explains. "The products marketed by these spam messages included marijuana, male enhancement pills, and sexually oriented material."