Mammoth award under CAN-SPAM aims to send a message to would-be illicit marketers.
A federal court has awarded Facebook more than $873 million in damages against a spammer for showering the site's members with unsolicited advertisements that pushed sexually oriented products.
Judge Jeremy Fogel, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, awarded statutory damages of more than $436.6 million against Adam Guerbuez and his company, Atlantis Blue Capital, and an equal sum in aggravated statutory damages.
The judgment also provides for Facebook to collect reasonable attorneys' fees and recover the costs of the lawsuit, and must file an application for this by Dec. 12.
Sam O'Rourke, Facebook's senior corporate counsel, told InternetNews.com that the social networking site does not expect to be able to collect anywhere near the amount awarded, but said the legal victory still sends a signal to all spammers that it will pursue them relentlessly.
"There's no doubt that this guy isn't worth $873 million or any fraction of that amount," he said. "But we intend to go after him and collect whatever we can, even if it's a hundred dollars. We're committed to protecting our users against this stuff, and we'll target anybody that targets Facebook."
According to Facebook, this is the largest judgment yet for an action brought under the nearly five-year-old Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, better known as the CAN-SPAM Act, which covers commercial e-mails and.
Facebook filed suit on Aug. 14 against Blue Atlantic and Guerbuez, a Canadian citizen, after following the trail of investigations prompted by an unusually high amount of spam in March and April, O'Rourke said. He added that Guerbuez is well-known in spamming circles, and once its attorneys heard of his involvement, they jumped on the case.
Guerbuez may have developed a reputation in other shady dealings besides spam, Facebook said. According to the site and coverage in the local Montreal Mirror, Guerbuez in recent years built a business on making and selling videos of people assaulting local vagrants and getting them to commit humiliating acts, and has also been a participant in racist skinhead groups.
A private investigator employed by Facebook tracked Guerbuez down in Montreal, and served him with court papers, videotaping the process for evidence, O'Rourke said. Guerbuez failed to turn up in court on Sept. 3 to answer the summons, according to O'Rourke.
The long arm of social networking
Facebook's lawyers then filed an application for a default judgment on Nov. 7, O'Rourke said, and petitioned for an expedited hearing. "We had been given a hearing date in December, and decided to expedite that because we didn't want the defendant to hide his assets," O'Rourke said.
The expedited hearing was granted for Nov. 21, during which the court made its ruling. Details of the court filings are available online.
O'Rourke said there are other spam cases Facebook plans to pursue, but declined to disclose details.
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Additionally, the Guerbuez case is one of several high-profile lawsuits in which Facebook has been involved during the past two years. In June, it settled a lawsuit by ConnectU, which accused Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of stealing the idea for Facebook from Harvard University classmates. ConnectU since filed an appeal contesting the settlement, which a judge ultimately threw out.
Facebook's controversial Beacon service, which automatically placed ads in members profiles based on their activities, also became a lightning rod for criticism. The company ultimately apologized in response to the outcry around Beacon, but the product still resulted in a pair of class-action lawsuits.
One had been filed in April against Blockbuster, a Beacon advertiser, making allegations of privacy violations related to how the service tracked members and placed ads on profiles. The second, a class-action federal lawsuit, was filed against Facebook over Beacon in a California court on Aug. 14.
The uproar over Beacon eventually led Facebook to change its approach to the service, requiring user opt-in.
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