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Facebook Wins Massive CAN-SPAM Award, Vows to Collect

By Jeff Meisner
Nov 25, 2008 11:56 AM PT

Social networking site Facebook has won an US$873 million judgment against Montréal-based spammer Adam Guerbuez.

Facebook Wins Massive CAN-SPAM Award, Vows to Collect

Guerbuez "was phishing Facebook accounts and tricking people into giving them their personal information," said Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt. "He then would send their friends e-mails for phony pharmaceuticals and sleazy sexual products."

The question now is, will Facebook actually collect nearly $1 billion in damages from Guerbuez?

"No, we don't expect to collect $873 million, but we're going to try and take whatever he has," Schnitt told the E-Commerce Times. "We will enforce the judgment, and there is an established process for enforcing a U.S. judgment in Canada."

Facebook officials know where Guerbuez is, Schnitt said, but he declined to share the defendant's current location with the E-Commerce Times.

Spam a Constant Threat

Due to their enormous user population, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are big targets for spammers.

"It's more of a constant thing, but then there are spikes where a person does a concerted attack, like [Guerbuez]," Schnitt said. "Those are the cases we're prioritizing. This is the first [CAN-SPAM] case for Facebook, but it certainly will not be the last."

Facebook is preparing more cases based on the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, Schnitt said.

It's rare for companies such as Facebook to collect any significant awards.

"More often than not, while these are great public relations cases, the judgment is usually meaningless as it relates to the parties to the case," John W. Dozier Jr., president of Glen Allen, Va.-based Dozier Internet Law, told the E-Commerce Times.

Every once in a while, plaintiffs get lucky -- like AOL did when it found buried treasure in a defendant's backyard and collected it, Dozier said. "But usually, [spammers] have moved their assets into protected places around the world or put them in someone else's name."

The real purpose of CAN-SPAM cases is to send a message to spammers that their illegal activity won't be tolerated.

That's exactly what Facebook is hoping will happen.

"We hope it demonstrates to users that we'll be aggressive in protecting them from spam, and we hope it demonstrates to spammers and potential spammers that there can be severe consequences to targeting our users," Facebook's Schnitt said.

Elusive Characters

More often than not, spammers go unpunished. They have an arsenal of tactics that makes it very difficult to capture and prosecute them, much less collect substantial court awards.

Many spammers operate from countries in the Caribbean and Central America, where it's tougher to seize assets and easier to hide them, Dozier said.

Yet spammers don't have to operate outside of U.S. borders to garner protection, he noted. Many simply move to states such as Florida, Texas and Nevada, all of which have laws that make it difficult to prosecute them.

"Many commercial e-mailers are located in Florida because it has laws that protect judgment debtors in the form of homestead exemptions," Dozier said. "You can hold onto your house even when there's a judgment against you. The same thing for Texas, which has similar laws."

Spammers act in a very calculating manner, shrewdly assessing the risks associated with their activities before actually engaging in them.

"Spammers know there is very little downside to doing this as long as they stay outside of the U.S.," Dozier said. "They make enough so that if the average business person looked at it, they'd say, 'If I had that kind of money, I'd be OK if I had to leave the U.S.'"

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