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Site wins spam case

Jury awards Facebook $873 million on claims a man sent drug and sex messages to users.

November 25, 2008|Jessica Guynn | Guynn is a Times staff writer.

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook Inc. has struck back against spammers, winning an $873-million judgment against a Canadian man accused of sending millions of unsolicited messages about drugs and sex.

The popular social networking site said Adam Guerbuez tricked its members into revealing their passwords to send out messages. Guerbuez did not appear in court to defend himself, Facebook said, although the company says it has video of him being served the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose signed the default judgment Friday. Facebook filed the lawsuit against Guerbuez, of Montreal, and his business, Atlantis Blue Capital, in August.

Palo Alto-based Facebook called the judgment the largest ever under a federal anti-spam law. Sam O'Rourke, senior counsel at the company, said it would serve as a deterrent to other spammers.

Facebook has hired lawyers in Canada to enforce the judgment against Guerbuez and locate his assets, O'Rourke said. "We want to make it clear that we are not just doing this for the PR value," he said.

"We would like to have the message out there to spammers that we are not going to sit by and let them have that activity on our sites that is illegal and annoying to our users," O'Rourke said.

Guerbuez could not be reached for comment.

This is the first major spam case Facebook has filed. But it is unlikely to be the last. Unwanted commercial messages have become increasingly frequent as the site's popularity has soared.

Facebook said it continued to devote significant resources to combating the problem. But social networks are increasingly being targeted. And the legal fights are difficult to wage as spammers rarely show up in court and are often hard to find.

So social networks are borrowing a strategy from big Internet companies such as AOL and Microsoft Corp., which waged high-profile legal battles in recent years to send a message. AOL once raffled off a spammer's Porsche it received in a settlement as a publicity stunt to draw attention to its efforts.

In May, MySpace won a $230-million default judgment against Sanford "Spamford" Wallace and a business partner. In June, it got a $6-million settlement from Scott Richter, whose company, Media Breakaway, allegedly sent unwanted ads to users.

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jessica.guynn@latimes.com.

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