Facebook spammer's $US711m fine won't stop problem, analysts say

Some say federal court order could lead to more sophisticated ways to avoid detection

A federal court's decision to award Facebook a staggering $US711 million in damages from a convicted spammer probably won't serve as much a deterrent to future attacks on social networks.

In fact, at least one analyst said the San Jose, Calif., court's decision could acually make it harder for sites like Facebook and Twitter to deal with spammers .

"I fear the major consequence from the fine will, unfortunately, be to spur social network spammers to become more sophisticated," said Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group. "You'll see them covering their tracks better, making sure they are in jurisdictions that make it hard for legal authorities to reach them, and making their mechanisms more insidious and hard to stop."

Olds' speculation comes a day after Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered notorius spammer Sanford Wallace to pay Facebook $711 million in damages for flooding the social network with spam messages starting around November 2008. Facebook noted on its Web site Thursday that Wallace, dubbed the Spam King, accessed people's accounts without their permission and sent phony Wall posts and messages .

Facebook also said that Judge Fogel referred the case to to the U.S. Attorney's Office with a request that Wallace be prosecuted for criminal contempt.

"While we don't expect to receive the vast majority of the award, we hope that this will act as a continued deterrent against these criminals," Sam O'Rourke, a member of Facebook's legal team, wrote in a Facebook blog post .

This isn't the social networking company's first big win against a spammer.

A little less than a year ago, Facebook was awarded $873 million in a separate federal lawsuit against spammers for violating the CAN-SPAM Act. The suit charged that Adam Guerbuez, Atlantis Blue Capital and 25 others falsely obtained log-in information for Facebook users and then sent spam to those users' friends.

Most analysts interviewed today said they have little faith that either judgement will help curtail spam on social networking sites.

"As long as there is money in spam and malware, there will always be people pursuing it as a vocation," Olds said. "It beats flipping burgers and we can't all be cool video game designers. Several years ago, there were huge fines handed down [against] e-mail spammers. Have you seen a big drop off in e-mail spam and phishing attempts? I would argue that we haven't."

And analysts say spam is a fast growing problem for sites like Facebook and Twitter. If it continues, many social networking sites that have seen their user base explode over the past year could quickly find many of those users leaving.

Caroline Dangson, an analyst with IDC, noted that spam is a problem especially for Facebook, which appeals to people looking to develop a private network where people need permission to send them messages.

"These consumer applications are free to use. Too much spam will push people away," she said. "We've seen Twitter recently add features to make it easier for users to report spam, most of which is pornographic."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said that dealing with spam should be a top priority of social networks.

"Spam is a massive resource problem in a world that is already network constrained," he said. "It reduces the value of everything it touches and is a substantial drag on national productivity. Inside or outside of social networks, it should be a top priority."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, said if spam gets out of control, usrs may abandon what are now their favorite social networks.

"Social networking is for both business and pleasure," said Gottheil. "In both cases, if you find yourself wasting too much time, especially in an annoying way, you'll stop doing it. If the downside can't be controlled, it will hurt social networking quite a bit, but I think it's controllable."

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)

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