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By now everyone online is accustomed to receiving and filtering spam in their inboxes, but recent spamming attacks on social sites like Facebook have caught many by surprise. Facebook is hoping to change all that, with a court win this week against uber spammer Sanford Wallace.
Facebook hopes that a $711 million fine and the threat of jail time will not only sideline Wallace, but function as a deterrent to future social spammers. But let's be honest. That's not going to happen.
Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered Wallace (AKA "The Spam King) to pay Facebook $711 million in damages for flooding the social network with spam messages over the last year.
Wallace accessed people's accounts without their permission and sent phony Wall posts and messages from them. In addition to the $711 million fine, the judge recommended Wallace be tried for criminal contempt.
Facebook does not expect to receive the majority of the reward, but hopes that the court win will work as a disincentive to future spammers. Sam O'Rourke from Facebook's legal team wrote on the company's blog yesterday:
"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."
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. For starters, Wallace is not the first Facebook spammer — or even the first to be caught. Last year, Facebook received a $873 million award against spammers who entered 25 Facebook accounts and sent spam to their friends.
A look at Wallace's history of spamming proves that it takes more than one expensive lawsuit to kill a spammer. He's been sued multiple times, including a prominent case that ended with a $230 million win by MySpace.
Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group tells ComputerWorld:
"As long as there is money in spam and malware, there will always be people pursuing it as a vocation. 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."
Unfortunately, social spam is here to stay. Of course, Facebook's attempts to create more sophisticated ways to catch spammers will help them, but that will in turn encourage social network spammers to become better at what they do. As we've learned by now, spam is simply too profitable to go away. For now, Facebook will have to depend on its users getting more sophisticated at identifying and removing spam. Which is similarly easier said than done.