Tougher penalties, security experts say, are what Canada needs to deter big time spammers such Montreal man Adam Guerbuez who is now facing a fine of $1.069 billion for sending out four million penis enlargement, erectile dysfunction cures, marijuana and pornographic spam messages on Facebook.
The Quebec Superior Court last week upheld a November 2008 Californian court judgment ordering Guerbuez, owner of Atlantis Blue Capital, to pay a fine of US$873 million after he was found guilty of spamming Facebook users. For each spam message, a California court fined Mr. Guerbuez $100, in addition to another $100 in damages. IT was the largest-ever fine awarded under the U.S.’s anti-spam law. Guerbuez is also banned from using Facebook.
Guerbuez, has filed for bankruptcy saying he will be unable to pay the fine. But he seems happy with the attention. He has called a press conference for Wednesday and filled his blog with posts that show him living the high life in Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, and dining out at pricey restaurants such as Montreal’s Queue De Cheval. He also mention of a possible book deal coming out of all the publicity he is getting.
Guerbuez has dubbed himself the $873 million Man and appears to be living it up in LA in this video, despite filling for bankruptcy protection.
“We need to have tougher statutes passed in Canada. We don’t have legislations similar to those in the U.S. that’s why this guy is being sued over there,” said Tamir Israel, lawyer for Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)based in Ottawa.
“Maybe a billion dollars is too high and I doubt if that will ever be collected, but you need to send a strong message to large scale spammers because their do create a lot of damage,” said Israel.
The Quebec court, has effectively “signed off and agreed” to a foreign ruling because it lacks any power over the matter in itself, according to an IT industry analyst.
Canada’s proposed Internet privacy bill was originally tabled as Bill C-27the Electronic Commerce Protection Act (ECPA), the proposed legislation has been reintroduced as Bill C-28 the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act (FISA).
An anti-spam private members bill was introduced way back in 2001 but until now the country has no powerful privacy bill, according to analysts.
“Canada does not currently have any anti-spam laws on the books Without legislation in-place, Canadian courts have no authority or capacity to hand down fines, said James Quin, lead research analyst for risk management at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.
In statement provided to ITBusiness.ca yesterday, Facebook said it is currently reviewing the court order. The statement saide the company’s legal and security teams continue to work to “expose and prosecute the sources of spam attacks”.
“We’re confident that the previous ruling will act as a powerful deterrent against those who would abuse Facebook and people who use it.”
Guerbuez speaks out
In a blog post on Wednesday, Guerbuez said expressed gratitude for the people who supporting him on various websites that feature his story.
Connect with friends safely: Use the Facebook security and privacy hardening guide
“With the occational (sic)comment left from someone who feels the need to leave input to prove how much of an intellectual midget they are, I see about 95% positive comments being posted, showing me warm support and also showing disgust for the most ridiculous billion dollar judgment ever,” he wrote.
The day before, Guarbuez said he has been bombarded by phone calls and email requests for interviews. He said he would be setting up a press conference in Montreal Wednesday afternoon.
Incidentally, Facebook also scheduled a live streaming event to announce some important product tweaks and feature rollouts that day.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Guerbuez’s lawyer Eric Potvin confirmed that his client had filed for protection under the bankruptcy act. “Facebook becomes the biggest one of his creditors,” he said.
Potvin also said Guerbuez had filed an appeal of the 2008 California ruling in Quebec because he felt the fine does not reflect the monetary damages suffered by Facebook.
Potvin also thought the Quebec court might give Guerbuez some reprieve. “We argued that no such judgment could have been rendered in a Quebec court because it would be against public order,” the lawyer was quoted as saying.
Spam hurts businesses and individual users
Israel of CIPPIC believes that Facebook’s aggressive stance and the courts’ stiff fines are aimed a sending a strong message to big-time organizations that are responsible for the majority of the world’s spam.
He it is also alarming that Guerbuez gained access to Facebook user’s profile information. “Profile information could be used as a channel not only for spam but also spreading malware or carrying out personal data theft.”
“Many studies indicate that as much as 85 to 90 per cent of emails sent last year are comprised of spam messages. It is estimated that the valume will like grow by 30 to 40 per cent in the following year,” he said.
“The Spamhouse Project, a Europe-based non-profit international project that tracks spammers, believes that 80 per cent of spam aimed at North American Internet users are developed by 100 known groups,” he added.
From a productivity and financial standpoint, Israel said, many companies suffered from spam. For instance, he said, a company with 100 employee can spend as much as $55,000 a year purchasing technology and devoting IT staff to battle spam.
Cybercrime organizations also gobble up massive amounts of energy in sending out spam. Israel said some studies calculate that the electricity used up to send a year’s worth of spam equals the amount of energy capable of providing power to the city of Chicago for two years.
(With files from Robert McMillan of IDG News, San Francisco Bureau)