Facebook is cracking down on spam again, filing three separate lawsuits in federal court this week alleging violations of the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, otherwise known as CAN-SPAM.
The lawsuits accuse two individuals, Steven Richter and Jason Swan, and one company, Max Bounty, Inc., of using deceptive practices to trick Facebook members into handing over personal information, spamming friends or signing up for fake offers.
"According to our complaints, the defendants, among other things, represented that in order to qualify for certain fake or deceptive offers, people had to spam their friends, sign up for automatic mobile phone subscription services, or provide other information," the company said in a blog post. "We claim that by doing this, they violated the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), and other state and federal laws."
The suits, filed in U.S. federal court in San Jose, Calif., come just two days after the Wall Street Journal published an article alleging that manufacturers of all the top-10 Facebook apps - among them Zynga, maker of blockbuster app FarmVille - were transmitting Facebook User IDs to outside companies, a violation of Facebook's terms of service.
"Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information," Facebook said in a statement in response to the Journal story.
Facebook maintains that the coverage of the incident has been overblown. In a statement shared with ClickZ News, it said the notion that the transmission of User IDs through apps amounts to a 'breach' is "curious at best."
While the timing is almost certainly coincidental, the Journal story did cast a shadow on the announcement of the suits. "As long as you are letting Zynga sell our info," wrote one member commenting on the announcement, "this seems hypocritical."
Still, Facebook does have a history of going after spammers. The social network was responsible for the two largest judgments in the history of the CAN-SPAM act: an $873 million judgment in 2008 against a sender of profane e-mails and a $711 million judgment in 2009 against a man who accessed members' accounts without permission.
"We will press on with enforcement and collection efforts against spammers and fraudsters, and we’re committed to applying continuous legal pressure to send a strong message to spammers that they’re not welcome on Facebook," the company said in its blog post. "We have other actions pending, and there will be more to come."
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014