Amanda Connolly is a reporter for The Next Web, currently based in London. Originally from Ireland, Amanda previously worked in press and ed Amanda Connolly is a reporter for The Next Web, currently based in London. Originally from Ireland, Amanda previously worked in press and editorial at the Web Summit. She’s interested in all things tech, with a particular fondness for lifestyle and creative tech and the spaces where these intersect. Twitter
Bill Gates promised the world in 2004 that within two years there would be no more spam. This hasn’t been one of his more successful prediction, sadly.
Fast forward 11 years and a Las Vegas man has just pleaded guilty to sending over 27 million spam messages on Facebook’s own servers in 2008 and 2009, after he illegally accessed half a million accounts on the social network.
Dubbed the ‘Spam King’, Sandford Wallace was already ordered by the United States District Court Northern District of California in San Jose not to access Facebook’s network when he committed the crime. He also pleaded guilty to violating that order at his trial on Monday.
Sending your friends a few spammy chain messages might not seem too serious but Wallace is facing a possible three year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in December.
He didn’t earn the title of ‘Spam King’ from trolling Facebook though, Wallace got started by spamming fax machines before moving onto emails in the mid-1990s when he started his own company Cyber Promotions.
The company was sued several times and eventually Wallace found himself with very few networks he could legally spam, as well as the issue of Internet Service Providers refusing to provide service.
After denouncing his spamming ways, Wallace appeared to have settled and was running a nightclub in Rochester, New Hampshire and DJ’d regularly under the alias DJ WebMaster in the late 1990s.
Wired even ran an article in 2003 after visiting the club that portrayed Wallace as a changed man:
At a time when the Internet is groaning under an ever-increasing load of spam — which laws, vigilante efforts and technology seem unable to eradicate — Wallace’s transformation from ‘Spam King’ to nightclub owner provides one of the few bright spots for opponents of junk e-mail.
That didn’t last though. Not long after the Wired article was published, he lost the nightclub due to financial issues, relocated to Las Vegas and started a company called SmartBot. The company was a sham; it infected people’s computers with viruses and then pushed a pop-up to suggest using its own software to remove it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took notice and filed a suit against him in 2004 and in 2006 he was ordered to pay $4 million as a penalty and didn’t even show up in court to protest the charges.
Moving swiftly along, Wallace violated the court order and turned his attention to incessantly spamming MySpace users with ads that were elaborately disguised as messages from fake accounts.
The social network sued Wallace and the FTC stepped in again as he had violated the injunction it imposed previously. Wallace and his partner in crime were ordered to pay MySpace $230 million.
He tried his controversial spamming methods again on Facebook until the social network filed a suit against him in 2009, one day after he filed (unsuccessfully) for bankruptcy. The judge ruled that Wallace owed Facebook $711 million, despite the social network’s lawyers arguing he owed $7 billion.
Wallace, remaining true to his flippant reputation, didn’t pay the Facebook fine or any of the rest of them and owed more than $4 billion by the end of 2011.
Eventually, a judge in California finally requested that Wallace be investigated by the FBI for criminal contempt to finally put an end to his activities.
The FBI investigation unearthed that Wallace had sent 27 million pieces of spam from 500,000 compromised Facebook accounts from 143 proxied IP addresses. Wallace surrendered himself in the end in August 2011 and now awaits his fate, which will be determined on 7 December this year.
Wallace is either pathologically unable to get himself together or he is a genius that gets pleasure out of exploiting the grey areas. Either way, he has set himself up to be used as an example by the courts. I am betting the judgement is unlikely to be lenient given his track record.
➤ ‘Spam King’ guilty of posting 27 million Facebook messages [Engadget]
Image credit: Flickr
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