Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Self-Proclaimed 'Spam King' Got 30 Months in Prison for Facebook Hack

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Self-Proclaimed 'Spam King' Got 30 Months in Prison for Facebook Hack

Article excerpt

In 1999, Sanford Wallace sounded repentant. "It was a healing process that had to take place," he told The New York Times. "There were so many people that hated what I did."

What Mr. Wallace did wasn't necessarily a dangerous crime, just an aggravating one. In the 1990s, the self-proclaimed "Spam King" was widely reviled for a series of mass email campaigns that bombarded users' accounts on the internet provider Earthlink.

Now, Wallace is facing a 30-month prison sentence for spamming internet users of a different era, having hacked into more than 500,000 Facebook accounts between November 2008 and March 2009.

His ignominious career includes stretches of sending junk fax messages, lawsuits from Facebook and MySpace, and orders to pay millions of dollars in damages and fines.

But this week, a US District Court judge in San Jose, Calif., took a harsher stance, leveling the prison sentence and a $310,000 fine after Wallace pleaded guilty last year to electronic mail fraud and criminal contempt of court, NBC reports.

While spam is often thought of as a mostly harmless annoyance, the sentence may also reflect changing attitudes about privacy in an era where social networks provide access to a variety of users' personal information.

According to the Justice Department, Wallace pleaded guilty to opening a fictitious Facebook account under the name David Frederix, then creating an automated process of signing into another user's account.

He could then gain a list of all the user's friends and send them messages, seemingly from their friend, that directed them to click on a link from which he earned money. He also admitted to storing users' email addresses and passwords to continue sending them spam messages.

The scheme was remarkably effective, allowing him to send 27 million spam messages to the more than 500,000 users over only three user sessions during four days.

The contempt charge came after he "willfully disobeyed" a judge's order not to access Facebook, which sued him in 2009, alleging violations of the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act and other laws. …

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