Twitter has filed a lawsuit against "five of the most aggressive tool providers and spammers" in a federal court in San Francisco, opening a new front in its battle against spam, it said Thursday.
"With this suit, we're going straight to the source," Twitter said in a blog post. It hopes the civil suit will act as a deterrent to spammers. By shutting down tool providers, it expects to prevent other spammers from having the services at their disposal, the company said.
Twitter is the latest among Internet companies to use legal action against alleged spammers. In January, Facebook and the Washington state attorney general announced dual lawsuits against the co-owners of Adscend Media, an ad network that is alleged to develop and encourage others to spread spam, including through so-called "clickjacking." Adscend denied the allegations, and instead said it would investigate for the malpractices the affiliates it hires to drive traffic to advertisers' sites.
In a complaint [PDF] filed before the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco division, Twitter alleged that some of the defendants distribute software tools designed to facilitate the abuse of its platform and market it to dupe consumers into violating Twitter's user agreement, while others operate large numbers of automated Twitter accounts, through which they attempt to trick Twitter users into clicking on links to illegitimate websites. Twitter's user agreement prohibits spamming in its terms of service, it said. (See also "New Digital Spam: How Bad Guys Try to Trick You; How to Avoid the Traps.")
Defendants JL4 Web Solutions, a company incorporated in the Philippines, and its principal officer Jayson Yanuaria, collectively referred to in the suit as TweetAttacks, are alleged to have created a desktop computer program of the same name that enables users to automate the creation of Twitter accounts and broadcast spam messages. TweetAttacks, which advertises and licenses the software, uses automated scripts through which its software accesses Twitter's websites and services without its authorization, Twitter said in its complaint.
TweetAttacks has since March this year altered its website to state that its software is no longer available for licensing, but continues to support certain customers, Twitter said.
Defendants TweetAdder and TweetBuddy, are also charged with offering software for broadcasting spam, while another defendant James Lucero is alleged to operate websites that he promotes through spam on Twitter with the false promise to teach the recipients how to get celebrity singer Justin Bieber to follow their accounts.
Fifth defendant Garland E. Harris is alleged to use automated accounts to spam users with Twitter messages that have links to his websites which provide online auction and payment services.
Twitter said it had spent at least US$700,000 in anti-spam efforts to counter the alleged wrongdoings of the defendants.
It said its engineers would continue to find ways to counter spam, including using its link shortener to analyze whether a link in a Twitter message leads to malware or malicious content. In January, Twitter acquired the security firm Dasient, which provides an anti-malware platform.
Twitter has asked the court to rule on a number of reliefs including monetary damages to be determined at trial from all defendants for breach of its terms of service. The defendants could not be immediately reached for comment.