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July 21, 2005

Brazilian Police Bust Dope Ring Built Around Google's Orkut

Courtesy of TechWeb News

Police in Brazil arrested a gang of drug dealers who were using Google's popular Orkut social networking site to sell ecstasy and marijuana, reports by the Reuters wire service said late Thursday.

"We discovered the drug ring first via authorized phone tapping, and later the investigation included monitoring of their activities on the Internet," said a Drugs Enforcement Service officer who declined to give his name to Reuters.

"We've nabbed ten so far, but there may be more," he added.

Google released a short statement late Thursday in response. "We are aware of the situation and are currently looking into it. When we are made aware of situations that are against our terms of service we take appropriate action." A spokesman declined to answer any additional questions.

"Crime is even picking up networking," said Richard Stiennon, a researcher with security and anti-spyware vendor Webroot. "They'll pick up anything on the Internet to make money, just like legitimate businesses. It's scary out there."

The alleged criminals likely used Orkut. to establish a members-only group dedicated to the drug dealing, and then traded messages to pitch and purchase the goods.

Orkut is a network developed by Google to compete with the likes of Friendster, LinkedIn, and MySpace, the latter purchased by Murdoch's News Corp. on Monday. Like those competitors, Orkut lets users create circles of friends and virtual discussion groups, as well as share photos.

Orkut is available only by invitation from a current member.

The network boasts some 7 million members, of which some 73 percent are from Brazil. Fewer than 6 percent are from the U.S., the second-most popular originating locale of members; Iran, with 5 percent of the membership, is the third-place country.

In fact, the overwhelming number of Brazilians who frequent Orkut has led to some bad blood, with English speakers complaining about everything from waves of Portuguese-language spam to bemoaning the fact that their language, the default tongue of the Internet, isn't dominant on the site. Orkut is named after the Turkish engineer who created it, Orkut Buyukkokten. Buyukkokten is actually at the heart of a lawsuit filed in May 2004, by his former employer, Affinity Engines, against Google.

The lawsuit, now mired in pre-trial motions, charges that Buyukkokten, who co-founded Affinity and created its inCircle social networking product, used that source code to build Google's Orkut.

The origins of that dispute began Buyukkokten took a job with Google to solve visa problems; by Affinity's account, he signed agreements in both 2002 and 2003 stating that any social-networking technology he created belonged to Affinity Engines.

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