December 16, 2008, 4:57 PM — CANBERRA, Australia (AP) ? You've been "superpoked" ? and served. A court in Australia has approved the use of Facebook, a popular social networking Web site, to notify a couple that they lost their home after defaulting on a loan.
The Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court last Friday approved lawyer Mark McCormack's application to use Facebook to serve the legally binding documents after several failed attempts to contact the couple at the house and by e-mail.
Australian courts have given permission in the past for people to be served via e-mail and text messages when it was not possible to serve them in person.
McCormack, a lawyer for the lender, MKM Capital, said that by the time he got the documents approved by the court late Tuesday for transmission, Facebook profiles for the couple had disappeared from public view.
The page was apparently either closed or secured for privacy, following publicity about the court order.
"It's somewhat novel, however we do see it as a valid method of bringing the matter to the attention of the defendant," McCormack said.
Despite the setback, McCormack said the Facebook attempt would help his client's case that all reasonable steps had been taken to serve the couple. A court is expected to settle the matter as early as next week.
Facebook has become a wildly popular online hangout, attracting more than 140 million users worldwide since it launched in 2004. Facebook friends can "poke" or "superpoke" each other ? terms for giving someone a playful nudge.
In a statement, Facebook praised the ruling. "We're pleased to see the Australian court validate Facebook as a reliable, secure and private medium for communication. The ruling is also an interesting indication of the increasing role that Facebook is playing in people's lives," it said. The company said it believed this was the first time it has been used to serve a foreclosure notice.
The documents were sent last Friday after weeks of failed attempts to contact borrowers Gordon Poyser and Carmel Corbo at their Canberra home and by e-mail.
The Associated Press found Poyser, a retired 62-year-old, on Tuesday at home at the contested address.
He declined to comment on the record, citing the couple's stress at the prospect of losing their home of seven years only a week before Christmas. But he said he had privacy restrictions imposed on his Facebook page Tuesday only because of the media attention it had attracted.
"Because (otherwise) I'd get every man and his dog having a look," Poyser told The AP at his front door.
Lawyer and computer forensic expert Seamus Byrne said he was aware of only one similar case in Australia. A Queensland state District Court judge ruled in April against documents being served by Facebook because the option of contacting a person via a post office box had not yet been exhausted.
In the latest ruling, Master David Harper insisted that the documents be attached to a private e-mail sent via Facebook that could not be seen by others visiting the pages.
McCormack said he and a colleague found the woman's Facebook page using personal details that she had given the lender including her birth date and e-mail address. The man was listed on her page as a friend. Prior to Tuesday, neither had imposed security options that deny strangers access to their pages.
McCormack said he did not bother searching for the couple through any other social networking sites.
"It's one of those occasions where you feel most at home with what you know and I myself have a Facebook account," McCormack said.