Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scandal Sheet

The magazine 02138 brags that it is not affiliated with Harvard University, although its title comes from the zip code of that Ivy League university and it depends on alumni/alumnae to be subscribers. The current issue includes overviews of "Harvard Hanky Panky" and high profile divorces of younger grads that feature "Drugs! Greed! Kinky Sex!" When my copy arrived in my mailbox, I was drawn to the article on "Poking Facebook" and the accounts of the social network site's history of intellectual property litigation. It's not a very interesting account of who owns either the idea or the computer program, although it has now come down to seeking the "original source code," which the corporate head of Facebook denies having because of "corrupted hard drives" and wiped "outside servers." It also points out that at the time there was actually a third social network site being developed on the campus, "houseSYSTEM," separate from the two currently litigating parties, Facebook and ConnectU.

Like fellow Harvard dropout Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of subjecting those who use his product to excessively restrictive end license user agreements, which in the case of Facebook compromise the privacy of those who use the social network site. The 02138 article describes Zuckerberg's early career on campus as the creator of "Facemash," a web application in which two images from Harvard's house directories appeared side-by-side on the screen, so visitors could vote on which portrait seemed more sterotypically attractive. Because he had violated the privacy of students whose images appeared on "Facematch," Zuckerberg was disciplined by the university Ad Board. Ironically, he credits an editorial in The Harvard Crimson with much of the current privacy structure of Facebook, which depends on people voluntarily sacrificing their own privacy and uploading pictures and data themselves. Now Zuckerberg has been accused of stealing collaboratively developed code rather than photographs of individuals, and the resolution of the case is likely to be slow, given the complexities of the field of computer forensics and the value of the corporate assets involved.

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