When Does Idea Theft Rise To Level Of Crime?

In a stack of new articles published yesterday, Silicon Valley Insider claims and documents a trail of deception and greed around how Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appropriated the technology for Facebook.  The stack lists emails and IM’s from Zuckerberg to his earliest confidants and paints a picture not unlike other famous entrepreneurs who have gone on to financial fame and fortune but have left many of us scratching our head about how they got away with their misdeeds.  By hacking into email accounts from accusers – Harvard Crimson journalists – Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra – and using the data from TheFacebook.com’s logs and adapting it for the greater Internet, Zuckerberg appears to have pulled off one of the great all time heists since Bill Gates bought DOS for a song and a fast dance. The "Thefacebook.com" title being the name of the site used back in 2004 when Zuckerberg was a sophomore at Harvard.  Now with 400 million members, the site has been through legal meanderings and the charges seem muddled at best. The first judge – in 2007- called the so-called "agreement" between the parties "dorm chit-chat" until another judge, in 2008, looked into examining Zuckerberg’s hard drive.

 

 

According to the string of articles, the Harvard accusers claim Zuckerberg hacked into the site called ConnectU at the time and stole the "idea" though it is not clear what if any of the technology was stolen.  Their charges also state that, in addition to hacking their private information, he deliberately changed some code to make their site less effective and also made some users appear invisible and thus make the site less effective for members. 
 
The investigation, apparently still ongoing, dragged out old instant messages and emails and uncovered a fake account, purportedly, created by Zuckerberg.  It state that he "appears to have exploited a flaw in ConnectU’s account verification process to create a fake Cameron Winklevoss account with a fake Harvard.edu email address.  In this new, fake profile, he listed Cameron’s height as 7’4", his hair color as "Ayran Blond," and his eye color as "Sky Blue." He listed Cameron’s "language" as ‘WASP-y.’"
 
Zuckerberg had gained some infamy prior to this by scraping Harvard student images off the school site and pasting them onto a site he named, "Facemash" which insipidly asked folks to vote on which ones were the most attractive and listed them accordingly.  It was a clone of the equally tasteless "Hot or not" and "he was charged with breaching security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy"
 
The SVI articles, by Nicholas Carlson, states, "We’re certainly not questioning the latter fact: Facebook’s success — and Mark’s role in it — have been awe-inspiring" but does not specify if they mean awful, or awesome, regarding the inspiring part.  The article goes on to say, "A source close to the company suggests that it was the fallout from early behavior like this — fallout that has included reputational damage to Mark Zuckerberg and expensive and prolonged litigation with ConnectU — that has shaped Facebook’s current privacy policies.  We imagine — or at least hope — that these searing early mistakes have also a profound influence on the now 25-year-old Mark Zuckerberg."
 
Since the first time I saw Facebook, and for that matter LinkedIn, I was reminded how I had seen the technology before, but could not recall where.  As far back as the mid nineties, techology for the purpose of Intranets has used similar formats and API’s for companies wanting to build solid human resources for their employees.  The ones I recall also had forums for them to share and bulletin boards to post their private wares and make friends.  I don’t want to fling any names out there, but the infrastructure for thes sites is not anything new, though adapting it for the masses on the Internet was a coup and the timing was impeccable.  Lots of fallow software sits around eating up investor capital until someone applies the proper skin to make it appealling.  If anyone can enhance my memory of these things, I’d love to hear from you.  Who knows, maybe we’ll find some other technology sitting around gathering dust that we can put to better use.
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