Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why You Cannot Trust Internet Sites "Privacy" Policies

From an article in The New Yorker magazine about the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerbert:
In another exchange leaked to Silicon Alley Insider, Zuckerberg explained to a friend that his control of Facebook gave him access to any information he wanted on any Harvard student:

ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don’t know why
ZUCK: they “trust me”
ZUCK: dumb fucks
To get an insight into the character of the man, read this bit from the article:
Zuckerberg had a knack for creating simple, addictive software. In his first week as a sophomore, he built CourseMatch, a program that enabled users to figure out which classes to take based on the choices of other students. Soon afterward, he came up with Facemash, where users looked at photographs of two people and clicked a button to note who they thought was hotter, a kind of sexual-playoff system. It was quickly shut down by the school’s administration. Afterward, three upperclassmen—an applied-math major from Queens, Divya Narendra, and twins from Greenwich, Connecticut, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss—approached Zuckerberg for assistance with a site that they had been working on, called Harvard Connection.

Zuckerberg helped Narendra and the Winklevoss twins, but he soon abandoned their project in order to build his own site, which he eventually labelled Facebook. The site was an immediate hit, and, at the end of his sophomore year, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to run it.

As he tells the story, the ideas behind the two social networks were totally different. Their site, he says, emphasized dating, while his emphasized networking. The way the Winklevoss twins tell it, Zuckerberg stole their idea and deliberately kept them from launching their site. Tall, wide-shouldered, and gregarious, the twins were champion rowers who competed in the Beijing Olympics; they recently earned M.B.A.s from Oxford. “He stole the moment, he stole the idea, and he stole the execution,” Cameron told me recently. The dispute has been in court almost since Facebook was launched, six years ago. Facebook eventually reached a settlement, reportedly worth sixty-five million dollars, with the Winklevosses and Narendra, but they are now appealing for more, claiming that Facebook misled them about the value of the stock they would receive.

To prepare for litigation against the Winklevosses and Narendra, Facebook’s legal team searched Zuckerberg’s computer and came across Instant Messages he sent while he was at Harvard. Although the IMs did not offer any evidence to support the claim of theft, according to sources who have seen many of the messages, the IMs portray Zuckerberg as backstabbing, conniving, and insensitive.
Zuckerberg is out to make big money with Facebook and he will do that by boring inside people and exposing everything about them to the commercial market:
For this plan to work optimally, people have to be willing to give up more and more personal information to Facebook and its partners. Perhaps to accelerate the process, in December, 2009, Facebook made changes to its privacy policies. Unless you wrestled with a set of complicated settings, vastly more of your information—possibly including your name, your gender, your photograph, your list of friends—would be made public by default. The following month, Zuckerberg declared that privacy was an evolving “social norm.”

The backlash came swiftly. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center cried foul. Users revolted, claiming that Facebook had violated the social compact upon which the company is based. What followed was a tug-of-war about what it means to be a private person with a public identity. In the spring, Zuckerberg announced a simplified version of the privacy settings.

...

Zuckerberg’s critics argue that his interpretation and understanding of transparency and openness are simplistic, if not downright na├»ve. “If you are twenty-six years old, you’ve been a golden child, you’ve been wealthy all your life, you’ve been privileged all your life, you’ve been successful your whole life, of course you don’t think anybody would ever have anything to hide,” Anil Dash, a blogging pioneer who was the first employee of Six Apart, the maker of Movable Type, said. Danah Boyd, a social-media researcher at Microsoft Research New England, added, “This is a philosophical battle. Zuckerberg thinks the world would be a better place—and more honest, you’ll hear that word over and over again—if people were more open and transparent. My feeling is, it’s not worth the cost for a lot of individuals.”
Update 2010sep18: Here is a preview of the new film about Zuckerberg:

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