Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: Cheating hacker?

The social networking site's founder has been accused of hacking into former rival's emails. What does the simmering scandal mean for Facebook users?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 25, has long been accused of "troubling behavior" dating back to the period when he set up the site in 2004. According to a two-year investigation by The Business Insider, Zuckerberg used confidential information gleaned from Facebook to hack into the emails of Harvard's student newspaper, and also tampered with user profiles on rival networking site ConnectU. (Watch Mark Zuckerberg argue that the internet has eliminated privacy.) A concise guide to TBI's allegations:

Who is Mark Zuckerberg?
The Harvard graduate who founded thefacebook.com — as it was then known — in February 2004 while a sophomore at the university. Facebook is now used by around 400 million people a month.

Whose e-mails did he allegedly hack?
Journalists on the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, who were writing an article on Zuckerberg's dispute with ConnectU, another social networking site also known as HarvardConnection.com.

What was Zuckerberg's dispute with ConnectU?
The founders of ConnectU originally commissioned Zuckerberg to help develop their website, which shared some similarities with Facebook. They then accused him of stealing their idea after the two sites launched at almost the same time.

How did the Harvard Crimson get involved?
Editors at the newspaper received a "tip-off" from ConnectU founder Cameron Winklevoss in May 2004 that Facebook was the "product of Mark Zuckerberg's fraud against the ConnectU team."

Did they write the story?
Not exactly. Zuckerberg managed to persuade the Harvard Crimson that Facebook had "no features or designs" in common with ConnectU, but the newspaper would eventually print ConnectU's accusations — alongside the Facebook founder's denials.

So why did Zuckerberg hack into their email accounts using confidential Facebook data?
He wanted to read what exactly would be included in the Crimson's report.

Was this Zuckerberg's only "hacking" controversy?
No. TBI also claims that Zuckerberg repeatedly hacked into ConnectU during 2004. Not only did he deactivate around 20 ConnectU accounts, he also changed many privacy settings to "invisible", making it harder for people to find friends on the network.

Why did he hack into ConnectU?
TBI suggests he was "obsessed" with his rival. Apparently, for example, Zuckerberg create a new profile for ConnectU founder Winkelvoss, changing his height to 7'4", describing him as an "Ayran Blond" (sic) and indicating his language preference as "WASP-y."

What does Facebook say about all this?
According to its statement: "We’re not going to debate the disgruntled litigants and anonymous sources who seek to rewrite Facebook’s early history or embarrass Mark Zuckerberg with dated allegations."

Were Zuckerberg's actions illegal?
Quite possibly. If Zuckerberg hacked the accounts to gain commercial advantage, says Electronic Foundation Frontier privacy lawyer Kevin Bankston in an interview with Business Insider, his actions break Federal and state privacy laws "punishable by up to five years in prison."

Why should we care about all this?
Given the serious nature of these allegations, says TBI's Henry Blodget, we "need to hear Mark explain" how Facebook users can be certain their confidential information is "safe with the company."

How did Facebook's fight with ConnectU end?
It hasn't. In a 2007 hearing, it was decided that Facebook would pay its former rival a $65 million settlement. But in June 2008, ConnectU announced it would appeal the settlement.

This would make a great movie, right?
Perhaps it will. David Fincher, the director of "Se7en" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", is currently directing a movie based on Facebook's early days titled "The Social Network." The actor Jesse Eisenberg is playing Zuckerberg.


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