Columns

Zuckerberg must be regulated

Glen
Tucker

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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Finally, Mark Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook has been called to testify before Congress. This follows disturbing revelations and persistent questions about data handling and privacy.

Lately there have been allegations that data harvested from Facebook played a significant role in securing the election of Donald Trump in the strangest presidential elections in US history. Some 87 million accounts were said to be invaded.

Facebook holds 'tons' of information on two billion people — a third of the world's population — but it is subject to none of the restraints of those agencies empowered to enforce rules that carry the full force of law. I speak of regulations.

I have never been a social media enthusiast. I can't remember how or why I 'joined' Facebook. But it became very clear to me very soon after that there was nothing in my secluded, TV-watching existence that could possibly be of interest to others. I did, however, enjoy seeing my old classmates on Facebook and gained no small measure of satisfaction in realising that they too were turning gray.

My friend has a friend whose son attended Harvard when Zuckerberg was there. He claimed that Zuckerberg was really brilliant. That's not news. He also said he was very popular. It seems Zuckerberg had created a site called FaceMash. I cannot independently prove what he is said to have done, but much of it did not seem to go down well on Harvard's politically correct campus. Zuckerberg was summoned to face the disciplinary board for students. A November 2003 copy of The Harvard Crimson, the daily student newspaper of Harvard University, reveals that he was charged with breaching security, violating copyrights and individual privacy. To this day, Harvard alumni are unable to understand how he avoided expulsion.

Toward the end of November 2003 a trio of seniors consisting of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda were trying to find a Web developer for a social network called HarvardConnection, devoted to Harvard students and alumni. Zuckerberg was recommended. They presented their information to Zuckerberg, who promised to get back to them the following evening. He didn't. What followed were a series of e-mail on December 4 and 10 complaining about the pressure of schoolwork.

On January 8, 2004 Zuckerberg e-mailed the trio saying, “....I'm still a little skeptical that we have enough functionality in the site to really draw the attention and gain the critical mass necessary to get a site like this to run...Anyhow, we'll talk about it once I get everything else done.” These seniors would later claim in lawsuits that he was stalling in order to build a competing site and launch it first.

Evidence points to the fact that the claim was correct.

The investigators at the Silicon Valley Insider carried out thorough evaluation of Zuckerberg's activities during this period. It was able to get copies of many e-mail and instant messages in which Zuckerberg discussed his thinking and intentions with friends. Space only permits a few gems from some of these e-mail:

MZ: “...they made a mistake, ha ha. They asked me to make it for them. So I'm like delaying it so it won't be ready until after the facebook thing comes out.”

MZ: “I feel like the right thing to do is finish the Facebook and wait until the last day before I'm supposed to have this thing ready and then be like 'Look, yours isn't as good.' “

MZ: “...They're going to be released around the same time. Unless I *** them over and quit on them...”

MZ: “...I also hate the fact that I'm doing it for other people ha ha. Like I hate working under other people...”

On January 14, 2004 Zuckerberg met with the twins and Divya for the last time. He expressed doubts about the viability of HarvardConnection.com. He said he was busy with schoolwork and would not be available for a while.

Three days earlier, on January 11, Zuckerberg had registered the domain THEFACEBOOK.COM.

On February 4 he opened the site to Harvard students.

On February 10 Cameron sent Zuckerberg a letter accusing him of breaching their agreement and stealing their idea.

On June 10, 2004 a commencement speaker mentioned the amazing popularity of Mark Zuckerberg's site, thefacebook.com. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard that summer.

The Insider claims that on at least one occasion in 2004 Zuckerberg used private log-in data taken from Facebook servers to break into Facebook's members' private e-mail accounts and read their e-mail and hack into a competing company's systems and changed some user information with the aim of making their sites less useful.

In September 2004 the trio sued Zuckerberg alleging breach of agreement and stealing their idea. They persisted and in 2008 there was a settlement.

Zuckerberg next went after his friend who had funded much of the project, Eduardo Saverin, who owned 30 per cent of the company by diluting the stock and causing him to end up with five per cent of the company.

Owen Van Natta, the mind behind big deals like Microsoft's $240-million investment in Facebook, was next on the chopping block.

At 22, Zuckerberg was a millionaire. At 23 he was the world's youngest billionaire. In 2017 he earned US$23.1 billion — more than anyone else — which pushed his net worth to US$73.1 billion.

Writing for Money on August 8, 2017, Bob Wiles ended his piece like this, “On Monday alone Zuckerberg gained nearly US$1 billion. He is now just US$3 billion away from surpassing Warren Buffett as the fourth richest man in the world.” Last year Facebook's revenues topped US$40 billion.

Facebook has amassed huge data profiles on each person. Some 24 per cent of websites have hidden Facebook trackers. Facebook can make our sensitive data profile available for invasive, targeted advertising that literally follows us around.

There needs to be more algorithmic and private policy transparency. There must be legislation that empowers people to own their own data.

Zuckerberg earned a perfect Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) score of 1600/1600. His IQ is 152 — putting him in the top 0.1 per cent of the world's population. A brilliant brain with billions of dollars. 'Self-deprecating' could describe his public persona. But he has proven to be totally lacking in empathy. We are what we repeatedly do. This is a fearsome brew; not just for America, but for the world.

Could that Harvard trio have seeded a software ecosystem that would one day change life on Earth. I think not. But Zuckerberg can. And he is not regulated.

Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Observer or glenntucker2011@gmail.com.

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