Kara Swisher

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Ironic, Yes, But Zuckerberg's Privacy Violated

[UPDATED with more information.]

So exactly why did Facebook unleash such a massive legal fury on 02138 magazine yesterday over documents the publication posted online?


Because, said sources, those documents–including an application to Harvard University–contained Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Social Security number, the full name of his girlfriend and the address of his parent’s house in New York.

Now, apparently, the Beacon’s on the other foot.

The independent magazine, which is aimed at Harvard alumni, put up a series of court documents in a downloadable format here it obtained from a court in Massachusetts related to a hard-hitting story it recently published about the origins of Facebook at Harvard, and had inadvertently not redacted that sensitive personal information in all places at first.

It has since removed those references, but many online readers had already downloaded the PDF files.

“It was a regrettable error and we have fixed it,” said Richard Bradley, executive editor of the magazine.

Wrote the magazine’s spokesperson in a statement to BoomTown: “1) It was an oversight and as soon as 02138 was alerted they took it down. 2) The parents’ address is listed in the white pages and they are the only Zuckerbergs in Dobbs Ferry. 02138 nonetheless took it down as a courtesy. 3) This was not brought to 02138’s attention by Facebook.”


Facebook fired back just as hard, via an email from PR head Brandee Barker.

She wrote: “We filed the motions to let the court know that its orders were being violated. One reason the court ordered certain documents’ protection was to prevent exactly what has happened: misusing documents and taking documents out of context to sling mud. We want to be clear on what these motions are about. These are not about an article the magazine has written, these are about documents that were protected by a court that have been misused.

“Mark Zuckerberg and many others built Facebook through their own ingenuity and hard work, and they are focused on building it further. It is unfortunate but not surprising that others falsely claim credit for it after its enormous success.”

The documents Facebook is seeking to squash are confidential and related to another lawsuit being waged against Facebook and Zuckerberg by founders of another social-networking service at Harvard called ConnectU about whether Zuckerberg–who was supposed to program ConnectU–illegally took ideas from it to create Facebook.


The release of such sensitive information about Mark Zuckerberg (pictured here while a student at Harvard) on the Web is, of course, deeply ironic given that Facebook is embroiled in a controversy over advertising practices it has unveiled recently that some think are violations of Facebook users’ privacy.

Yesterday, Facebook announced changes to one of those ad practices–called Beacon, which can track your purchases on some external sites and send the information back to your Facebook profile’s news feed–to try to assuage those critics by giving users more control over the data. There is still, though, no global opt-out of the controversial marketing system in which the social network is seeking to link behavior and advertising more tightly.

At the same time, it also filed emergency legal motions to get 02138 to take down those documents, which also included Zuckerberg’s testimony in a court case over whether he stole the idea for Facebook, a personal online journal and also financial documents from 2005 for Facebook.

In an online blog post to readers, Bradley said: “We believe that we have a legal right to post them online and that you have a legal right to read them. Meantime, spread the word that a company which plans to collect and sell personal information about 50 million people doesn’t want one magazine to do the same about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.”

02138 president and founder Bom Kim, who launched the magazine a year ago with Dan Loss and with the backing of Atlantic Media, said Facebook’s legal action against the article and documents illustrate some troubling issues for Facebook related to its young founder.

“I hope this points to the fact that Zuckerberg and those around him are concerned by the questions the documents raise about Zuckerberg’s behavior in the past and in the origins of Facebook,” he said in an interview today.

Indeed, as I pointed out in a post I did earlier this week about the article in 02138: “As the legal battle works its way through the system, mostly related to the question of whether Zuckerberg illegally stole the basic idea for Facebook, the one carry-away from the article is still astonishing–and also a little disturbing: Just how many enemies he has collected at such a young age.”

Magazine sources said Facebook lawyers seemed more concerned about the posting of the online journal written by Zuckerberg, which was–shall we say–a bit juvenile, with references to being drunk and making fun of other students, as well as the Facebook financial documents.

But sources close to Facebook said Zuckerberg was furious about the release of his more personal information, like the Social Security number.

Facebook also argued in its motions that the documents were sealed by the court. 02138’s Bradley said the free-lance reporter, Luke O’Brien, who wrote the article, got them legally from the office of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google