A Well-Deserved Court Loss for Facebook
It should come as no surprise, of course, given it was essentially a legal temper tantrum on the part of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
But a judge in Massachusetts wisely denied an inane request by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social-networking start-up to take down confidential court documents that 02138 magazine had made available for downloading on its Web site.
The documents were part of a hard-hitting piece called “Poking Facebook” by free-lancer Luke O’Brien, which 02138 recently published, about the origins of Facebook at Harvard University.
“This is a victory not only for 02138, but for the First Amendment as well. We felt we had an important responsibility to report the story and we hope that we were able to promote greater public understanding of the origins of a powerful and influential Web site,” said 02138 President and Founder Bom Kim in a statement. “The judge concluded that the article was an example of ‘core journalism’ and that the original documents on 02138mag.com increased transparency, offering readers unfiltered access to more information on which to evaluate the story.”
Facebook had no comment.
But how could its execs, really, given the appalling nature of their efforts to quash documents that should not have been, especially because they were already loose on the Web?
By way of background, as we reported here Friday, the legal brouhaha started not because, as Facebook maintained, confidential court documents were released, but because some of the 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 parents’ house in New York.
02138, an independent magazine focused on Harvard alumni like Zuckerberg, put up a series of court documents in a downloadable format here it had obtained from a court in Massachusetts to add to its Facebook story.
The documents were related to another lawsuit being waged against Facebook and Zuckerberg by the 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.
At first, though, editors had inadvertently not redacted that sensitive personal information about Zuckerberg from the documents it posted. It was a sloppy mistake, but they quickly removed those references.
Apparently, that was not good enough for Facebook’s Zuckerberg.
Said Facebook PR head Brandee Barker Friday after the emergency filing to stop 02138 (and who has to have the most thankless job on the Web these days): “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.”
Ironically, the release of Zuckerberg’s personal information comes just as his company is under intense fire for new ad programs it recently introduced, especially one called Beacon, which can track your purchases on some external sites and send the information back to your Facebook profile’s news feed.
While it made some changes in Beacon last week, Facebook has not given users a global opt-out of the controversial marketing system in which the social network is seeking to link behavior and advertising more tightly for supposedly bigger payoffs.
Of course, after more bad publicity, rising user ire and inevitable advertiser pull-out from the program (Coca-Cola has already headed for the hills, according to reports), it’s a good bet that Facebook will be forced into an opt-out-for-all solution.
But, I am guessing given what was to be simple stubbornness on the part of Zuckerberg, another few rounds of devastating publicity for Facebook.
Let’s just say that this is not a good thing for a company that recently got a $15 billion valuation after $300 million of investments by Microsoft and last week, as first reported by BoomTown here, Asian billionaire Li Ka-shing.
There is little question in my mind–and it has to be going through the minds of all Facebook employees and investors–that all this should be considered a major fumble on the part of 20-something CEO Zuckerberg, whose judgment on how to handle both Beacon and in waging the pointless lawsuit against 02138 seems deeply flawed at best.
More on that key issue for Facebook here in BoomTown next week.