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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg unbound

By Gary Jacobson

December 3, 2007 at 11:00am

Writing the first draft of history is always perilous.

In September 2004, in a story about a then new lawsuit that accused Mark Zuckerberg of stealing the idea for Facebook from fellow Harvard students, The Boston Globe wrote: “There isn’t much money at stake.”

Oops.

Today Facebook is valued on paper at $15 billion or so, making Zuckerberg’s 20 percent stake worth $3 billion. The 23-year-old is well on his way to becoming the second richest Harvard dropout in history, behind Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft.

That’s what makes coverage of Zuckerberg and his legal headaches in the November/December issue of 02138, an independent magazine named for Harvard’s zip code, so intriguing.

Based on interviews and a close reading of court documents filed in ConnectU v. Facebook, author Luke O’Brien writes, “the case raises troubling questions about the ethics of this new billionaire.” O’Brien is a Harvard alum.

The founders of ConnectU are twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and fellow student Divya Narendra.

Zuckerberg’s reaction to the piece and accompanying documents posted online also fanned interest. The documents included his Harvard application, a portion of his personal online diary, and segments of depositions taken in the case. They contained private information such as Zuckerberg’s social security number and the home address of his parents.

Zuckerberg’s lawyers tried to get 01238 to take down the documents. The publication redacted his ID information last week, but continued to post the items.

Kara Swisher and Silicon Alley Insider commented on the irony of Zuckerberg fighting to maintain his personal privacy when Facebook encourages its users to share personal information. CNET interviewed O’Brien, detailing how he obtained the documents. The New York Times followed with a few new details about the documents today.

Mixed with all this drama is some revealing stuff in the 01238 story and the documents about the beginnings of Facebook and how Zuckerberg operates. Some examples:

– O’Brien writes that Zuckerberg once handed out business cards that read: “I’m CEO. . . bitch.”

– According to the transcript of a Zuckerberg deposition, he originally owned two-thirds of Facebook and another student, Eduardo Saverin, owned one-third. That was quickly adjusted to accommodate another partner, Dustin Moskovitz, with Zuckerberg at 65%, Saverin 30% and Moskovitz 5%.

Saverin is no longer with the company and has his own legal battle against Zuckerberg.

– In his story, O’Brien writes that after a chance meeting between Saverin and Cameron Winklevoss in 2004, Winklevoss recalls Saverin saying: “Sorry that he screwed you. . .Mark screwed [me] too.”

– In another deposition, Zuckerberg details the focused life of a Web developer. He was asked what he did every day during the summer of 2004, hunkered down in Palo Alto working on his fledgling site.

“Woke up, walked from my bedroom to the living room and programmed,” Zuckerberg responded.

What time in the morning did he wake up?

“It probably wasn’t the morning,” he said.

– Asked to describe how he started Facebook, Zuckerberg responded: “Well, I mean, I made a bunch of stuff while I was at Harvard that was mostly just to get information out to people around you.”

– Perhaps the most intriguing question of all is what happened to Zuckerberg’s original source code for Facebook? O’Brien points out that in a New Yorker article last year, Zuckerberg said there was “really good documentation” of his code that would prove he didn’t steal anything from the Winklevoss twins and Narendra.

So far, O’Brien writes, none of the code has come out in court. And Zuckerberg’s attorneys contend that “nearly all the early Facebook code has disappeared.”

That could be another oops for an early draft of history.

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