It's a sunny afternoon in downtown Palo Alto, California, and inside the graffiti-covered walls of the Facebook headquarters, workmen are hanging lights and arranging tables for champagne glasses. Tomorrow night, there will be a party to celebrate Facebook's four-year anniversary. But in a nearby building -- one of four sleek offices that the social-networking Website runs not far from the campus of Stanford University -- the company's founder is oblivious to the preparations. Mark Zuckerberg, the head of the Facebook empire, sits inside the safety of a small, glass-walled office, hunched over a Styrofoam box of take-out. He looks more like a boy in a bubble than the CEO of a corporation that's worth as much as General Motors. Only 24 years old, Zuckerberg has a baby face, a long, long neck and big ears. Since he took Facebook live from his Harvard dorm as a sophomore four years ago, Zuckerberg has been crowned by Forbes as the world's youngest billionaire -- a dentist's son worth an estimated $1.5 billion.
Zuckerberg made that fortune by creating Facebook -- now the sixth-most-visited site in the world -- as easy to use and as addictive as any drug. Every day, some 70 million users log on to gaze at their friends' profiles and post a wealth of information about themselves: phone numbers, personal preferences, romantic timetables. Zuckerberg and his staff work, often in all-night coding parties, to hock all that valuable consumer data to ravenous advertisers. With the number of users growing by at least 150,000 daily, it's no surprise that Zuckerberg has been called his generation's Bill Gates, another technological wunderkind and Harvard dropout who changed the culture and went on to amass great wealth and power. "If there's going to be another Bill Gates," says former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, "Mark is as close as anyone." And like Gates early in his career, Zuckerberg is facing serious allegations that his creation was based on ideas he stole from others.