Facebook in its early days wasn't exactly Fort Knox, according to Facebook's fifty-first hire Katerine Losse: pretty much any employee could access the inner workings of your profile -- private messages and all -- with one master password that was given out to its hires.
That's just one of many anecdotes about life in the "Facebook frat house" that is coming to light thanks to Losse's tell-all book, The Boy Kings: A Journey Into the Heart of the Social Network. Her narrative about Facebook's early days and its company culture will be released June 26th by Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
According to an excerpt published by the Wall Street Journal, Losse began working at the social networking company in 2005, only one year after Facebook had vacated its first home in a Harvard dorm room. The excerpt highlights just how loosey-goosey with information Facebook could be in the beginning, while also illustrating how much the site has morphed (and matured) in the eight years. Losse writes:
A Stanford grad introduced me and another newbie to the janky application through which users' emails to Facebook flowed. Once we learned how the software worked, he taught us, without batting an eye, the master password with which we could log in as any Facebook user and gain access to all messages and data. "You can't write it down," he said, and so we committed it to memory.
I briefly experienced stunned disbelief: They just hand over the password with no background check to make sure that I am not a crazed stalker?
Security measures would be implemented later that made it impossible for anyone to use the master password without authenticating themselves as an employee. And a year after that, the password would disappear entirely in favor of other, more secure forms of logging in to repair accounts. But at the beginning, there was only one password. For us, as administrators, everything on Facebook really was there for the seeing.
There was a master password that granted Facebook employees access to any account, if they knew it. The interviewee describes a password that would allow a Facebook employee to view anyone’s profile simply by typing in their unique user ID and the password (the password itself was a variation on ‘Chuck Norris’). This password was used primarily for engineering purposes, but other employees could find it “if they knew where to look”. To use the password, you would have to be accessing Facebook from the company’s ISP (in other words, there was no risk of it leaking to the web at large). The employee says that this power has been abused on at least two occasions, explaining that she is aware of two relating firings.
Privacy issues have plagued Facebook since its inception, and in 2011 Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations it deceived customers by making -- and then breaking -- promises regarding the privacy of users' data.
But Facebook has made efforts to tread more carefully when it comes to safeguarding its members' personal information and, in addition to doing away with the master password (according to Losse's account), has rolled out a (sometimes baffling) number of personal privacy settings that let people hide sensitive information from strangers, stalkers or workplace superiors. Facebook outlined its security measures in an infographic released last October, and has repeatedly tried to simplify its privacy settings, as well as offer more granular controls.
The Winklevoss Twins
The infamous Winklevoss twins have been giving Mark Zuckerberg grief ever since Facebook's launch back in 2004. The pair and a business partner (more on him later) commissioned Mark Zuckerberg to program a social networking site they had founded called ConnectU, but they later alleged in a lawsuit that Zuckerberg ripped off their idea and launched Thefacebook (later, Facebook) instead. After settling with the company for $65 million in cash and stock, the twins claimed that Facebook misled them about the value of the company's stock. They appealed the settlement <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/16/winklevoss-twins-appeal-denied-circuit-court_n_862758.html" target="_hplink">all the way up to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court</a> -- just one appeal shy of the Supreme Court -- before <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/22/winklevoss-twins-facebook-lawsuit_n_882618.html" target="_hplink">throwing in the towel in June 2011</a>.
Divya Narendra partnered with the Winklevoss twins on their ConnectU project during their time at Harvard. Narendra fought Zuckerberg in court alongside the twins and <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/21/connectu-co-founder-launches-professional-investment-community-sumzero/" target="_hplink">founded his own investor community, called SumZero,</a> before claiming his share of the $65 million settlement with the social network. A plotline in the film "The Social Network," which dramatized Facebook's founding, portrayed the Harvard students' working relationship and subsequent fallout with Zuckerberg.
Here's another name you probably recognize from "The Social Network." The film portrayed Zuck's deteriorating friendship with Facebook co-founder and fellow Harvard student Eduardo Saverin, culminating in a blatant betrayal on the part of Zuckerberg that ended his working relationship with Saverin. <a href="a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/how-mark-zuckerberg-booted-his-co-founder-out-of-the-company-2012-5?page=1" target="_hplink"" target="_hplink">A new piece by Business Insider indicates</a> that Saverin may not have been as much of a victim. As noted by BI, Zuckerberg planned to cut Saverin out of the company because he had failed to secure funding or set up a business model and had used the social network to run free ads for Joboozle, a side-project Saverin had developed. (<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/how-mark-zuckerberg-booted-his-co-founder-out-of-the-company-2012-5?page=1" target="_hplink">Business Insider also published emails and instant messages</a>, purportedly written by Zuckerberg, that shed light on the methods Zuck used to oust Saverin and dilute his shares in the company.) After a 2009 settlement with Facebook, Saverin retains an <a href="http://www.forbes.com/profile/eduardo-saverin/" target="_hplink">estimated five percent stake in the company</a>. (His original stake was higher than 30 percent.) He recently <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/eduardo-saverin-us-citizenship_n_1510099.html" target="_hplink">renounced his U.S. citizenship</a>, presumably to avoid the capital gains taxes on the profit he stands to make off Facebook's imminent IPO.
Napster creator Sean Parker, who also served as Facebook's first president, played a huge role in the development of the social network. <a href="http://nymag.com/news/features/mark-zuckerberg-2012-5/index3.html" target="_hplink">According to Henry Blodget's recent profile of Mark Zuckerberg</a>, Parker was also instrumental in securing Zuck's power over the company. However, <a href="http://nymag.com/news/features/mark-zuckerberg-2012-5/index3.html" target="_hplink">as Blodget explains</a>, despite Parker's contributions, Zuck and the company cut him loose a year after his arrival due to his "<a href="http://nymag.com/news/features/mark-zuckerberg-2012-5/index3.html" target="_hplink">party-boy ways</a>."
Owen Van Natta
Zuckerberg also had a hand in the departure of Owen Van Natta, Facebook's former chief operating officer and the <a href="http://allthingsd.com/20080219/owen-van-natta-to-leave-facebook/" target="_hplink">mind behind big deals</a> like Microsoft's $240 million investment in the social network. "His greatest strength was deal-making, not management," <a href="http://nymag.com/news/features/mark-zuckerberg-2012-5/index3.html " target="_hplink">writes Henry Blodget</a>. "In early 2008, in the wake of the disastrous launch of an advertising product called Beacon, Facebook's senior team determined that the company needed a different kind of executive running the business." <a href="http://allthingsd.com/20080219/owen-van-natta-to-leave-facebook/" target="_hplink">AllThingsD's Kara Swisher notes that</a> Van Natta had long been gunning for a CEO spot, which he was unlikely to find a Facebook. "He has said to me many times that he had been hesitant to come to Facebook then, as he had been looking for a CEO job at the time," wrote Swisher when Van Natta left Facebook.