TheFacebook.com, created in February of 2004 by 21 year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, is a student social network now active at more than 800 campuses, with more than 2.8 million registered users. [1] Among its features, TheFacebook allows a user to upload a picture of themselves and can include information about their favorite music, books, movies, their address, phone number, e-mail, clubs, jobs, educational history, and even political affiliations. Facebook is extremely popular, attracting on average 80 percent of a school’s undergraduate population. However, there are some questions raised regarding privacy concerns on the site, and when some digging is done to find out who is really behind the site’s management, there are more questions than answers.

The first venture capital money to come into TheFacebook, $500,000 worth, came from venture capitalist Peter Thiel, founder and former CEO of Paypal. [1] A Stanford graduate and former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Thiel is author of the book “The Diversity Myth,” [2] which received praises from notable neo-conservatives such as William Kristol. [3] In fact, Thiel is on the board of the radical conservative group VanguardPAC. [4]

Further funding came in the form of $12.7 million from venture capital firm Accel Partners. Accel’s manager James Breyer was former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVAC). [1] Breyer served on NVAC’s board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, [5] a venture capital firm established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999. [6] This firm works in various aspects of information technology and intelligence, including most notably “nurturing data mining technologies.”

Breyer has also served on the board of BBN Technologies, a research and development firm known for spearheading the ARPANET, or what we know today as the Internet. [7] In October of 2004, Dr. Anita Jones climbed on board, becoming a part of a firm packed with leaders from other areas of Silicon Valley’s venture capital community, including none other than Gilman Louie. But what is most interesting is Dr. Jones’ experience prior to joining BBN.

Jones herself served on the Board of Directors for In-Q-Tel, and was previously the Director of Defense Research and Engineering for the U.S. Department of Defense. Her responsibilities included serving as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and overseeing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

While the nearly $13 million that came from Accel to fund The Facebook certainly looks suspicious and unfortunately disturbing after reviewing all of this information, the only problem on the surface seems to be the appearance of some incestuous relationships between the Pentagon, the CIA, and these venture capital firms. But this goes further than just the initial appearances. DARPA shot to national fame in 2002 when John Markoff of the New York Times announced the existence of the “Information Awareness Office” (IAO). [8] According to Wikipedia, “the IAO has the stated mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver’s licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.” [9] Protests came from civil libertarians on both the right and the left who saw the IAO as a new Orwellian arm of the United States government. After Congress investigated DARPA’s project, funding was cut off and IAO was essentially dead in the water.

The Information Awareness Office seems to have survived some of its original purposes in a mutated form, found in today’s Facebook. In fact, one of IAO’s original example technologies included “human network analysis and behavior model building engines,” [10] a surprising echo of the social networking mapping that Facebook does using SVG visualizations. [11] Add that to the information that Facebook collects and compare it to the startlingly similar goal of the IAO. It appears at first glance that DoD,
* EFF
* Black Ribbon Campain
* Original Link
* Flash Version

with the CIA, has managed to circumvent its previous Congressionally established limitations and find corporate sponsorship for its programs, under the thin veil of a useful social network for unwitting college students.

And those college students continue to log on to TheFacebook, completely unaware of the massive affronts to their privacy. The so-called “Privacy Policy” [12] of Facebook includes a statement saying that they “may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” It goes on to say that, “We may be required to disclose customer information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law or to protect our interests or property. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies.”

Some of the aspects of the privacy policy are downright creepy and confusing. This particular gem is especially disturbing: “Thefacebook also collects information about you from other sources, such as newspapers and instant messaging services. This information is gathered regardless of your use of the Web Site.” And there’s no telling when the privacy policy may change. As of when this was written (July 1, 2005), the policy was effective as of June 28, 2005.

Who knows where the information they collect about these three million college students, alumni, and professors is going, or what they intend to do with it. The fact that these companies and agencies are all so closely related, and that The Facebook has almost no organizational transparency are all cause for concern. Hopefully we can soon uncover the truth.

[1] “Accel Partners Invests In Thefacebook.com” [Accel.com]

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[2] Peter Thiel’s book, “The Diversity Myth” [Amazon.com]

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[3] Kristol’s commentary, as well as others, can be found here:

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[4] VanguardPAC Board of Advisors [TheVanguard.org]

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[5] In-Q-Tel – About Us [In-Q-Tel.org]

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[6] “Jim Breyer of Accel Partners Elected Chairman of National Venture Capital Association” [NVCA.org]

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[7] General Catalyst Partners :: News – “BBN Technologies Appoints Dr. Anita K. Jones to Board of Directors”

(This includes information about BBN’s involvement in ARPANET, as well as Jones’ past with DARPA and In-Q-Tel)

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[8] New York Times – “Many Tools Of Big Brother Are Now Up And Running” by John Markoff and John Schwartz, December 23, 2002, Late Edition – Final, Section C, Page 1, Column 2 [NYTimes.com]

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[9] Information Awareness Office [Wikipedia.org]

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[10] The Internet Archive’s archived page of DARPA’s Information Awareness Office

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[11] Thefacebook.com FAQ – Visualizations [Thefacebook.com]

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[12] Thefacebook.com Privacy Policy [Thefacebook.com]

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Students use Facebook to boast about their drinking habits, their relationships and their opinions. Friends can publicly comment on one another’s pages. When students have new and attractive photos of themselves – often half-naked vacation photos – they immediately attach them to their home pages. When Facebook users change their photos, their friends are indicated of the updates as soon as they log on.

In addition to exposing photos, students post their instant messenger screen names, which link to more information. People often use away messages to inform their friends of where they
are. To predators, this is another tool. There are only so many McKeldin libraries in College Park.

I encourage all students with a Facebook account to reassess what information they choose to expose online. The Internet can be a powerful tool, but it can also be a dangerous source for criminals and perverts. In addition, employers have caught on to the Facebook obsession and often find ways to check the profiles of potential employees for implicating information and photographs.

source: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=49181874349

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