Damning Zuckerberg IMs confirmed

A series of "embarrassing and damaging" IMs from Mark Zuckerberg have been confirmed as real by The New Yorker, and by the Facebook founder himself. At issue is an exchange leaked to Silicon Alley Insider and published this past March, in which Zuckerberg explains to a friend that his control of Facebook affords him access to any personal information he might care to access on any Harvard student:
ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how'd you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don't know why
ZUCK: they "trust me"
ZUCK: dumb fucks
Then, there's this gem:
FRIEND: so have you decided what you are going to do about the websites?
ZUCK: yea i'm going to fuck them
ZUCK: probably in the year
ZUCK: *ear
Allow me to be the first: Christ, what an asshole. In fairness, yes, these IMs date from 2004, and Zuckerberg's colleagues are quoted as forgiving him for youthful indiscretion. I'm sure all of us have sent IMs that would be "damning and embarassing," I know I have—but then, I'm not sitting on hundreds of thousands of people's personal data and making jokes about violating their privacy.

How much does the core of a person's sense of ethics really change over, say, five or six years? Zuckerberg's legal advisors would have us believe that he is a repentant, changed man, and that the persona reflected in these exchanges has long since been outgrown. As a Facebook user, I'd like to believe them, but I'm not so sure. All of this from someone whose business cards reportedly once read, "I'm CEO...bitch!"

The New Yorker article is here: The Face of Facebook, by Jose Antonio Vargas. A related item at The Business Insider. And The Social Network, better known as "that Sorkin/Fincher Facebook film," opens in American theaters on October 1.

(Image courtesy The New Yorker)


  1. Yeah, an asshole when he wrote those IMs, but to be fair, and as he pointed out in the interview, he was practically a kid, and much less mature at that time.

    1. “at that time” being…. 4 years ago.

      I’ve never known sudden wealth and power to increase anyone’s maturity or abilities of self reflection.

    2. “he was practically a kid, and much less mature at that time.” vs. “The IMs in question were sent less than four years ago.”

      Four years are a long time and a character can change, but not his core behaviors.


  2. This sort of gallows humor exists in just about every company… I’ve heard many people say things just as bad, like they can’t believe the extent of the power they’ve been handed by their customers.

  3. And the Zuckerberg smear campaign continues. Seriously is this guy that big of an asshole the everyone in the tech industry hates him?

    1. Yes, a successful lawsuit was brought against him for $600Million for STEALING the idea. Not only a douche, but a thief.

  4. “Youthful indiscretion”? That was only 4 years ago!

    Basically, 4 years ago Zuckerberg proved that he was willing to abuse people’s trust and violate people’s privacy on a whim. He proved that he didn’t give a shit about people’s rights to security and privacy. Has he done anything since then to convince us he’s changed at all? No he hasn’t. 4 years passing does not constitute even the slightest proof that a person has changed.

      1. Though damnable, those IMs are not just four years old. The New Yorker article does not say those IMs were from 2006. It says in 2006 lawyers reviewed IMs he sent while at Harvard.

        “To prepare for litigation against the Winklevosses and Narendra, Facebook’s legal team searched Zuckerberg’s computer and came across Instant Messages he sent while he was at Harvard. Although the IMs did not offer any evidence to support the claim of theft, according to sources who have seen many of the messages, the IMs portray Zuckerberg as backstabbing, conniving, and insensitive. A small group of lawyers and Facebook executives reviewed the messages, in a two-hour meeting in January, 2006, at the offices of Jim Breyer, the managing partner at the venture-capital firm Accel Partners, Facebook’s largest outside investor.”

        Source: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_vargas?currentPage=all#ixzz0zY2Qd6Qs

    1. ‘Basically, 4 years ago Zuckerberg proved that he was willing to abuse people’s trust and violate people’s privacy on a whim.’

      Not quite. He’s proven that he’s willing to say that he’ll abuse people’s trust and privacy. There’s a surprisingly large difference there.

      Moreover, he’s willing to say he’d ‘fuck them’, and, er, apparently not do so.

      So, at least you can claim he’s a liar.

      1. “So, at least you can claim he’s a liar.”

        Not for everyone. I’m still having hearing problems in my left ear.

  5. I most stopped using Facebook a few months ago, and deleted my account last week, mainly as a result of these, but also because that was on top of clearly profiting from selling personal info.

    Also, the whole Facebook experience is brain-rotting. I could almost feel the contents of my skull turning to mush as I used it.

    1. Eh, I use it and I find it useful in specific ways, it’s not a terrible service.

      But the privacy issues, and concerns about the integrity of those running the ship, are real.

      I don’t add personal data that I wouldn’t want to see published widely or broadcast on TV. The connections I make on Facebook, I’m not afraid to have the world know about. I don’t use it believing that it is “private.”

      1. But Xeni, the point is that Facebook keeps changing the rules to get you to expose more data, and allows apps that do the same.

        And even if you manage to avoid all that, your friends will post information about you, and you have no way to control that.

        1. Oh, I’m not saying there’s no danger, or that Facebook is fine as is, or anything like that. Just saying: I choose to use the service for the time being for various reasons, and here are the things I do to limit the odds of damage. But I’m aware that no one who uses the service is immune to privacy risks.

        2. If you give your most private secrets to them, who made you do it? Don’t get mad at others for your own fail.

          Also, I agree with Xeni re: how I use Facebook. Topical, light, social (and, of course, Scrabble). I put out there ONLY what I do not want to be secret.

          1. There is a huge difference between private and secret. A secret is something you want no one to know. Privacy is context-based, and mostly means things you don’t want *broadcasted*.

            For example! You may not care that the person sitting next to you on a park bench hears you tell your friend you need to buy tampons. You obviously don’t care about that specific friend knowing either. Because you expect both of them to have a sense of context- one, that you’re a random stranger and it’s none of their business in the case of the person on the bench, and two, your friend will understand why you’re telling them and that you might not everyone to know.

            Facebook does not understand this distinction. Facebook wants to broadcast everything to every one, and only grudgingly allows you any control over this. And less and less control as time goes by. It once was that you could simply stop things like wall postings from being published in the feed. Now you must either allow it to be published, or block people all together from seeing the wall. There’s no subtlety, anymore. No room for, “well, I don’t mind if they see it while posting on my wall, but I don’t exactly want it broadcasted.”

          2. The misunderstanding is well described by you, but you’re on the wrong side of it.

            Facebook is about as private as a classified ad, always has been, always will be. If you expected better from facebook, it is an expectation you arrived at by yourself. Nobody guided you to it, and those are the ones that hurt the most.

          3. No one lead me to it? I must have imagined, then, reading this:

            “No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings,”

            when I first signed up.

            I must have imagined all the granular privacy controls that went into effect after everyone threw a conniption fit over the feed.

            Because otherwise? Yeah, that does sound a lot like being lead to believe that facebook was not an ad in the damn classifieds.

            Facebook got people to trust it with their real names and not some internet handle (etc) by having iron-clad privacy controls and a fairly decent privacy policy. And then- they abused it.

            It’s easy to be cynical and say, “what, you didn’t expect them to?” but you know what? That doesn’t erase the fault. They still abused it, and it was still wrong.

          4. And, I repeat, what do you do when others post information about you that you regard as secret?

            Sure, we’re all pretty security-conscious here, we can avoid giving out sensitive information. But that should not stop us denegrating a web service that is designed to make you do the opposite.

            If you rented a building with dangerous stairs, you’d take the landlord to court — you wouldn’t say, “what’s the problem? I know to only use the left side.”

          5. same thing you do when they put it up on a billboard or call your parents to inform them. Tell them to fuck off and find more sensible friends.

          6. Oddly enough, no-one I know has ever paid for a billboard, let alone one that mentions me. Perhaps that’s a common occurrence where you are, but here it would be … notable.

            I do agree with your general point that the quality of your friends is paramount, and Facebook is just one tool that they might use to reveal their suckiness. But the thing is, Facebook is designed to make your friends suck by accident. Which surely makes it worth avoiding.

          7. I actually have seen a local billboard wishing someone a happy 50th birthday. Seemed like a friendly invasion of privacy, but the billboard company was happy to take their money. My friends would know better than to put that out there.

            I guess my point is that if you don’t want Zynga (or any other fb app provider) to know that you know John X, then don’t tell facebook you know him. It takes two to be facebook friends, and you are responsible for ‘friending’ him, and also for reading the terms of use, which do not currently make any promises of the sort that you would wish to see.

            As with everything else in life: don’t like it? don’t use it.

      2. Privacy in its traditional sense is not really my concern when it comes to the like of Facebook. I’m not really concerned that someone in a corporation can find out who my friends on FB are.

        My real concern is the ways in which very powerful data sifting algorithms can combine any number of seemingly innocuous links, no one of which you’d really be concerned about, in ways that may be surprising.

        There have been many instances over the years of people applying statistical methods in order to isolate data that does not seem to be there at first glance. No, they’re not going to be able to divine your bank account number out of thin air, but I think it’s possible for them to discover information you may not have thought possible.

        Removing data after these methods are discovered is ineffectual. The only real defense against it is to be as stingy as possible with data at all times.

  6. Making dumb jokes about privacy issues is youthful indiscretion, sure. But in that exchange, he’s actively offering to break whatever privacy agreement was in place on the site at the time to divulge personal information to an external party. I haven’t noticed that the justice system is fond of allowing youthful indiscretion as an excuse to break the law.

  7. Aside from Zuckerberg, it’s odd in the article the way that Vargas describes outing and then de-outing himself on facebook, deciding that he didn’t want to publish that info…except that he’s now published it in less malleable form in the magazine.

    Left me wondering if New Yorker staffers think more of their friends and family read facebook than read the New Yorker.

    1. No, he stated ” at that time, at least,” that time being 2006. It’s been four years and it sounds like he’s willing to inform people by now.

  8. God, whatever. A CEO is a CEO is a CEO. They are all the same.

    He’ll get through this, scot-free, and one day a university building will be named after him (I used to say “one day they’ll make a movie about him.”).

    This is how our world is, because we seem to like it this way.

  9. I can’t stand listening to Zuckerberg more than 20 seconds at a time. Most things he says can be boiled down to “you should believe what I say because I really really want you to, and it would be really really good for me if you did”. I hope Sheryl Sandberg charges extra for having to sit in meetings and listen to that noise for hours at a time.

    I have a Facebook account for exactly one reason: to keep anyone else from registering my name. After that, nada.

    Also: agree 100% with narrowstreetsLA.

  10. As someone who actually briefly went to school with Zuckerberg and occasionally interacted with him, I can’t say that seeing this kind of behavior from him has ever been surprising. All evidence suggests that he hasn’t matured at all since high school, and he was pretty immature then.

  11. This is interesting !

    But may be by now he must have realized the importance of data. Hopefully more matured

  12. Meh. I just don’t think that sharing someone’s email address when you’re in college is much of a transgression. Most colleges have some sort of transparent naming scheme, e.g. JSmith12 for John Smith in the class of 2012.

    And what was Facebook’s privacy policy at this point? Maybe all this stuff was things that were publicly available, or that were shared with Zuckerberg. It’s hard to condemn him for sharing information like that — information wants to be free, after all.

  13. Are you people using some sort of Ned Flanders version of the Internet?

    Making judgments on someones personality and morals on the basics of pieces of online discussions with friends is just stupid.

    Saying politically incorrect things without meaning them and pondering on affordances for evil world offers but which we really have no intention of using, is about 90 % of IRC communication between males who know each others.

    I’m not above assuming that Zuck is going to sell your baby pictures and home address to pedophiles. In fact, I fully expect Facebook to start doing that sort of things (if they haven’t already).

    1. “politically incorrect”? wtf planet do you live on?

      It’s just assinine. Not ‘incorrect’, just assinine. I can judge that someone is an asshole in three notes or less. So can you.

  14. Gallows humor? Youth? Pretty amazing anyone is using those issues as excuses for this.

    I’ve worked on the web specifically for 15 years and in tech longer. I have never bragged about screwing over anyone’s privacy. Nor have I ever poured over registration logs for the sites I work on looking for “dirt.”

    The larger problem this asshole perpetuates is the myth that anyone working in tech violates personal privacy as a matter of course: That’s just all we do all day! Spy! Steal! And use your info to do nasty things.

    Some of us just work for a living. Not Mort.

  15. OK Zuck is a sleezeball. But don’t believe for one second this doesn’t happen at every company where you keep your private data, emails, photos and whatever. You just don’t hear about, probably the CEO doesn’t hear about it either because the sysadmins and DBAs snoop around without any audit trail and without anyone ever knowing.

    If you don’t want your private data exposed, don’t upload it in the first place.

  16. Making judgments on someones personality and morals on the basics of pieces of online discussions with friends is just stupid.

    Morals, schmorals. This guy is the head honcho at a social networking site that continually tries to push the outer limits of user privacy commodification. And he says this and does this?

    His personality is that of a petite d-bag.

  17. I like Facebook. I think my life has been better with it than without it. But this guy would violate the world to impress a toff.

    The article makes a pretty damning case that he’s a self-loathing social climber. And yet I still like Facebook. Hmm.

  18. In fairness, these IMs date from 2006

    It’s so embarrassing to think what I was doing in 2006, yeah I was so different then. Sat exactly here doing the exact same thing pretty much. Oddly, I can’t remember ever boasting about ripping off my clients by using their personal details, although I have changed so much in those four years. Perhaps I forgot.

    1. Exactly. That is the same logic I’ve been trying to use to get my brother to enroll his daughter in Kindergarten. Who cares if she’s only 1? Is a person really going to change -that- much in 4 years? And then I’ve got a 17 year old that the liquor stores -still- refuse to sell liquor to. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with society?

    1. I hear they will be doing special midnight showings back-to-back with Shattered Glass and call the event “The Tedious Two.”

      Sheet cake will be served.

  19. “youthful indiscretions…” from 4 years ago reminds me of a 12 year old saying “when i was a little kid…”


  20. Have you all seen the recent uproar on LiveJournal, connected to their introduction of the ability to crosspost directly from LiveJournal to Facebook and Twitter? A lot of the reactions which LiveJournal users had were about concerns of how their privacy would be affected by allowing anyone commenting on their journals to be able to crosspost those comments on Facebook.

    Here’s the initial news post on LiveJournal about the introduction of crossposting.


    The 10,000 comments from LiveJournal users are pretty much all DO NOT WANT. (And bear in mind that 10,000 comments is the maximum number possible on a LiveJournal community!) In a way, I’m surprised industry-related media haven’t picked up more on that story, as it shows something about what happens when social networking sites and journalling/blogging sites collide.

  21. The original article was pretty well written, I thought. I liked how delicately it approached the issue of whether an ivy-league educated heterosexual white cis-male was really the best evaluator of the dangers of the loss of privacy.

    That said, the IMs quoted here just convinced me that zuckerberg was a young programmer at the time. Maybe I just hung out with assholes when I was younger- but most of the programmers I knew in middle school through college were punks, and it was fashionable to hold non-tech “straights” in mild contempt. To be fair, I think this attitude probably was reciprocal. When you treat someone as though they are low-status, don’t trust them to give a shit about your best interests.

    I guess the takeaway is: those IMs just look like the way a young programmer tries to appear cool to his colleagues. It’s ugly, and you SHOULDN’T trust them unless there is mutual respect going on. Also, if this disturbs you (and I’m not saying it shouldn’t), then you should also probably assume that just about every online service- from google to probably boing boing, has people working in key positions that were smart-mouthed irresponsible punks when they were seventeen too.

    1. “key positions that were smart-mouthed irresponsible punks when they were seventeen too….”

      But He wasn’t 17- an age where, yeah, I’d say 4 years could make a difference. No, he was 22 and it was 4 years ago. He’s my age- and four years haven’t significantly changed the personalities or beliefs of anyone else I know.

      What are we supposed to think? “oh, it was way back when…he was virtually the same person- it hardly matters now! I’m sure he’s changed!”?

      1. “But He wasn’t 17- an age where, yeah, I’d say 4 years could make a difference. No, he was 22 and it was 4 years ago. He’s my age- and four years haven’t significantly changed the personalities or beliefs of anyone else I know.”

        That’s a good point- I misread the timeline and thought he was a bit younger.

        I WILL say that I haven’t found that people stay the same person they were at 22- but 4 years isn’t a long time, and it’s usually disappointment and disaster that change a person. I’m sure wild success doesn’t exempt you from those life experiences- it sounds like he’s fallen out with most of his old friends for instance- but I’ll agree. I think that normally the transition from college to the workplace knocks a little empathy into people, but that might not be so much the case when you leave college because you have the opportunity to make boatloads of money on a product that you designed.

  22. Simply not posting things that you wouldn’t want the world to see isn’t enough, unfortunately. Nothing prevents someone else from posting something involving you (or worse yet, tagging you in it). Granted, they can still post things involving you that you would object to even if you don’t have an account. That’s true of any site, the difference is that Facebook actively tries to make people *believe* that some information will only ever be divulged to a select audience, and this instills a false sense of trust in the site. That way, people are more likely to post things that they might not otherwise. It’s quite insidious, really, given Facebook’s history on privacy matters.

  23. but then, I’m not sitting on hundreds of thousands of people’s personal data and making jokes about violating their privacy.

    Violating their privacy? I’d be more worried about his intentions toward their ears!

  24. Let me leave a message for my self four years in the future.

    Ripping off people is WRONG!

    I think I believed the same thing four years ago. Ten years ago I might have thought it was OK to rip of big faceless corporations, but never my peers, and certainly not any innocent customers I might have. Not that I had many customers back then.

    Fucking people in the ear is OK, as long as it’s consensual. I have always and will always believe this.

  25. Y’all are looking in the wrong place for meaning here: with these comments, Zuck has gained entree into the executive world. He’s proved himself to be capable of being a Serious Businessperson.

  26. Doesn’t anyone else think it is just as bad that Mark Zuckerbergs private confidences expressed to an anonymous friend via instant messager have been made widely available to the world at large?

    Yes, he might well be morally weak and wouldn’t think twice about screwing people over. However, this doesn’t make him a bad CEO, it gives him the ability to make tough decisions without moral conscience. Afterall, most people who reach this kind of height in life tend to step on and over other people to get there and they don’t look back or say sorry. I can think of lots of CEO’s who are just the same morally defunct people but I trust them to do a calculated job. Richard Branson is doing fabulous things for the world by challenging pre-conceptions and delivering quality products and services and he doesn’t care about who he hurts along the way. I don’t want to be his friend, I don’t want to share an elevator with him or ask him to dinner. But I quite like to use his products when it suits me. Mark Zuckerberg is just the same.

    Now, obviously this issue of privacy is a sensitive one but I don’t want to worry abouta childish comment he made in private to impress a friend and nothing more. I am sure everyone at some stage in their lives says something in private just to impress another person or emote a certain response. The extent of which is usually irrelevant to most. He was stupid to say such things in the first place but this friend of his saved the messages from years and years ago from some random conversation and then published them when it would hurt the guy the most. Imagine the bravado of a young Mark Zuckerberg announcing how massive his balls were – only to have the friend pull down his pants to the whole world and say. Yeah, not so big now eh!

  27. The saying goes,”You can’t fix stupid”.

    You can also not fix being an asshole. As others have said, money doesn’t mature people, it makes them into insecure men-children. I might go to the movie about facebook, just so I can run in front at opportune times and yell,”CHRIST WHAT AN ASSHOLE!”

    You should read and watch some stuff about Enron. They had the same exact attitude throughout their entire corporation. This is a corporatist attitude more than anything else. Some of their traders actually laugh about causing an energy crisis in California (aka shutting down AC, lights, etc.) to raise the value of the commodity of energy.

  28. Yes, he might well be morally weak and wouldn’t think twice about screwing people over. However, this doesn’t make him a bad CEO

    Let’s just ponder that statement for a moment.

  29. If four years can change someone’s mind, why do we put some people in jail for decades if not for their entire life?
    Not that I would want a serial killer out of jail after four years, but you get the point.

  30. I’ve said it before and I say it yet a-fuckin-gain….

    He’s a DICK. Not an asshole (I’m an asshole). He’s a fucking DICK.

    And people that avidly use Facebook are beneath this dick and sucking it. You use Facebook a lot? You should be embarrassed and have more respect for yourself.

    /end rant

  31. I am 20 years old. I am, by some definitions, less mature than Mark Zuckerberg was when he sent those IMs. And I would never have said any of the things that he said.

    Maturity has nothing to do with how much of a cunt he is.

  32. That was from such a long time ago. It’s really irrelevant. You know, he used to have a business card that said “I’m CEO…bitch!” But five years is enough time to mature. I can’t believe the audacity people have, as if we are any better.

  33. While those IMs may be authentic, they’re probably not only four years old. Four years ago (late 2006) Facebook was already kind of a big deal, available at tons of colleges and maybe even already open to the general public.

    Bragging about 4,000 Harvard e-mail addresses? Perhaps in 2004…

  34. I get a really strange feeling that all this Zukerberg image stuff is entirely intentional, though I’m not quite sure I can figure out what the angle is. Build up a blamable figurehead, do something terrible, and then throw him under the bus to placate people? Strike fear into your employees? It just seems so odd to me that no one is really fighting the “the guy’s an asshole” stories.

  35. Facebook got it’s VC money from the CIA. I’m a lazy spook and there is no point of spying on anyone when the entire world is fully willing to put things on the internet forever. “By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States”. kthxbai!


    The third board member of Facebook is Jim Breyer. He is a partner in the venture capital firm Accel Partners, who put $12.7m into Facebook in April 2005. On the board of such US giants as Wal-Mart and Marvel Entertainment, he is also a former chairman of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). Now these are the people who are really making things happen in America, because they invest in the new young talent, the Zuckerbergs and the like. Facebook’s most recent round of funding was led by a company called Greylock Venture Capital, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Greylock’s senior partners is called Howard Cox, another former chairman of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What’s In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their website), this is the venture-capital wing of the CIA. After 9/11, the US intelligence community became so excited by the possibilities of new technology and the innovations being made in the private sector, that in 1999 they set up their own venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, which “identifies and partners with companies developing cutting-edge technologies to help deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency and the broader US Intelligence Community (IC) to further their missions”.

    1. “After 9/11, the US intelligence community became so excited by the possibilities of new technology and the innovations being made in the private sector, that in 1999 they set up their own venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, which […]”

      My friend, I think your timeline is just a tad bit broken.

  36. dude whatever. you clearly have never eaten a hot dog and drank a beer at a football game. guys talk guy talk with each other. they swear for the sake of swearing. this was before fb was worth anything. muckraker!

    1. Yup. When I think ‘one of the guys’, Mark Zuckerberg’s the first face that pops into my mind, boy howdy.

  37. I use Facebook a lot, and a part of my social life depends on it. But it’s stuff like this that reminds me not to trust it any further than I can piss throguh concrete. Ditto for Zynga apps, though I was annoyed enough to stop using them before they were exposed as sleazy data mining.

  38. My question is…what harmful info does Facebook have? It doesn’t have my phone number nor address that I am aware of. Nor my SS# or bank accounts. It only has what I gave it. Now, if someone is so un-clue as to post harmful or dangerous info up there..well, there’s Darwinism at work again. I can’t figure out all the fuss. Who cares if it has my marital status and what music I like?

  39. So… seems there was never a responsible adult in Zuck’s life when he was so carelessly erecting this empire.
    When Bill Gates was already a millionaire, he would sit at the executive board meetings – head of the table – and rock… He was really just a kid.
    It was his father that finally told him basically, *you’ve got to start giving some of this money away; you’ve got to give back*.. at which time Bill did indeed begin his philantropy… then he also met Melinda, who was so clearly also an influence in his public and personal life; they have traveled extensively to countries where babies/children do NOT have potentially grand futures.
    But it was the influence of his dad, and then also, his wife (Mom had passed away by then….)that made Bill genuinely a changed man. (and certainly likely the births of his children!!)
    I’m wondering if Zuck’s parents have any relationship with him?

  40. Guaranteed half of you lot complaining about Mark Zuckerberg and his disregard for privacy still log into Facebook on a daily basis and one of the first applications on your iPhone or Android is no doubt Facebook.

Comments are closed.