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Facebook once built a phone that could only be used by right-handed people

Yesterday I spoke to author Steven Levy about his new book, Facebook: The Inside Story. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite parts of the story, focusing on Levy’s substantial original reporting. While I share my favorite parts here, I still leave out a lot. This book is 527 pages and a memorable event takes place on more pages than not. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a comprehensive, reality-based account of the first 16 years of the company.

The moments below cover the history of the company, and therefore this account will necessarily feel a bit complete. I decided to structure this piece as an interview with myself, because no one else I know has already completed this book.

Let’s dive in – and if you want to buy the book, you can pick it up through one of the links here.

What is an absolutely wild story from the early days of Facebook that was previously reported but about which you had never heard of?

Well, there was a time when Mark Zuckerberg hacked the email from reporters to see what they were doing. In 2010 Business insider reported that while he was still at Harvard, the school paper investigated the claim of the Winkelvoss brothers that the idea for Facebook was “stolen”. Zuckerberg searched the Facebook logs for cases where Crimson reporters had entered the wrong password and used one of those wrong password attempts to successfully log in to the email accounts of two student reporters. When he did, he discovered that one of the reporters had called him “sleazy,” although the newspaper eventually concluded that Zuckerberg hadn’t stolen anything from the Winklevosses.

I can not believe it I had never heard this story before.

What is the most cautious thing Zuckerberg said about Facebook in his early years?

In an immediate message while he was still at Harvard, after surviving a meeting with a disciplinary body known as the board, Zuckerberg immediately told a friend:

there are no school newspapers and billboards after you graduate. only the New York Times and the federal courts haha

What is the most consistent decision that Facebook has ever taken?

When Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg as his main operational officer, he delegated to her the subjects in which he was least interested. That included policy, which he regarded as different from the product organization. In fact, product and policy are two sides of the same coin. You cannot manage one successfully without paying attention to the other. A large part of the calculation of the last three years can be traced back to delegating policy activities to Sandberg, while the company’s all-powerful growth team – which reported to Zuckerberg – ran the rest. The policy has always lagged behind the clutter created by the growth team, and this was due to the design of the organization.

Did Zuckerberg immediately see the appeal of a similar button when it was introduced to him?

He did not, because he suspected that the number of responses people left on Facebook would decrease. In fact, the like button increased the number. The team debated more than 18 months before it was finally implemented.

Facebook has long refused the existence of “dark” or “shadow” profiles – essentially landing pages for people who do not yet have to create an account, but who are pre-filled with information about their friends and other data. What did the former growth team leader, Chamath Palihapitiya, have to say about these profiles?

From page 222:

“Palihapitiya now indicates that dark profiles existed and that the growth team has benefited. He says that Facebook would remove search ads on Google with the names of Facebook holdouts as keywords. The advertisements would, he says, refer to those dark profiles of non-users who supposedly did not exist. “You would search for your own name on the internet and you would end up on a dark profile on Facebook,” he says. “And then you’d be so good, damn it, fill it in and then … we’d show you a bunch of friends.”

What is the first product idea that Facebook wholesaler borrowed from another company?

According to Ezra Callahan, an early product manager and one of the company’s first 20 employees, it allowed people to post text status messages – an idea of ​​Twitter in 2006. “Status was a very late addition and just a scam of Twitter,” says he on page 259. ” There is nothing you can do – Twitter has become popular very quickly, let’s do that here. That was the first time that we just cheated someone. ”

What can you tell us about the prototype of the Facebook phone that produced it?

The code name was GFK, after Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan. Facebook denied building a phone for its own employees. (“It was the first time I remembered Facebook lying internally” – Callahan.) The phone was designed by Yves Behar and had “an unusual groove in the curved surface where you could scroll with a thumb.” The processor was built by Intel, which also “offered an innovative touch sensor that both unlocked the phone and scrolled in one move.” The touch sensor only worked for right-handed people, but Facebook nevertheless continued. (“We decided we didn’t care about left-handed people,” an anonymous employee tells Levy.)

What is the funniest email sent in the company’s history?

Of those presented here, I should go with the message that Zuckerberg sent Evan Spiegel after Spiegel had rejected a takeover bid and Facebook had built his first app to compete directly with Snapchat. “I hope you like Poke,” read the email from Zuckerberg in its entirety. (It’s funny because nobody liked using Poke.)

How did Google mess up his attempt to buy WhatsApp?

Page 322: “In 2012, Marissa Mayer was the executive power. But [WhatsApp co-founders] [Jan] Koum and [Brian] Acton did not find it encouraging that when they came to the Google Mountain offices for the meeting, Mayer’s participation took place via video conferencing, even though she was somewhere else on campus. ”

How seriously did the founders of WhatsApp discover that their product is being used to promote hate speech, lynch mobs and other social damage?

Apparently not at all. “There is no morality associated with technology, it’s people who attach morality to technology,” Brian Acton tells Levy. “It’s not up to technologists to be the ones to judge. I don’t like to be a nanny. As far as people use a product in India or Myanmar or anywhere for hate crimes or terrorism or anything else, let’s stop looking at the technology and start asking questions about the people. “

What is one of Sandberg’s go-to techniques when he is interviewed by a reporter?

Telling the reporter that she is nervous, “hoping for a simpler interrogation,” a colleague tells Levy.

How directly were Zuckerberg and Sandberg in contact with their chief security officer, Alex Stamos, before and during the investigation into Russian election interference on the platform?

Little shocking. Sandberg says she rarely had contact with Stamos and that Zuckerberg never had a one-on-one meeting with him.

What is a representative Sandberg quote about this episode?

(“She” in this case refers to the Facebook board.)

“People were quite upset; this was a big issue. And I think we thought it was a big problem. I think we were upset and they were upset. We were all upset together. I mean, you are really upset to find out that foreign powers or anyone else would have tried to get involved in the elections, really upset. ”

When do you think Sandberg will leave Facebook after reading this book?

As soon as she finds a relatively graceful way to do this.

Is Zuckerberg doing its utmost to appease conservatives who criticize Facebook?

This is what he says about this on page 459: “If you have a company that is 90 percent liberal – that is probably the composition of the Bay Area – I think you have a responsibility to ensure that you avoid and build systems to ensure that you do not build in unintentional bias. “

Does Zuckerberg have fun?

“I don’t optimize for fun,” he says on page 463.

How did Zuckerberg work to limit the growth of Instagram before his co-founders left the company?

Firstly, by removing links to the app from photos posted by Instagram on the news feed, as previously reported. But he went one step further by denying the co-founders the possibility of hiring almost as many people as they wanted. This included a request to expand the stand-alone messaging product Direct, which was eventually suspended. (Another Instagram post product, Threads, was published last year.)

How does this change the prevailing story surrounding Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram?

I always thought the question was, why did the co-founders stop using Facebook? It is clear that the real question now is, why did Zuckerberg lead them out of the organization? Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had made a bet that they could grow faster by adopting a different (though clearly related) approach than their parent company – and it worked.

But around 2017, Zuckerberg gradually began to make their lives harder until they stopped. Why? I wonder if it could be related to an internal speech that Zuckerberg gave after the election debacle about becoming, in the sense of venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, “CEO in wartime– the feeling that he could no longer spoil a group of acquired founders with their pet activities and had to centralize control of every aspect of the operation. Time will tell if this was the right decision. But in the case of Instagram it seems like a tactical error.

What is the irreducible core of Facebook? What is the idea that drives the whole thing?

Total confidence that “connecting the world” – in the form that every living being is a daily active user of a Facebook product – will ultimately have a net positive effect on the world. Zuckerberg summarizes this attitude in the last pages of the book:

“I think many people would be more conservative and say: Okay, this is what I think should happen, but I’m not going to mess around with it because I’m too scared to break anything. I am more afraid of not doing the best we can than of destroying the thing that we currently have. I just think I take more risk and that means I miss more things. “

Facebook’s response to The story from within is this:

“We have given Mr. Levy ample access to our executives who were upcoming about the most painful moments in Facebook’s past. Although we disagree with everything he said, we also do not deny the challenges he describes and work we are actively solving them. “

The ratio

Today in news that can influence the public perception of the major technological platforms.

Popular: Facebook prohibits advertisements that promise to cure the corona virus. The company has also said it will completely remove fake corona virus messages if they endanger people. (Rob Price / Business insider)

Trending down: Election officials in at least five states have collided with this Facebook in their efforts to remove false election information from the platform. In some cases, Facebook has been slow to make changes, even after being warned of possible inaccuracies.

Trending down: Almost three-quarters of Americans have little faith in technical companies Facebook, twitter and Google will prevent the misuse of their platforms to influence the 2020 presidential election.


Some companies will be taken over by Google have deliberately burned out their assets to avoid having to submit the deal to the Federal Trade Commission for review. Now that Google’s market power has been re-examined, the FTC is re-examining hundreds of such deals. Here’s Eric Newcomer at Bloomberg:

FTC officials began investigating these deals as early as the fall when they met a representative of a startup who had been bought by a large technology company in a deal that had not been assessed at the time, but which could now be investigated, according to one person who is familiar with the issue and who asked not to be mentioned while discussing private conversations. Mark Rosenberg, a researcher at an antitrust group at the University of Yale, picked up Invite as “definitely a viable candidate” for review under the new special order. He also marked the acquisition by Google of Apture, the purchase of Amazon by Blink and the purchase by Facebook of Beluga and Gowalla.

The market for online display ads was a million-dollar opportunity for Google, and success in developing advertising technology was a primary way of becoming one of the world’s most valuable companies. Acquisitions were the key to this transformation. Google bought the DoubleClick ad exchange for $ 3.1 billion in 2007 and the mobile ad company AdMob for $ 750 million in 2009.

Google’s Black Box algorithm determines which political e-mails end up in your main inbox. The differences are great for 2020 presidential candidates, at least in this test. (Critics noted that the test was on a single, unused inbox and that the conditions in the real inbox are likely to differ in important ways.) (Adrianne Jeffries, Leon Yin and Surya Mattu / The layout)

From Mike Bloomberg campaign pollutes the internet with trained videos and fake quotes, apparently with little or no worry for the toxic side effects. If he is unchecked, his approach threatens to poison the atmosphere forever, argues this writer. (Julia Carrie Wong / The Guardian)

Russia is trying to get involved in the 2020 elections by sowing discord and further polarizing voters and politicians. Now political campaigns and experts are helping them by spreading rumors about why Russia is helping certain candidates. (Charlie Warzel / The New York Times)

As a coronavirus outbreak in the US seems more likely, experts warn that the disease can disrupt the 2020 elections by making it harder for people to vote. To ensure that this does not happen, Congress should fund post-in ballot papers nationwide, this paper argues. (Jon Stokes / Wired)

Oracle finances a non-profit organization, the Internet Accountability Project, that crosses against Big Tech. It is part of Oracle’s strategy to combat rivals such as Amazon and Google, and comes on top of the company’s recent fundraising for the president. (Naomi Nix and Joe Light / Bloomberg)

The US Army has adopted new ethical guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence in its futuristic robot tanks and smart weapon systems. The five considerations are that the AI ​​is: responsible, fair, traceable, reliable and manageable. (Matt Novak / Gizmodo)

Schools use telephones and wristbands to follow and follow students, despite the fact that these methods may not be as effective. (Alfred Ng / CNET)

Normal life has come to a halt in Kashmir, where a blackout on the internet, initiated by the Indian government, is still largely in force. Companies have had to lay off employees, hospitals are struggling to care for patients and ordinary people are desperate. (Pranav Dixit / BuzzFeed)

China taps its old propaganda playbook as it fights the ruthless coronavirus outbreak. State media fill smartphones with patriotic messages that are intended to unite the population. But it doesn’t seem to work, because people continue to criticize the government online. (Li Yuan / The New York Times)


Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that claims to have a database of over 3 billion photos, has just reported that an intruder has stolen its entire client list. The company concludes contracts with law enforcement agencies across the country, Betsy Swan reports Everyday beast:

In the notification, that The Daily Beast assessed, the Clearview AI startup informed its customers that an intruder had “unauthorized access” to its customer list, to the number of user accounts that those customers had set up, and to the number of searches that its customers carried out. The report said that the company’s servers were not violated and that “no compromises were made between the systems or the Clearview network”. The company also said it had addressed the vulnerability and that the intruder had not obtained a search history from law enforcement authorities.

Google announced it would invest more than $ 10 billion in offices and data centers in the United States this year. CEO Sundar Pichai said the investments would create “thousands of jobs.”

Google Translate adds support for five new languages ​​today, bringing the total to 108 languages. The move marks the first addition of new languages ​​to the Google artificial intelligence-driven translation product in four years. (Nick Statt / The edge)

Facebook has purchased Asgard’s Wrath developer Sanzaru Games for an undisclosed amount. Sanzaru remains an independently operating studio and joins Facebook’s Oculus Studios in the same way as the Beat Games acquisition last November. (Rebekah Valentine / GamesIndustry)

Private school TapTok has firmly established itself as one of the many subcultures of the app, with the hashtag “#privateschool” that generated 396 million views. The community distinguishes itself from rich children on Instagram because they are less concerned with wealth itself, and more with the comic kilometers that wealth offers. (Polly Smythe / Vice)

Children are looking for toys based on their favorite YouTube stars and channels. The trend is for manufacturers and retailers to work with new types of companies to sell toys and merchandise. (Sahil Patel / The Wall Street Journal)

Fraidycat is a new app for keeping track of your favorite internet content. It bundles all your favorite internet stuff in one easy to read page, just like a super powerful RSS reader. (Nick Statt / The edge)

A deep dive investigation into why we are so obsessed with gross food Instagram. It is chaotic, nihilistic and hard to look away. (Anna Samson / Vice)

And finally…

The pope added trolls to the list of things Catholics should give up before Lent. “We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are reinforced by the internet,” he said.

Or, in the words of my colleague Russell Brandom:

Talk to us

Send us tips, comments, questions and your favorite parts of The story from within: casey@theverge.com and zoe@theverge.com.