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'The Facebook Effect' shares lots of info

THE FACEBOOK EFFECT: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, by David Kirkpatrick. Simon & Schuster, 372 pp., $26.

Just what is it with Mark Zuckerberg and privacy?

Maybe, at age 26, the Facebook founder and chief executive hasn't been involved in enough things that he'd rather keep to himself. Or perhaps to members of his age cohort - and calling it the Facebook Generation isn't too much of a stretch - the concept of "privacy" seems as quaint as a rotary-dial telephone.

Whatever it is, to see Zuckerberg in action in the pages of David Kirkpatrick's engrossing new book, "The Facebook Effect," is to see a man who seems to believe that the burden rests on the individual to take steps to keep personal information private, and not on the corporations seeking to make use of such information.

Kirkpatrick offers a detailed and scrupulously fair history of Thefacebook, as it was originally known: how Zuckerberg, already notorious on the Harvard campus for a sexually tinged website, partnered with a wealthy classmate to launch his college-based social network; how he signed up to help, and then let down, three other Harvard students working on their own social site, later spawning heated and costly litigation; and how he moved to Palo Alto, Calif., split with his business partner and was ushered into the world of big-time finance as practiced by Silicon Valley's venture-capital community.

Those capitalists were quick to grasp the dazzling marketing possibilities of a site acting as the repository for so much personal data. In one of the book's most compelling scenes, Zuckerberg excused himself from a dinner hosted by Accel Partners' Jim Breyer to discuss a lucrative investment in the company. A friend found him on the floor of the men's room, sobbing because accepting the deal would mean backing out of a commitment he had made to The Washington Post Co. and its chairman, Donald Graham.

It speaks volumes about Zuckerberg that, at age 20, he called Graham directly to discuss the dilemma created by the venture-capital offer. It also says something that, in the end, he took Accel's money, not Graham's.

As Facebook explodes into a global phenomenon, a pattern emerges in "The Facebook Effect": Almost every time a major new feature is rolled out, it is done in a way that makes member information more accessible, rather than less. If there's an outcry, the company may scale back, but it never seems to learn the lesson for the next time.

The Mark Zuckerberg of "The Facebook Effect" has a firm belief in his own good intentions combined with a blind spot toward the sensibilities of a user base that is no longer dominated by college students. And that should be a giant concern to those of us who want the power to decide for ourselves what information we want to share, and how we'll let it be used.

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