In 2003, then Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg scraped the names and photos of co-eds from university servers in order to create a “hot or not” site called FaceMash. Zuckerberg, who would go on to found Facebook, was accused of stealing data and identities. Today, Wired reports that a media artist and a media critic have decided that turnabout is fair play when it comes to Zuckerberg’s ultimate creation. Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico’s social experiment dating website called Lovely Faces recently went online after scraping 250,000 Facebook profiles for names, locations and pictures – and Facebook is threatening to sue.
Lovely-Faces.com: Take ‘em and tag ‘em
Without obtaining consent, Lovely Faces grabbed Facebook user data and classified photos of male and female faces via a recognition algorithm into such categories as “easy going,” “smug” or “sly.” Lovely Faces also managed to grab the real names of Facebook users, but Cirio and Ludovico aren’t concerned about legality. Their claim, according to Wired, is that Lovely Faces is not a business venture, but art that challenges the notion that people should feel comfortable with sharing personal information via online social media.
“If we start to play with the concepts of identity theft and dating, we should be able to unveil how fragile a virtual identity given to a proprietary platform can be,” write the Lovely Faces founders on Face to Facebook. “And (we’ll see) how fragile enormous capitalization based on exploiting social systems can be.”
What Cirio and Ludovico aim to do to Facebook and any other large-scale monetized online social network is shine a light on the cracks inherent in the system. In their minds, the exposure would ideally cause such networks to crumble into the dust bin of over-hyped stock evaluations, the place where many failed dot coms fell when the bubble burst in the early 2000s.
Facebook doesn’t appreciate Lovely Faces ‘art’
Barry Schnitt, the Director of Policy Communications at Facebook, insists that scraping user data violates the social network’s terms of service. Thus, Facebook is currently investigating Lovely-Faces.com before taking legal action. Facebook has sued others before, such as the online security research firm Skull Security after it released 100 million Facebook user names and profile addresses. Zuckerberg and company may sue again.