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Facebook Has Been Punked!!

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, made a name for himself while attending Harvard and designing a program that scraped the names and photos of fellow classmates from the school’s servers. The controversial script was used to populate a system he called FaceMash, which was later renamed to theFacebook.

The system allowed others to vote on photos and profile based on who was better looking, and ultimately became what is now known as Facebook. There is a movie about it, so this is not news.

It’s now 2011, eight years from when Mark wrote his famous (or infamous) script in 2003, and two Europeans have done a similar thing, this time with Facebook photos, locations and names. Their project, Lovely-Faces.com, launched earlier this week with more than 250,000 photos, all scrapped from, yep Facebook.

The difference between Zuckerberg’s original design, rating photos by votes, is that these guys wrote a facial recognition algorithm and categorized the unsuspecting volunteers to allow you to search for different profiles.

The site mocks a dating site and allows anyone to search using names, gender and categories (based on their algorithm). Luckily, there is only six categories: “Climber”, “Easy Going”, “Funny”, “Mild”, “Sly” and “Mug”.

The project was based on the theory that social networking is naturally addictive and in our human DNA. Based on their analysis, it’s about exploring something that has never been done before: staying in touch with past and present friends in a single, potentially infinite, virtual space. It is also about connecting and sharing photos and details of your life with a universe filled with millions of people spread across the globe that seems like just a click away.

The phenomenon creates situations that previously were not possible. Before social networks, former friends and acquaintances drifted away and perhaps became consigned to our personal histories. The social network transformed that realm. While at the same time this endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes a goldmine for identity theft and dating – unfortunately, sometimes without the user’s control.

The creative guys behind the project, Paolo Cirio, a media artist, and Alessandro Ludovico, media critic and editor in chief of Neural magazine, call the site art and not commerce. The two speculate that if people really understood how fragile privacy is on the site, Facebook’s $50 billion valuation will come undone.

Facebook, is not impressed and is considering taking legal action, according to a Wired.com article.

“Scraping people’s information violates our terms,” said Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s director of policy communications. “We have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive legal action against organizations that violate these terms. We’re investigating this site and will take appropriate action.” Facebook’s terms of service requires those wanting to collect data from the site to apply for permission, which Cirio and Ludovic did not do. They pulled down publicly available data on a million Facebook profiles and say they will take it down, if asked.

The site is not monetized and there is no indication of them trying to profit from it. Rather the site is just one of a series of parody or prank sites they have done. Their other two projects where sites aimed at Google and Amazon, intended to make people think about the Internet giants.

What is funny, is that Facebook is complaining about scraping off personal data that is public, when it’s own founder did the same thing at Harvard. Ironic don’t you think???