How Mark Zuckerberg inspired a new generation of Chinese hackers

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Most people know Mark Zuckerberg as founder of Facebook. A lot fewer people know that one of his first projects prior to Facebook was a service called FaceMash. A new generation of Chinese hackers though, are much more interested in copying it than the 955-million strong social network.

The site crudely pitted photos of Harvard’s female student populace against each other and, just occasionally, farm animals. In order to get at those photos, his hoodiedness had to hack into the university student database — an important part of what would become Facebook.

According to Chinese site TechRice at least two Chinese students have created FaceMash clones in the last couple of months.

The first, which has subsequently been shut down, came from Hua Zhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) is as direct a clone of a FaceMash as you’ll ever come across.

Its creator’s claims that he was just trying to get the university to tighten up its security are somewhat dampened by the Zuckerberg quote he used to promote the site:

“Were we let in for our looks? No. Will we be judged on them? Yes.”

The second meanwhile seems a little less um… judgmental.

The site comes from Wu Han University and, its creator claims, was built with the intent of giving the students in his year something to remember each other by. As TechRice points out, it’s probably for this reason that it’s still up.

That said, he did still take a quote from the The Social Network — the movie detailing Facebook’s founding and Mark Zuckerberg’s rapid rise to tech superstardom:

The truth is she has a nice face. I need to do something to take my mind off her. Easy enough, except I need an idea.
– Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network

What these sites illustrate is the paradox of the Chinese online space. Most Western social networks are blocked in the country through a series of filters commonly referred to as The Great Firewall.

Once they’re blocked, a clone usually appears. Some of these clones, such as Facebook copy Renren, have gone on to massive success in the country.

The only way people can continue building clones however is if they have access to the Western social networks. It is, of course possible to do this, using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and the like.

It seems Chinese authorities may be slightly less harsh on their top tech innovators when it comes to these kind actions than they are against people who use forbidden words or characters on social networks like Sina Weibo.

These hackers are necessary for finding the next big thing, but they could still pose a threat to the online state security apparatus. For China to stop giving them the tools they need to help drive its fast-growing economy would be foolish. All they can hope for is that more are on board with the state message than not. As TechRice notes:

This generation will grow up with computers early in their lives. And with the country’s secrecy and digital censorship , there’s plenty of targets to hack.

In dorm rooms across the country, China’s next generation of white, gray, and black hat hackers are hacking away. Make sure you look good in your school pics.

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