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EIGHT most controversial figures in the tech world

Last updated on: August 4, 2011 14:52 IST

EIGHT most controversial figures in the tech world

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From Assange to Zuckerberg, meet the men who you can love or hate but simply cannot ignore.

The tech world is a cutthroat place to be in. To be on the top you kick, shove and play dirty. So if you are one of the top folks in the business chances are that you will be controversial.

Meet the men who've are on top and are in news not always for the best reasons.

1. Mark Zuckerberg

Who's he?  CEO/President of Facebook

Heat-o-meter: High

What the fuss is all about

Regular users of Facebook must be well aware of the fact that the social networking site has been the centre of several controversies since long. From online privacy, child safety, and the inability to terminate accounts without first manually deleting content, Facebook has faced all kind of criticism.

But the CEO and President of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg too is not away from controversies.

Zuckerberg has not reached the top without controversy, the most significant being doubts over the originality of the idea. "ConnectU" controversy is the one we would mention here.

Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss, and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of the social networking website ConnectU, filed a lawsuit against Facebook in September 2004. The lawsuit alleged Zuckerberg had broken an oral contract to build the social networking site, copied the idea and used source code that they provided to Zuckerberg to create competing site Facebook.

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Image: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Photographs: Scott Olson/Getty Images
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They filed a lawsuit in 2004 but it was dismissed on a technicality on March 28, 2007. It was re-filed soon thereafter in a federal court in Boston. Facebook counter sued in regards to Social Butterfly, a project put out by The Winklevoss-Chang Group, an alleged partnership between ConnectU and i2hub.

On June 25, 2008, the case settled and Facebook agreed to transfer over 1.2 million common shares and pay $20 million in cash.

Do we really care?

Ah! Do we really care about the criticism and controversies of Facebook or that of Zuckerberg? Nah! It hardly matters to Facebook addicts and those dedicated to the website.

Incidents like Ivy Bean of England joining Facebook at the age of 102 and babies named Facebook are just few example of the ever-expanding popularity of the social networking site.

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Image: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto
Photographs: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
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2. Julian Assange 

Who's he? Editor-in-chief and spokesperson for WikiLeaks

Heat-o-meter: Extreme

What the fuss is all about

Julian, an Australian publisher, journalist, computer programmemer and Internet activist has been in the news in recent times. Thanks to his whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Julian is the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, which is a conduit for worldwide sensational news leaks!

The website was created with the intentional purpose of creating open governments.

The criticism was on its peak when a number of political and media commentators, as well as current and former US government officials accused Assange of terrorism!

WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extra-judicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the coast of Cote d'Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, the July 12, 2007 Baghdad air strike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents.

In 2008, Assange published an article entitled 'The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine', in which he wrote 'What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?'

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Image: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
Photographs: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Assange has been criticised by many government official as well as media. US Vice President Joe Biden said "I would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers".

In May 2010, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell had used the phrase, calling Assange "a high-tech terrorist", and saying "he has done enormous damage to our country. I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law".

Also in May 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: "Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant."

Later in December 2010, Julian was arrested in the UK overnight!

Do we really care?

Well, in this case, we do! If the concern is actually about the security and privacy of individual countries, then we do bother. But was it actually the way it was put in the media? Don't you think it was overdone with the man who became the public face of the organisation that passed along information which probably should never have been kept away from the citizens?

Don't you feel that information was branded as some sort of chaotic evil malcontent hell-bent on causing destruction by exposing the truth? Is it like you tell the truth and you are nailed?

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Image: Wallpaper from Wikileaks
Photographs: Wikileaks
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3. Sean Parker

Who's he? Ex-employee of Napster and Facebook

Heat-o-meter: Moderate

What the fuss is all about

It was mainly related to his connection with Napster. The controversies sparked when the recent movie based on Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network showed Sean Parker as a co-founder of Napster. The fact remains that he was just an early employee of Napster -- a free file-sharing service for music that drew the ire of recording labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Lawsuits by various industry associations eventually shut down the service.

It has always been believed by many that Sean co-founded Napster. Even post-Napster articles depicted the same. But detailed contemporary literature shows that he was an early employee that's about it.

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Image: Napster co-founder Sean Parker
Photographs: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Well, we are not going to close on this with Napster only. Looking at his Facebook links would bring up many more controversies.

In 2004 Parker began informally advising the creators of Facebook and became its first president, receiving 7% of Facebook's stock when the company incorporated later that year.

He was forced to leave Facebook in 2005 after being arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession. While on a kite boarding trip to North Carolina, Parker had signed the rental agreement on a beach-front vacation house where drugs were subsequently discovered by police who had come to the house with a search warrant following three nights of parties at the house.

Prosecutors did not charge him due to lack of evidence.

Do we really care?

Well, taking Facebook into consideration, we do. But just for Sean Parker and his personal issues we really don't care much. It was a bad chapter in his life and that's over.

Today he is an American Internet technology businessman and entrepreneur, all settled and established in life.

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Image: Napster co-founder Sean Parker
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4. Steve Jobs

Who's he? Chairman and CEO, Apple Inc.

Heat-o-meter: High

What the fuss is all about

Steve Jobs... this man has been in the news for everything he comes up with -- be it his brilliant, innovative and unique products, or be it the loopholes in them! Jobs has been in the middle of controversies for every other reason, and the criticisms have maxed out since a year or two.

iPhone 4 reception problem was the most hyped in recent times. The much-awaited iPhone 4 was roundly criticised for its poor signal reception. There were complaints about the signal drop in the handset in between a conversation. However, Jobs and company dismissed the allegation claiming that every wireless phone face the same issue and the only way to avoid it is to avoid gripping in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band.

The most recent one in the list of controversies is the iOS location tracking controversy. A reader sent an email to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, asking for clarification and explanations regarding the 'consolidated.db' file built into iOS.

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Image: Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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The existence of the file -- which appears to keep a log of longitude and latitude coordinates from cell triangulation towers -- was brought to mainstream attention last week after data researchers created a Mac OS X app that was able to generate a visualisation of the data using the file from an iOS iTunes backup.

However, Jobs' response was to call the 'info circulating' as false.

There would be a book on controversies related to Steve and Apple Inc., so it's better to keep it short with the most prominent ones. But who knows there wouldn't be a new controversy popping up by the time you turn this page!

Do we really care?

Of course, not guys! Apple is among the most loved organisations in the world and these 'petty' criticisms can never bring down the immense popularity of the trendsetting brand which has always changed the way people look at gadgets!

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Image: Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs with the new iPad
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5. Tom Anderson

Who's he? Co-founder of MySpace

Heat-o-meter: Moderate

What the fuss is all about

Not much of a fuss you see! MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson was once arguably the most popular individual on the Internet with 240+ million MySpace friends. Don't panic he is added by default to every MySpace account! Back in 2007 it was discovered that Tom was actually 37 years old and not 32 as he used to claim and still does.

Digging a bit into his history reveals about his controversial past. In 1985, when he was fourteen and in high school in Escondido, California, Anderson was subject to one of the largest FBI raids in California history after hacking into a Chase Manhattan Bank computer system and subsequently showing his friends how to do it.

He was never arrested because he was a minor, but the FBI confiscated all of his computer equipment and some newspaper accounts of the incident stated incorrectly that he was 'convicted in federal court for computer hacking and placed on probation'.

MySpace remained mum on this post, and so did Tom. However, the information was out online and is available everywhere in Internet today. Sources claim that Anderson, using the name Lord Flathead, was a computer hacker at least since he was 13-year-old (at the same time WarGames movie hit the theatres!).

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Image: MySpace's co-founder Tom Anderson
Photographs: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
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Like David Lightman in WarGames (played by Mathew Broderick), Anderson was able to hack into computer systems by simply figuring out the right phone number. It was called war dialing and was done with the help of a simple computer programme that dialed sequential phone numbers until it received a modem response, signaling a computer system on the other end, usually a UNIX mainframe that often had a default password or no password at all.

In July and August 1985, between his freshman and sophomore years, Anderson hacked into a Chase Manhattan Bank DEC VAX computer system that handled "much of Chase's data processing and record keeping, including records of home mortgages and portfolios of major customers such as pension funds. The bank notified the FBI and they set up an 'electronic trap in the computer system that traced the calls to at least 23 homes in the San Diego area'.

Fifty FBI agents then raided the homes of Anderson and his friends and seized 25 personal computers. This was one of the largest FBI raids in California history.

Do we really care?

Not at all! Bygones are bygones and today Tom is a renowned face in the world of social networking sites. Moreover, think about it this whole hacking thing was pretty hardcore stuff in the '80s and that too for a kid of 13-14 years! Aha!

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Image: MySpace logo

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6. Carlos Slim

Who's he? Chairman of Telmax

Heat-o-meter: High

What the fuss is all about

His money and where it came from! The Mexican telecom magnate's growing fortune has caused a controversy because it has been amassed in a developing country where per capita income does not surpass $14,500 a year, and nearly 17% of the population lives in poverty.

Critics claim that Slim is a monopolist, pointing to Telmex's control of 90% of the Mexican landline telephone market.

Slim's wealth is the equivalent of roughly 5% of Mexico's annual economic output. Telmex, of which 49.1% is owned by Slim and his family, charges among the highest usage fees in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

According to Professor Celso Garrido, an economist at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Slim's domination of Mexico's conglomerates prevents the growth of smaller companies, resulting in a shortage of paying jobs and forcing many Mexicans to seek better lives north of the Rio Grande.

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Image: Telmax owner Carlos Slim
Photographs: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
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When you live for others' opinions, you are dead. I don't want to live thinking about how I'll be remembered".

Slim claims indifference about his position on Forbes list of the world's richest people and says he has no interest in becoming the world's richest person. When asked to explain his sudden increase in wealth at a press conference soon after Forbes annual rankings were published, he reportedly said, "The stock market goes up ... and down", and noted that his fortune could quickly drop.

Well, all eyes and all ears on the above said!

Do we really care?

We actually do. At least sometimes. When it comes to 'shocking revelations' on money matters and scandalous moneymaking we do bother about the controversy. But then as Slim says, "the stock market goes up and down!" Let's forget!

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Image: Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim (C) arrives to attend a dinner in honour of Argentina's President
Photographs: Henry Romero/Reuters
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7. Larry Ellison

Who's he? Co-founder & CEO of Oracle Corporation

Heat-o-meter: High

What the fuss is all about

Oracle has been in the middle of many controversies. But we are mainly talking about the multi-million dollar controversy that happened in 2002.

In 2000 Oracle gained attention from the computer industry and the press after hiring private investigators to dig through the trash of organisations involved in an antitrust trial involving Microsoft. The Chairman of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison, staunchly defended his company's hiring of an East Coast detective agency to investigate groups that supported rival Microsoft Corporation during its antitrust trial, calling the snooping a 'public service'.

The investigation reportedly included a $1,200 offer to janitors at the Association for Competitive Technology to look through Microsoft's trash. Asked how he'd feel if others were looking into Oracle's business activities, Ellison said: "We will ship our garbage to Redmond, and they can go through it. We believe in full disclosures."

At one point, Oracle Corporation marketed many of its products using the slogan "Can't break it, can't break in," or "Unbreakable." This signifies a demand on information security. Oracle Corporation also stresses the reliability of networked databases and network access to databases as major selling points.

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Image: Oracle Corp's co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison
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However, two weeks after its introduction in 2002, David Litchfield, Alexander Kornbrust, Cesar Cerrudo and others demonstrated a whole suite of successful attacks against Oracle products. Commentators [who?] criticised the slogan as unrealistic and as an invitation to crackers, but Oracle Corporation's chief security officer Mary Ann Davidson portrayed the criticism as unfair.

Rather than representing a literal claim of Oracle's products' impregnability, she saw the campaign in the context of fourteen independent security evaluations that Oracle Corporation's database server had passed.

Do we really care?

No, as long as Oracle as an organisation is concerned, we don't bother much about its past and the controversies. And as for Larry's personal life FYI Ellison announced that he intends to give away most of his wealth to charity as part of Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's 'Giving Pledge' initiative.

Ellison wrote: "Many years ago, I put virtually all of my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95 percent of my wealth to charitable causes. I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time. Until now, I have done this giving quietly because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter.

Oh did we tell Larry is the 5th wealthiest person in the world as of 2011 with a personal wealth of $39.5 billion!

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8. Ramalinga Raju

Who's he? Former Chairman of Satyam Computer Services

Heat-o-meter: Extreme

What the fuss is all about

The notorious Satyam accounts scandal that surfaced in 2009 is all that we are talking about! Ramalinga Raju was the 'culprit' when he admitted on January 7, 2009 to cheating six million shareholders of Satyam Computer Services. The incident was media's red-hot favourite instantly and the entire ruckus was explored to bring out the actual facts.

The share price of Satyam took a plunge in December 2008 after a botched acquisition attempt involving Maytas. In January 2009, Raju gave hints that Satyam's accounts had been falsified over a number of years. He admitted to an accounting dupery to the tune of a sum of Rs 7,000 crore or $1.5 billion. He gave his resignation on on January 7, 2009.

Raju's resignation letter described about how an initial cover-up for a poor quarterly performance escalated. Raju and his brother B Rama Raju were both arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police and they were charged for breach of trust, conspiracy, cheating, and falsification of records.

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Image: Satyam's Ramalinga Raju
Photographs: PK/Reuters
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Not just that Raju had also used dummy accounts to trade in Satyam's shares thereby violating the insider-trading norm. Later it was alleged that these accounts might have been the means of siphoning off the missing funds.

Amidst all these hustle-bustle, Raju underwent a minor heart attack in September 2009 and had to have angioplasty. He was granted bail and was ordered to report to the local police station once a day. He was also instructed not to tamper with the current evidence. 

On April 13, 2009, via a formal public auction process, Mahindra & Mahindra-owned Tech Mahindra, as part of its diversification strategy, purchased 46% stake in Satyam. Effective July 2009, Satyam re-branded its services under the new Mahindra management as 'Mahindra Satyam'.

Do we really care?

A hell lot! We do care and so do those six million shareholders who were cheated 2 years ago. It's true that the future of the company was devastated and so was the future of all those associated with it. Not only did it have a deep impact on the faith of the common people for the IT companies, but it also left a question mark for all other companies as well. Trust was the factor and thanks to Raju, it was all gone!

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Image: Satyam headquarter in Hyderabad

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