Facebook's Zuckerberg 'Quite Sure' He Didn't Sign Away the Company

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admits the company has made mistakes on privacy, and says he's "quite sure" he didn't sign a contract giving a former Web designer ownership of the company.

Zuckerberg, 26, talked about being at the helm of a burgeoning company, making mistakes, and issues facing the wildly popular social network in a far-reaching interview with TV news anchor Diane Sawyer on "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer" on Wednesday night.

The interview came the same day that Facebook announced it had signed up its 500 millionth user .

"I started Facebook when I was 19. I didn't know much about business," said Zuckerberg, when Sawyer asked him what he would have done differently along the road to making Facebook a worldwide social networking powerhouse.

"I would have done a lot of things differently, but I hope instead of making the mistakes I made, I would have made different mistakes," he said.

Zuckerberg also said the company will sell stock in an IPO "when it makes sense."

In the interview, Sawyer focused on Facebook being at the heart of the social networking revolution that has changed the way people stay in touch with friends and family.

Facebook, Sawyer said, gets eight new users every second and each user generally has about 130 connected friends .

Zuckerberg said he sees Facebook as being a very democratic media, giving people "a voice and power", but he also acknowledged that a lot of users have been angry and frustrated over the site's privacy policies and controls.

"Yah, we've made mistakes. For sure," he told Sawyer. And when she was asking him why they simply don't automatically set people's individual settings to make their information private from the get-go, he replied, "I think it's set in a way to help people share."

Facebook recently simplified its privacy controls after users complained that the settings were confusing and frustrating.

When unveiling the new simpler controls this past May, Zuckerberg said they had communicated badly with users about their privacy concerns.

In his conversation with Sawyer, Zuckerberg, who lives within walking distance of Facebook's offices in Palo Alto, Calif., even addressed a lawsuit that is raising questions about who actually owns the wildly popular social network.

Paul D. Ceglia, of Wellsville, N.Y., who filed the suit at the end of June, alleges that he signed a contract with Zuckerberg in 2003 that entitles him to 84% ownership of the company .

According to court documents, Ceglia claims he had a signed contract with Zuckerberg to design and build a site that eventually turned into what is today Facebook.

He also alleges he was paid $1,000 for the work and for a 50% stake in the site, along with an extra 1% for every day until the Web site was completed.

Facebook has called the lawsuit "frivolous."

In last night's interview, however, Zuckerberg did not say he absolutely did not sign any contract, and steered clear of completely rebutting the claim. "We're quite sure that we did not sign a contract that says they have any right to ownership over Facebook," he said.

Earlier this week, a Facebook lawyer was widely quoted in online reports saying she was "unsure" if Zuckerberg had signed the contract.

However, in an e-mail to Computerworld on Wednesday, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said the attorney, Lisa Simpson, was misquoted and had only been trying to say that they've never seen the original document.

"We have serious questions about the authenticity of the document and, assuming an original exists, we look forward to expressing our opinion about it once we see it," Noyes added.

In the interview with Zuckerberg last night, Sawyer also brought up the upcoming movie about the evolution of Facebook, The Social Network. Due out this October, the film doesn't paint Zuckerberg in the best light, focusing on issues of who actually was involved in creating the Web site.

Zuckerberg said he would not go see the movie.

Zuckerberg said in an excerpt from the interview posted at ABCNew.com, "I mean, we can't be focused when people try to say things that aren't true. I really believe that people get remembered for what they build."

"...Right, people don't care about what someone says about you in a movie -- or even what you say, right? They care about what you build. And if you can make something that makes people's life better, then that's something that's really good," he said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

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