Blown To Bits

How the $65M Facebook Settlement Figure Got Out

Sunday, February 15th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

It was reported last week (see the Crimson story, for example) that the amount for which Facebook settled the litigation brought against it by the Winklevosses, two of Mark Zuckerberg’s contemporaries at Harvard, was $65M. That number was supposed to be secret, but Facebook’s former lawyers released it by accident. How?

Turns out, exactly the same way the details of the Calipari report, discussed at the beginning of Chapter 3, became public. The law firm “redacted” the number from a document it then made public, but it did the redaction simply by placing a white bar over it in the PDF file. The actually $65M number was still in the file.

You can do it yourself — it takes only a few seconds — try it, it’s fun! Click on this link to download and open the PDF of the court transcript as redacted and released. Go to the bottom of page 22, where there is some white space preceded by the word “[REDACTED].” Select the white space (it runs from the last part of one line to the first part of the next) and copy it — as though you were just copying a bunch of spaces. Now paste it into any word processor — bingo, like magic, the words “$65 MILLION” appear. They were there all along, covered by the white redaction bar — probably just “highlighting” applied using Adobe Acrobat or some similar tool, with the highlighter color changed to white.

In Blown to Bits we give two other examples of this mistake, in addition to the Calipari report. You would think that law firms would understand this by now! There are easy ways to avoid it. Oh dear — if it was some poor unsupervised paralegal or staffperson who did it, I feel sorry for him or her. But really, there can be no excuse for the firm.

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