Facebook's privacy crisis must thrill Hollywood

Columbia Pictures, which is releasing the juicy Facebook tell-all flick "The Social Network" this fall, can consider the current negative buzz yo be free press.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
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Recent changes to Facebook's privacy controls, as well as a litany of new products that share more user and demographic information with third-party partners, are ticking off a lot of users.

Weblogs and Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis recently joined GDGT founder Peter Rojas and prominent Googler Matt Cutts in the ranks of notable tech industry figures who have announced that they're deleting their profiles altogether. Rumors have been swirling about internal disputes at Facebook over whether the company really did cross the line and whether changes should be in store.

But I'm willing to guess that a few people very high up in Hollywood are watching the Facebook privacy hysteria unfold with glee, secretly or not-so-secretly hoping that the rabble-rousing headlines about CEO Mark Zuckerberg keep dominating tech news for a few more months.

That's because tumult at Facebook could very well amount to free press for "The Social Network," the upcoming film about the origins of the company. It is slated for an October 15 release.

Based on author Ben Mezrich's unauthorized Facebook tell-all "The Accidental Billionaires," the Columbia Pictures movie stars Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake as Zuckerberg and former Facebook exec Sean Parker, respectively.

In a blog post on Wednesday, TheWrap.com blogger Jeff Sneider speculates that the star power of the movie--director David Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and producer Scott Rudin, not to mention the cast--may very well add up to Oscar nominations.

That's good news for Columbia Pictures and bad news for Facebook. The company did not approve of Mezrich's book or Sorkin's screenplay treatment, and its few comments in the press about the matter have painted the tale as fanciful gossip. Indeed, the storyline doesn't portray Zuckerberg as the good guy. He's depicted as ruthless, greedy, and more than willing to stab former collaborators in the back on his way up Silicon Valley's power ladder.

When I read the book and the screenplay, I theorized that Facebook was already so powerful and ubiquitous that it shouldn't have to care much about a movie revealing its (allegedly) shady early days. "The Pirates of Silicon Valley," a late '90s made-for-TV movie about the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for one, didn't do a thing to derail either Microsoft or Apple.

But Facebook right now is in a far more vulnerable position, image-wise, than it was a few months ago. The aftermath of the company's most recent privacy developments have thrown it out of many members' good graces, and seeing a slick, on-screen fulfillment of their concerns about the company could amount to even more malaise.

Trailers for "The Social Network" should be popping up in movie theaters soon, likely running ahead of Columbia Pictures releases that are coming out this summer. TheWrap's Sneider speculates that the first of these may be the upcoming Angelina Jolie flick "Salt." That comes out July 23. But knowing how these things work, a trailer may leak to the Web sooner rather than later.