Table of Contents
This chapter is so long it needs its own table of contents. Come back to it if you can’t read the whole thing at once, or just skim through.
- Greenspan Meets Streisand
- Shaker Heights, Ohio
- Think Computer Corporation
- Think Computer Foundation
- Fire the Teacher!
- Lessons from Mao
- Stealing Students’ Passwords
- Mark Zuckerberg
- FaceNet: Greenspan Copies Zuckerberg
- Can I please have a job, Mark?
- Jealousy Drives Aaron Greenspan Insane
- Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg
- Finally, a Reason to Sue
- Your Honor, Please Cancel Facebook
- The Social Network
- The Social Network Lawsuit
- Facing Five Years in Prison for Stealing Government Documents
- Meeting with VCs
- Sixty Two Lawsuits
- Give Us Our Donation Back!
- Defrauding Google
- Suing All of Silicon Valley
- PlainSite: The Smear Merchant “Charity”
- A Short Selling Charity?
- Professional Media Manipulation
- Greenspan Finds TSLAQ
Greenspan Meets Streisand
Most people facing threats, harassment, and blackmail for tweeting about someone would have probably just stopped by this point. But I’m not as smart as most people apparently –– the more Aaron Greenspan tried to keep me quiet, the more curious I became about what he was hiding. What secret could be so bad that Aaron Greenspan was willing to fight to keep it quiet, even if it meant breaking the law?
More than that, as the attacks escalated I had to know: Who was this person constantly attacking me and other Tesla customers? Did he really run a charity, and if so what kind of charity smears people on social media? Aaron Greenspan has tried to paint my asking these questions as “harassment”, but anyone who had been doxxed and threatened by someone like Aaron would naturally have the same questions.
So I started to do some research, and put together the puzzle pieces of Aaron Greenspan’s life from what I could find in books and online. Unsurprisingly, I found that he’d been insufferable for pretty much his entire life. What did surprise me was the extent of the fraudulent, illegal, and unethical activity he had been engaged in, and how he’d always managed to just barely escape the consequences narrowly for his entire life.
At first, I didn’t have to do much research at all: Dozens of people would message me information and links about Aaron Greenspan, ostensibly because they were too afraid to share it themselves. To this day I receive tons of comments and messages from different people sharing information about Greenspan. That’s how I learned that Aaron Greenspan’s company was a non-profit charity, and most everything else I know about him today –– mostly just from random people direct messaging me on Twitter and leaving comments online. At the same time, a lot of the research I’m about to share with you about Aaron Greenspan’s life wasn’t done until I sat down to write this article.
Rather than present all my research in the order I discovered it, we’re going to zoom out of my story for a little bit to talk about Aaron Greenspan’s life chronologically, in the order it happened to him. This is Aaron’s story now.
As I discovered little bits and pieces of information about Aaron Greenspan, I would tweet them out on @tesla_truth. The goal of this chapter is to explain what I discovered that made Aaron Greenspan so worried that he had to come after me. I had naively begun pulling on strings that showed Aaron Greenspan was involved in major fraud and criminal activity –– the kind that could send him to prison for years. Everything Aaron Greenspan has done to try and ruin my life can only be understood in this context. It was either destroy me or be destroyed, and that’s why I worry that my life may be in danger by telling you this story now.
Let’s get started then, shall we?
Before sharing the story of his early life and childhood in his autobiography, Authoritas, Aaron Greenspan explained why he was doing so –– because the early anecdotes from his childhood explain the person he’s become today:
At this point, you may already be wondering if perhaps the real problem was not so much the education I received, as it was me. Surely, my own personality accounts for a large degree of the story you are about to read. (It takes two to tango.) For that reason, I chose to write about my life from an early age. There were aspects of my behavior as a very young child that gave telling clues to what I would be like later on.I also find it interesting that the curious and energetic personality I used to possess has largely vanished in favor of a guarded and skeptical persona that I feel society has forced me to assume. Mental scar tissue is difficult to shed, and the impact it has in social situations is very real, as you will see.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Shaker Heights, Ohio
Aaron Greenspan was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio on March 31 to Neil and Judith Greenspan. Neil was a Harvard alumni who went on to work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Judi worked from home for her brother Michael Keene‘s business, Keene Promotions. Together, Aaron, Judi, and Neil Greenspan sit on the board of the Think Computer Foundation (doing business as PlainSite) –– the charity that’s been harassing, stalking, and threatening me for two years.
Much like me, Aaron Greenspan was a computer kid growing up. He was the guy people called when something went wrong with their PC. That’s the funny thing about it –– Aaron and I actually have so much in common that in different circumstances we could have been friends. If I was on the outside looking in, I would probably find it funny watching two computer nerds in Silicon Valley who’ve never met fight with each other online. However, it’s not as fun living it and I doubt Aaron will ever want to be friends (though I hope I’m wrong). Unfortunately, Aaron doesn’t have many friends because of his anti-social tendencies. He doesn’t seem to understand people very well. He views most of humanity with contempt because he sees himself as superior. With a little more emotional intelligence, he could have easily talked to me and gotten me to take my tweets about him down. But because he has trouble connecting with others, all he knew how to do was start threatening me.
Unlike me, both of Aaron Greenspan’s parents were born in the United States. Instead of a little sister, he had a little brother named Simon with Autism. It’s possible that Aaron Greenspan himself has Asperger Syndrome.
As a kid, Aaron struggled with his physical, athletic, and social abilities. He wrote in his autobiography:
With the exception of dodgeball, I hated gym. […] I felt dwarfed by the abilities of the other boys in the class. They always instinctively knew what to do when a ball sailed their way; if I didn’t duck in time, the ball usually toppled me over. I caught things only by mistake.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
However he quickly became addicted to video games, which he could play without moving physically:
Before long, Nintendo of America had accomplished its goal of turning one more child into an addict. When I came home from school […] I headed straight for our Nintendo in the basement. Whenever my mother protested that I should be doing something outside, I would always respond, “It improves my hand-eye coordination!”. After a while, I started to believe it, through I still couldn’t throw a football.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
According to Wikipedia, issues like those Aaron experienced are common in children with Asperger’s:
Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but differs from other ASDs by relatively unimpaired language and intelligence. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common. Signs usually begin before two years of age and typically last for a person’s entire life.
The exact cause of Asperger’s is unknown. While it is largely inherited, the underlying genetics have not been determined conclusively. Environmental factors are also believed to play a role.Wikipedia
To be clear, I’m not a doctor nor am I trying to diagnose Aaron Greenspan via a Wikipedia article. Autism and asperger’s are not diseases: These are conditions that can’t be “fixed” or “cured” and are actually a beautiful part of humanity. Many people on the autism spectrum have amazing abilities and have done incredible things. This is a subject I don’t know much about, so I want to be careful not to suggest that people on the autism spectrum are predisposed to do the kinds of horrible things Aaron Greenspan has done. My observation that Aaron may have undiagnosed Asperger’s is just an attempt to understand why this is happening to me. This is a delicate subject and I apologize in advance to anyone who may be offended by my ignorance of a topic I don’t know much about.
As Aaron Greenspan continued through elementary school, he hated his classes, teachers, and fellow students. All he wanted to do was play games on the computer:
I desperately wanted to know how to play, but none of the other children would tell me, let alone permit me to use the computer.
I complained so loudly about Mr. Hawken to my parents that they arranged for me to meet with the principal of the school, but conditions did not improve. There was still an invisible perimeter around the computer, I still had no athletic ability, and other children were often mean. My parents intervened. When it came time to go to first grade, I was going to Mercer School, a public school in Shaker.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
It wasn’t long before Aaron’s obsession with computers started to get him in trouble. This first incident Aaron has admitted to from his childhood occurred when he tried to install a video game on his friend’s Mom’s work computer, which was critical to operating her retail store.
Billy’s mother ran a Mail Boxes, Etc. franchise, and she eventually took her computer with her to the office. Once, I got to visit her store, where Billy and I were told to stay in the backroom. I had agreed ahead of time to bring my “Challenge of the Ancient Empires!” disks with me to the store so that we would have something to do in the back room, and I had them ready.
“Be very careful Aaron, I need this computer for my business,” his mother told me before letting me install the game.
“I will,” I said, with the first floppy disk already halfway in the drive. “Don’t worry.”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron was not careful. He ended up completely destroying the filesystem on Billy’s Mom’s hard drive.
“Billy! I told you that I didn’t want you to put any games on here, but no! You had to do it! Now look at this!” She was furious, and Billy looked like he was about to cry. “Aaron, come on, it’s time to go home”.
“I’m going to have to call that computer guy now,” she was muttering to herself. “He charges an absolute fortune… I just hope he can fix whatever it is you did to it.” I offered to try to fix it, but neither she nor Billy was very receptive to the idea.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
But rather than apologize for the damage he’d done to another family’s business, Greenspan insisted that the computer was already broken before he got there, and that he was being blamed unfairly. Aaron was just a kid at the time, but this pattern of denying culpability while playing the victim continues to this very day.
When I got inside, I told my mother what had happened.
“Billy’s mom thinks I broke her computer by putting ‘Challenge of the Ancient Empires!’ on it, but I didn’t. It wouldn’t even install,” I explained.
Later that night, Billy’s mother called us, though. I could hear her arguing with my mother.
“Are you sure you didn’t break their computer?” my mother asked furiously.
“Yes, I’m sure!” I said.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Despite the trouble they caused him, Aaron still loved computers more than ever. While other kids dominated him physically and socially, he saw his computer expertise as a superpower that would allow him to overpower the other kids, without moving a muscle. Finally there was something he was good at, that the other kids might notice him for. Years later he recalled eavesdropping on his elementary school crush and being overjoyed to hear his computer projects mentioned:
“Yeah, did you see Aaron’s program on the computer?” I heard one girl who I secretly liked mention on the school bus ride home. “It looked cool, but when you tried to buy anything it just said ‘Demo Version.'” A few seats back, I smiled.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
But the incident with Billy’s Mom was far from the last time Aaron landed in trouble for what he did on the computer. Soon after, he landed in hot water at school after teachers found that he had been stealing computer programs from the school, copying teachers’ personal files, and installing pirated software on school computers in violation of U.S. copyright law:
“I trusted you, Aaron –– and you discredited me in front of my colleagues.” I gulped. “You saw fit to install Microsoft Works yourself. Illegally” […]
“That was illegal, Aaron. It broke the law. You may not understand, but there are actually laws that we have to follow here. You could have landed the entire school in loads of trouble, and you could have cost the district thousands of dollars in fines, just because you decided not to wait for me to install that software myself.”
“How many trips did it take to copy the entire program? Two? Three?”
“Three,” I replied. The lecture went on.
“So you made three illegal trips to Mrs. Sandstrom’s room to install Microsoft Works, and in the end, you didn’t even install it properly.”
Now I was angry –– she was insulting me.
“I know how to install Microsoft Works,” I fumed silently. She saw my jaw tighten.
“That’s right Aaron, you didn’t just copy the program! You copied Mrs. Derrick’s documents, as well!“. I cringed.
“I am very disappointed in you,” she said. […] “I thought you would have known better than to make illegal copies of software”.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Despite being scolded by his teacher for breaking the law in a way that could have cost the school district thousands of dollars, Aaron was unapologetic. In fact, he was angry at his teacher for admonishing him. Just as he felt no remorse for costing Billy’s Mom a fortune and disrupting her business, he was completely unable to understand why his teacher was angry and started spinning conspiracy theories to paint himself as the helpless vicim.
“What the heck? What is this really about?” I began thinking. […] she was taking time out of her day to drum up charges against an eleven-year-old […]
More importantly, all of my friends from Mercer seemed to have banded together without me. A friend I had made the year before in Mrs. Mahoney’s class had left Shaker immediately after fifth grade, and I never saw him again. My one remaining friend, Adam, was incredibly shy and barely ever talked. For all intents and purposes, I was alone with my work.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron refused to understand that he had done something wrong, and instead told himself a sob story about how he was being mistreated. With no remorse for his actions, it wasn’t long before Aaron found himself in the principal’s office for stealing computer programs from the school again:
Mrs. Mahoney had tripped the first switch only one year before, followed by Mrs. Geszler, and now, a short time later, I was about to face Principal Groves in her office.
“What is it with me?” I wondered silently.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Indeed, what is it?
“Mrs. Geszler has brought it to my attention that you have been illegally copying computer software,” Mrs. Groves commenced. Up until this point, I had thought the Microsoft Works issue for all intents and purposes dead. Yet she continued.
“You copied HyperCard, a program on Mrs. Derrick’s computer, to a computer outside of the school using a floppy disk. Is that not correct?”
I looked at her, unblinking, totally confused.
“Mrs. Geszler has also told me that this is not the first time that you have copied computer programs illegally. Do you realize how serious this is, Aaron? […] Mrs. Derrick. Did you give Aaron permission to copy Hypercard to a computer outside of the school?”
“No.” She spoke softly, but it didn’t matter. The pillars that had supported my mental picture of the world came crashing down. It was all a lie. The color drained from my cheeks, my blush of embarrassment long gone. I could feel my heart inside my chest. There was no way out.
“Aaron, this kind of behavior is not acceptable. I cannot let you go around the school copying whatever programs you like, especially when Mrs. Geszler has told you not to as many times as she already has. What, did you think you could just ignore her?” Counting on my supposedly decent language skills to recognize the question as rhetorical in nature, I did not answer. […]
“I don’t want you to turn into the net Kevin Mitnick, Aaron. Kevin Mitnick is in jail. And that’s where you’ll be headed soon if you’re not careful. Do you want to be in jail?
The comparison seemed like a bit of a stretch, but I was not given much time to go over it before sentencing began.
“You will not attend Computer Club meetings for the next three months. You will not use any computers at school for the next two weeks. You will not talk about, look at, or think about computers for the next two weeks. Do you understand me young man?” I nodded.
“If I hear your name and the word ‘computer’ in the same sentence one more time before then, you will be suspended from this school. You will be eliminated from the Student Council election –– and there will be no going back.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Although Aaron dismissed the disciplinary action as “unfair”, the principal’s observation that Aaron was on a path to prison was remarkable prescient. But rather than reflecting on what he did wrong, Greenspan instead focused on who to blame:
“How did you know about the disk?” I asked. Eyes shifted across the desk.
“Mrs. Geszler received a note from a student,” Mrs. Groves said.
“Who? Now I wanted to know. Was it Carson getting back at me?
“That’s none of your business,” Mrs. Grovers siad.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Think Computer Corporation
By middle school, Aaron was more obsessed with computers than ever. One day during his school lunch break, he decided to start a computer repair business:
One day at lunch, I told Philip, Adam, James and Peter about a new idea I had come up with. I usually thought of businesses as having offices in giant buildings, but my mother ran a business out of our home, and she seemed to do just fine. Why couldn’t I run a business to fix computers? I had already made up business cards that said “troubleShooting” on them, but I didn’t like the name. […]
“What should I call my company?” I asked after taking a bite of my sandwich. […]
“Cogitabit,” said Phiip.
“What? ” I replied. I thought I had misheard.
“Cogitabit,” he repeated. “It’s Latin for ‘think,'” he explained.
“How about I just call it ‘think’, then?” I said. “I’ll be dealing with English-speaking customers.”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Many computer geeks form companies when they’re young, but most move on to bigger and better things. Amazingly, that company Aaron started on his lunch break in middle school still exists today. In fact, it’s the only job Aaron has ever had.
Think Computer Foundation
When it came time to apply to college Aaron decided that he wanted to go to Harvard, his Dad’s alma mater. Aaron and his parents hoped that they could improve his chances of getting in by donating money to Harvard, applying for an early decision, and forming a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. The Greenspans thought that if Aaron had a computer repair business and a charity, it might help him stand out among a field of extremely talented applicants. That’s right: The charity that has been stalking and harassing me for two years was formed while Aaron Greenspan was in high school so that it would look good on his college applications.
Aaron made sure to let Harvard know about his computer repair company and “charity”, and sure enough during the admissions interview the topic came up:
“So, tell me,” he began. “Why do you want to go to Harvard?”
I launched into my case: I liked doing things on my own, I had a lot of ideas, I was serious about school… I wasn’t really sure which reason was the right one, so I did my best to cover them all.
“I’ve looked over your application,” Dr. Gordon said, “and I’m curious if you could just go into some more detail on a couple of things. What did you do with Think Computer Foundation?“
“Well, actually, I’m trying to recycle old computers, like your Macintosh there, by shipping them to poorer countries like Jamaica”
He wanted to know about the company, too. It was pretty much the only thing that made me any different from the six other ridiculously smart students in his house. I hoped it was enough because I felt like I was the stupidest of the bunch.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
In reality, no computers ever made it to Jamaica due to “problems with shipping”.
Here’s how Aaron Greenspan described the purpose of his charity in the original application for a tax exemption:
So what’s the big deal about starting a charity? Isn’t forming a non-profit organization to “help children” a good thing? Of course helping children is great, if that’s what you’re really doing. But why do you need an exemption from paying taxes?
When you ask the Internal Revenue Service to grant a tax exemption for your organization, there are very specific rules about what that tax-exempt charity can and can’t do. With tax-exempt status not only does your company not have to pay any income or sales tax, but people who donate to the charity can deduct any donations off their income too. If the IRS gave these exemptions out to everyone for any reason, nobody would pay any taxes and our government would fall apart. Thus, it’s essential that these benefits only go to real charities and that applicants don’t lie to the IRS about what they’re doing. If they do lie or mislead the IRS as to the purpose of the organization, that constitutes tax fraud.
So for the purposes of tax exemption, what is a charity? The IRS makes this very clear: A 501(c)(3) non-profit charity is an organization engaged exclusively in exempt activities that benefit only the public, not any private individual. That includes, especially, the owners of the charity. A tax-exempt charity’s activities must inure no private benefit to anyone. That means no generating profits for the owners, or benefitting any private person either financially or otherwise.
On Page 2 of the tax exemption application, you can see that Aaron Greenspan told the IRS his charity would spend 75% of its time and resources on “collection and re-distribution of used computers”. But today, the Think Computer Foundation spends 0% of their time and resources on used computers. The foundation’s website, which describes the organization as “helping children through technology”, now says that the “Old PCs” project is on hold.
Other than that, Greenspan promised the IRS that the charity would spend 20% of its time maintaining an internet-accessible database of donors. Boy, I’d love to see the website with that list, wouldn’t you? Aaron must have taken it down when he realized that the list of donors implicated dozens of prominent short-sellers and legacy auto executives in a massive short and distort criminal conspiracy. Besides the fact that this coordinated short and distort campaign clearly constitutes securities fraud, the fact that short-sellers coordinated financially through donations to Aaron Greenspan’s fake charity makes it tax fraud as well.
In a nutshell, the original tax-exempt purposes Aaron Greenspan provided to the IRS are completely different than the activities of the “charity” today. Riddle me this: If you use your charity to spread negative information about companies you’re shorting, and smear their customers… Does that benefit the public, or the stock portfolios of the charity’s owners and donors? Remember, no private person (not even donors) can receive anything of value from the charity. That’s what they call “inurement of private benefit”
The IRS has a fun little document called “How to Lose Your Tax Exempt Status (without really trying)“. This blog also has a version I annotated showing Aaron Greenspan and Think Computer Foundation breaking literally every single rule that could result in a revocation of exempt status. But for now, let’s turn our attention to item number 6:
An organization must pursue the exempt activities it promised in its IRS application for exemption. If an organization has deviated from its original purposes, it must inform the IRS to prevent future problems.
“If you stop doing all or a significant amount of the exempt activities you told the IRS you were going to do in your original application for exemption—you could lose your exemption,” said Crom. “If your organization’s direction has changed, let us know. It could prevent future problems.”IRS
The IRS is crystal clear here: We gave you a tax exemption because you told us you were going to collect and re-distribute used computers and publish donors online. If you stop doing those things, you need to tell us right away. If you start using the charity for other things –– like promoting your stock market bets, or orchestrating paid smear campaigns –– you need to tell us right away so we can determine if the new purpose of the charity is still tax-exempt, benefiting only the public and no private individual more than insubstantially. Whole Mars has yet to review any filings in which Think Computer Foundation disclosed their short-selling activities, or paid smearing of Tesla customers to the IRS. Neither the State of Ohio nor the State of California have received such disclosures either, and Think Computer Foundation appears to have been operating in California and soliciting donations illegally for about 14 years.
But hey –– the charitable entrepreneur act worked. Aaron Greenspan got into Harvard.
“I got in.”
I had seen my mother happy before, but she was beyond happy. I found myself in the middle of a hug, almost a foot off the ground. Then, she rushed away to call my father at work. Not really having anyone to call myself, I updated the part of Think’s website that contained my short biography. It read that I would be attending Harvard College in the fall.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
All his life Aaron Greenspan hated school, and once he arrived at Harvard things were no different.
I had e-mailed Carl Sjogreen about my dissatisfaction with the “Harvard experience,” and quickly received back a supportive reply. Apparently, I was not the only one who hadn’t been in love with coursework. “For me, classes were interesting probably half the time –– I can help you pick some good ones once you are out of the requirements phase, but largely ‘the price I paid to live at Harvard,'”, he wrote.
Depressed, I sent off an e-mail of my own to both of my parents, reporting my Math 21a midterm grade, a 40 / 60. Later, I pointed out that a 67% once would have been a “D”.
On the receiving end of my complaints for three months, my father had finally had enough. I repeatedly told him that I didn’t feel like anyone was listening to me about my issues with grading, except perhaps the Arminis.
“Maybe since you’ve donated money they’ll listen to you,” I mentioned on the phone one day. […]
The next day, he wrote an e-mail to Paul Bamberg, and copied members of the Freshman Dean’s Office:
“Aaron informed me yesterday that he received a D on his latest mid-term in Math 21a. As the parent of a college student, I guess I should not be hanging on every grade. I also can easily imagine that you do not have time to correspond with every parent of every student who has a bad test. However, in the present case there are circumstances that lead me to want to check into the matter and to convey my own concerns and opinions”
He repeated much of what I had told him on the phone, and continued.
As for my views of the situation, I will now draw on some lessons from my own undergraduate education via Professor Quine. If Aaron, despite putting forth adequate effort, cannot do better than a D on properly-crafted exam in Math 21a, then either the admissions office and the mathematics placement exam were both shockingly defective, the advising process was deficient, or there is a profound problem (e.g. the pace) with the course. I will admit that I cannot be certain what conclusion is correct, but in light of our earlier conversations I’ll bet that you know which way I am leaning. If the last alternative is the most significant, then I would have to voice my strong objection that sorting out students has taken precedence over educating them. Frankly, it makes a mockery of the high-sound rhetoric about the commitment to undergraduate education that accompanies such events as the installation of new university presidents.
Let me add that I completed an interview for Harvard College two days ago. Consequently, I had the chance to read the first sentence of the Personal Interview Report form: “Applicants to Harvard College compliment the University by applying, and they deserve our courtesy and respect.” I completely concur, but I would add that freshman (and upperclass) students AT Harvard should also be treated with courtesy and respect. At variance with this is the fact that Aaron’s lengthy e-mail to his professor for CS50 elicited a one-sentence reply that (at least from Aaron’s perspective) addressed none of his concerns. The unwillingness of the course director for Math 21a to acknowledge the flawed wording of the question on the first mid-term that many students answered in the same “incorrect” fashion is another example of the striking lack of courtesy or respect for the students. I advocate not for excessive concern with grades, but for grades that reflect understanding and, to some extent, effort. Otherwise, the University confirms those students who cynically regard higher education as merely a more expensive game than secondary school.
I am convinced that freshman year does not have to be this inhospitable, this unwelcoming, if the real goal is “the pursuit of truth, insight, and understanding,” as President Summers would presumably agree. Yes, students must be channeled into concentrations for which they have the requisite aptitudes and motivation and some sorting must be done, but does it really require this sort of impersonal bashing? As Aaron has found, there is much that is positive, even extraordinary about Harvard, but the classes should not be, as a friend of Aaron’s and recent graduate recently put it, the price to be paid to stay there.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Holy cow! What a letter! This little episode –– which Aaron for some reason put in his book about how he invented Facebook –– is emblematic of Aaron Greenspan’s life in many ways.
All Aaron does is complain, complain, complain. Imagine being one of the few students granted admission to a prestigious ivy league school because your Dad attended and donated money to the school, and still acting so ungrateful. According to an article in The Guardian titled “How elite US schools give preference to wealthy and white ‘legacy’ applicants“, at Harvard, the acceptance rate for legacy students is about 33%, compared with an overall acceptance rate of under 6%. For applicants whose parents have been frequent donors to the school, the admission rate is even higher. Blissfully unaware of the advantages and privilege he was born into, Greenspan still feels angry and entitled to more. How dare you try and teach me math? What’s wrong with you? I didn’t get that math problem incorrect, it’s merely “incorrect”.
Instead, Aaron cried and complained to pressure his Dad into chewing the school out. This is how he approaches every problem in his life. It’s never that he didn’t study hard enough, or that he’s not good at math. It’s the entire school that’s wrong, that’s working against him, and that needs to be punished.
“Maybe since you’ve donated money, they’ll listen to you”
If I got a D in Math class, my parents would have slapped me on the face. They would be shouting at me, not the school.
Greenspan didn’t get along with his fellow college students either:
“Do you know what happened in my bedroom?” I asked.
“Uhh…” he started
“Were you smoking pot?” I continued.
“Yeah, me and some football buddies were smoking some earlier… We tried to clean up though.”
“Well, you didn’t do a very good job!” I almost yelled. “That’s my fan you used, making it look like I was the one doing drugs. Not to mention that it’s my bedroom, and that I’m worried about my lung collapsing again, which probably isn’t helped by marijuana smoke, or whatever else you put into the air.” He stared.
“Do not ever do that again.”
I went back to my desk and deliberated whether or not to go to the Arminis with my problem. It was ironic that all of the people in my suite, I was the one who was receiving threatening letters from Deans.
Shortly after midnight, I decided that my lungs failing would be worse than the football team beating me up. I walked out the door, and descended the staircase until I reached the Armini’s suite on the first floor. After knocking for several minutes, I gave up. There was no answer.
“Brian is one lucky bastard,” I thought to myself, and tried to go to sleep without breathing too much.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Later, Aaron Greenspan was booted from a student magazine called the International Review after harassing some members of the club. He had promised to have his “charity” build them a website, but then tried to extort the club leaders by refusing to make it public unless they provided him with equipment and staff:
Think Computer Foundation needed entrepreneurial, technology-related projects to work on, and the International Review needed a self-sufficient web site. I hoped to have the few students who I had gotten involved with the Foundation help out with the web site […]
“I have to say, Aaron, I’m really angry about that e-mail. To think you could even send that –– it was inappropriate, obnoxious, disrespectful, and really poorly-thought-out. I still can’t believe you did it. That took some nerve.”
“Actually, I thought about it quite a bit before sending it,” I responded. “But you haven’t given me a straight answer about the new equipment, and that’s not what we agreed upon.”
“I didn’t even ask about the computers, Aaron,” he replied, “because there’s no money in the budget for them. You need to change your attitude because if you continue to act the same way you have, you’re no longer welcome here. You are without question the most difficult member of my staff. Every time something needs to get done, there’s a problem, and it’s with you. I’m sick and tired of having to deal with it.” I continued to listen. “Not only that, but you’re undermining the morale of the entire staff!”
“Who brought up the fact that I’m hurting morale?” I asked.
“Several people…” Nick said, without naming names. “You know, I really think you should quit.”
“I’d be reluctant to quit without fulfilling my obligation to create the site,” I said. “That was my end of the deal.”
“It would really be a shame since you’ve put together so much of the site already. I just don’t understand why you’re doing this. I have several freshmen who are beginning me to work on the site.”
“Well by all means, let me talk to them!” I said.
“Absolutely not! I wouldn’t want to subject them to your despicable attitude!” Nick shouted, carrying on for several minutes.
“Well, here’s how I see it,” I said, pausing. “I consider your failing to live up to your word equally disrespectful to whatever disrespect you might have misinterpreted from my e-mail. I view this as a business transaction. We had a verbal agreement, and you failed to live up to it” […]
The argument went back and forth for an hour, until I left, my cheeks blazing. I knew I had to sever my ties to the magazine, but I wanted to do it in a way that would reflect the fact that I had at least tried to help. […]
Feeling hopelessly confused, I took the most blatantly magnanimous course of action I could conceive of: Think Computer Foundation purchased two copies of Adobe InDesign and donated them to the International Review, and then I quit.
Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Not only was Greenspan absurdly rude to the entire magazine to the point where they had to fire him, he also decided to commit tax fraud at the same time. First off, designing websites was not listed as one of the organization’s functions in the application for tax exempt status. Secondly, if the “charity” is going to design a website for a student magazine, you can’t ask for computers or other personal favors in return that inure private benefit to the charity’s owners. Finally, why are charitable funds be used to buy Adobe InDesign for the magazine when the application for tax exempt status mentioned nothing about randomly buying free software for people to try and help Aaron save face after acting like a huge asshole?
It’s hardly the fraud of the century, but it shows how careless Aaron was in abusing his tax exempt status –– often for purely emotional reasons. Why not just make the website under your corporation, or just on a personal basis from one student to another? If he’s willing to tell us about this kind of fraud in his book, what has Think Computer Foundation done that he’s not willing to tell us about? Research into Aaron’s “charity” is what started getting me in trouble. As @tesla_truth uncovered more and more evidence of blatant fraud by the Greenspan’s charity, Aaron became increasingly nervous, desperate, and scared. He had to stop what was happening or face the failure of yet another business.
Fire the Teacher!
Everyone has professors they don’t like. Most students just groan and try to get through it –– but Aaron Greenspan is not like most students. When Aaron got a professor he didn’t like, he complained and complained until the professor was removed.
The ordeal was chronicled in a Harvard Crimson article titled “Econ. Lecturer Removed Amid Complaints”
Hart said he first learned of problems with Neugeboren on October 18 when he received a letter written by economics concentrator Aaron Greenspan ’05.
“After a number of sub-par lectures, to put it moderately, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. I wrote a letter and began the laborious process of trying to circulate it,” Greenspan said.
He found 13 other students who were willing to sign the letter, but said many students who he approached were reluctant to sign the petition out of concern for Neugeboren’s feelings.
Greenspan sent the letter to Hart, Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict R. Gross ’71, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz and Benjamin Friedman, director of undergraduate studies in the economics department.
In the letter, Greenspan cited specific examples from class, including Neugeboren’s failure to answer students’ questions and errors made during lectures.
“While Professor Neugeboren certainly possesses plenty of intellect, it alone cannot make up for what he lacks in…other traits. For four weeks, my classmates and I have tolerated incomprehensible lectures, confusing graphs, repeatedly botched arithmetic, poorly written problem sets and apathetic teaching fellows,” Greenspan wrote.
He also expressed frustration with the problem sets, which he said were “challenging, not due to challenging material, but because of ambiguously worded questions and unfamiliar content.”
According to preliminary enrollment statistics on the Registrar’s website, there are 299 undergraduates and 4 graduate students currently enrolled in Economics 1010a, making it one of the College’s five largest classes.Harvard Crimson
Greenspan was thrilled. He had complained time and time again, and even had his Dad complain for him with no results to show for it. But this time was different. Why? Because out of a class of 303 students, he managed to find 13 people willing to sign his complaint letter and stand with him. That’s only about 4% of the class, but that’s all it took to get the wheels in motion to remove the professor.
Dean Hart told the Harvard school newspaper:
Hart told The Crimson in response to Greenspan’s letter, “If one person complains and no one else does, we’re probably not going to respond. There has to be some sort of critical mass.”Harvard Crimson
Drunk with power, Greenspan decided to make a website called CriticalMass to commemorate his victory. Using CriticalMass, students could anonymously trash any professor in the school to try and get them fired. Since Aaron controlled the site, he could smear any professor that crossed him by posting as many anonymous comments as he wanted. If someone complained about a professor he liked, he could remove it. The website would make him the arbiter of who was allowed to teach at Harvard, and (he hoped) make him celebrity:
My frustration rising to new heights, I met with the Allston Burr Senior Tutor of Lowell House, Jay Ellison, telling him that I was considering dropping out. He seemed indifferent. The Economics 1010a situation wasn’t helping matters. After the first article about the 1010a debacle surfaced on the front page of The Crimson with the headline “Econ Lecturer Removed Amid Complaints,” I had been a mini-celebrity for a few days. Everywhere I went, people congratulated me on dethroning a professor. They were taken aback when I expressed minor outrage at having had to write the letter in the first place, expecting instead that I’d be proud of myself.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
No matter what happens or how lucky he gets, he’s always outraged.
As if I needed more bad news, on December 3rd, The Crimson’s headline read, “Removed Professor Returns to Class.” Oliver Hart had decided to bring Neugeboren back. Sure enough, when I trudged through the snow to the lecture, there he was, the worst teacher I had ever faced. His power to obliterate understanding and mangle concepts was restored, though he returned with strings attached. He was forbidden from using the chalkboard. All lectures had to be delivered with the aid of Microsoft PowerPoint. TFs were to be given better guidance for sections.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Oh boo hoo! They should have just removed Aaron from the school. It would have saved Harvard’s most important alumni, Mark Zuckerberg, a major headache.
Aaron Greenspan then decided to take this website where students could smear professors, CriticalMass, and make it part of his “charity”.
CriticalMass became the newest project of Think Computer Foundation.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Lessons from Mao
Aaron didn’t hate every course at Harvard though. There were some he really liked.
My favorite course by far was a Core course called Foreign Cultures B-48: The Cultural Revolution. […]
The tales of twentieth-century back-stabbing and manipulation in Chinese politics were unlike anything I had ever heard. They certainly seemed less drab than the United States History I had been forced to learn from Mrs. Pessel. I was surprised, most of all, at myself; between World War II and the Cultural Revolution, I was gravitating towards history, taught by Harvard’s Core Curriculum, as my favorite subject. […]
One pattern in particular stood out: when Mao wanted to fire someone, he always got away with it. He would gather all of his top-level officers together for a meeting, inviting the unlucky victim of his wrath a few minutes late. When the victim appeared, he (or she) was already surrounded. It was impossible to win. The lucky ones were deported to far-off regions of southern China. The unlucky ones were executed.
The mere prospect of such a system was horrifying. Mao had been a cruel and unpredictable dictator, but I wondered what would happen if the same system was employed by a benevolent one.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron, here’s the thing –– Mao, and every other dictator like him truly believed they were the benevolent dictator. And yet, Mao still presided over the deadliest famine in human history. Evil is a man who believes that only what he wants is morally right. Don’t think for a second you would have done better than Mao. I’m sure Greenspan would have found a way to lead even more people to starvation had he been in Mao’s position.
Stealing Students’ Passwords
For his next trick, Aaron Greenspan decided to build a website that asked Harvard students for their school username and password. The school administration moved quickly to shut down this new website, and Aaron was nearly expelled from the school for refusing to cooperate with them.
Aaron Greenspan believes that this website was the original “Facebook” he invented that Mark Zuckerberg stole from him. He honestly believes that the absurd story I’m about to tell you is the story of how he invented Facebook –– and he will viciously attack anyone who dares to believe otherwise.
I’ve written about this episode in detail in the Whole Mars blog post “Harvard Shut Down Aaron Greenspan’s Website for Stealing Student Passwords“, but I’ll recap here.
The website’s name was as terrible as its privacy violations –– Aaron called it “houseSYSTEM”. At this point, the Think Computer Foundation was operating several websites targeted at Harvard students: CriticalMass, the smear site for professors; a website for trading textbooks; and an online webmail that let students access their Harvard e-mail accounts. The idea was to take all the websites operated by Aaron’s “charity” and link them all to one master system with separate pages for each of Harvard’s houses.
Once houseSYSTEM launched, Aaron Greenspan sent out an email to Lowell House to announce his latest and most terrible creation yet. Immediately, Harvard students responded with horror and suspicion, wondering why some guy’s website, designed to look misleadingly similar to an official Harvard site, would ask for students’ school usernames and passwords. They urged each other not to sign up:
“Yeah, I feel like this website is partly pretty sketch. Overall legit, but it’s ridiculous what they wrongly imply you need to do with your password. ‘In order to use houseSYSTEM, your password must be the same as your password for your Harvard FAS network account‘. You can change your password to anything, but it makes it sound like you need to use your FAS password. In fact, to confuse you, even after you change your password, it still says “Please Change Your Password” if you don’t match up with your FAS password.
Also misleading is the copyright notice, which says portions are copyright “The Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College”. Which is true, but makes it sound like this web site is really closely affiliated with them, which isn’t the case (right?). And then the email they sent introducing the web site doesn’t make their disconnect from the college admin clear either.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Greenspan tried to respond to user complaints, but the situation only got more out of hand:
Before I could even respond to the latest round of questions, Rodica sent me an instant message: lowell-open was going mad. I hadn’t even received the latest batch of messages, so I signed in. […]
Of course, the only way that it could know that you didn’t give it your FAS password is by trying to access your FAS account using the password you supplied… […]
Your security statement is, frankly, nonsense. I have strong doubts that you have ever had any formal exposure to cryptography –– it reads very much like you read a few web pages on encryption and decided the more times you encrypt something, so much the better.
This is a sure sign of someone who doesn’t understand cryptography. The number of times something is encrypted does not correlate with security in the least. Also, MD5 does not encrypt, it hashes. MD5 has sufficient weaknesses in its compression function that its use in newly deployed applications should be discouraged. Use SHA-1 instead.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
One more email from a Harvard student really set Aaron off:
[Saying you can’t decrypt our passwords] is a lie. If you “connect directly to the Harvard IMAP server upon login to fetch the number of new messages’, you must store passwords in such a form that you can present the same access credential to the FAS server. This means that you store passwords in a way that you can recover. So what if the hash of the submitted password matches the stored password hash? You still have the password transmitted in cleartext. Ever heard of man in the middle attacks? A self-signed certificate means absolutely nothing.
Do you have a written waiver for [school rules stating that] “the possession or collection of others passwords or other secure identification information is prohibited“? Reading your security statement gives me no confidence in your site’s ability to protect confidential information. I suggest that people refrain from giving it such information util the author has demonstrated even a rudimentary understanding of the security issues involvedAaron Greenspan, Authoritas
The email was biting, but completely accurate. A self-signed certificate meant that there was no way for a user to know if they were really connecting to houseSYSTEM, or if there was an imposter intercepting the connection to steal their Harvard account credentials. At best, it was completely irresponsible for Greenspan to launch the site with such glaring security flaws. At worst, he was deliberately trying to mislead students into handing over their account credentials in a sort of phishing attempt backed by a few useless features.
So did Aaron Greenspan listen carefully, take the advice to heart, and try and fix his site? Not exactly:
By this point, I had lost my patience. “What is wrong with these people?” I asked my parents over dinner in Hilton Head. “I make something useful, and all they can do is complain? There’s nothing wrong with the site’s security, there’s something wrong with them! […]
My father had seen Brian’s message, and declared him a “moron”, which comforted me a little. He was even more incensed at Dan Ellard, who he felt had a responsibility as a member of Lowell House’s staff to portray things in an unbiased manner at the very least and to discipline students who were out of line. Yet Dan was going after me as much as anyone as if it were all a joke.
“People are just mean,” my mother said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to do that, but they do! They’re just mean.” For once, I agreed with her.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
How mean of Harvard students to not want their usernames and passwords stolen by the world’s biggest creep. They really shouldn’t be allowed to do that, they should be forced to give Aaron Greenspan all their personal information, right? And what does mean by “For once, I agreed with her”? Have some respect for your own mother when you’re talking about her in public.
After Greenspan finished eating with his parents, he received another email from a student named Issac Hall who shared some of the same thoughts:
1. Although attentive people will notice that he houseSYSTEM is not an official Harvard initiative, I’d assert that Aaron and co. are under an ethical obligation to state this clearly on the homepage.
2. The idea that, in this day and age, it’s reasonable for a private organization to encourage thousands of university students to submit their confidential passwords is, to put it bluntly, crazy. I can’t believe Aaron and his colleagues thought this would be uncontroversial.
3. Aaron, your responses to these inquiries about the system have done nothing to inspire my confidence. Instead of openness, clarity, or even a touch of humility in the face of legitimate criticism, you’re projecting a sort of weary irritation boarding on arrogance. […]
I started drafting a response, but I decided to wait before sending it. I was too outraged by the whole ordeal, and I wanted to be able to think with a level head before pressing the “Send” button. […] It appeared as though my only crime was making the site look too professional.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
No, your crime was that you tried to steal user’s Harvard account credentials while designing the site in a misleading way to make it look like an official school website. How can someone be so tone-deaf?
The back and forth between the two students continued:
I wanted to put everyone at ease, but it wasn’t clear if it was worth responding to every piece of flame mail that landed in my inbox. […] It seemed as though winning Lowell House was a hopeless endeavor. […]
I decided to write back [to Issac], taking great care to formulate my message.
“I never thought the site would be uncontroversial. I expected that a minor uproar along these lines would take place. Major technological changes at traditional institutions usually generate some controversy”
Issac Hall then replied:
I was pointing out that the site looks like it may have been created by Harvard and that you should make it clear that the site is in no way endorsed by Harvard as an institution or the Houses, and that you have not been authorized to collect FAS passwords so that you can integrate Harvard email into your project.
Aaron, I can only conclude that you are playing dumb. Obviously, I wasn’t saying that it’s crazy to ask college students to use passwords. I was saying that it’s CRAZY TO ASK COLLEGE STUDENTS TO SUBMIT, TO A FELLOW STUDENT, CONFIDENTIAL PASSWORDS THAT ARE SET UP TO GIVE THEM ACCESS TO THEIR UNIVERSITY EMAIL AND IN SOME CASES TO THEIR REGISTRAR’S ACCOUNT AND OTHER SENSITIVE INFORMATION! I can’t believe you are pretending this is not an issue, but this is exactly the kind of disingenuousness that, in my opinion, has destroyed your credibility.
Aaron, correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t work for Harvard University! This is not a “major technological change at” a traditional institution. Rather, this is some kind of a guerrilla attempt at a technological coup.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Oooof. Worst product launch in the history of Harvard?
“Aaron may see this as more of an attack than previous posts, but it’s not meant to be personal“
“Not personal?” I thought. […] I added Dan to my list of people I wished I could punch. I wasn’t evil, careless, or ignorant.
“Right, my knowledge of security is ‘sketchy’, because I haven’t taken four million classes called ‘Advanced Cryptography for Advanced Shmucks’ like him. He doesn’t know how many computers and networks I’ve worked on. He doesn’t know a thing about me. I could know ten times more or ten times less about security than he does, and he wouldn’t have a freaking clue. And in fact, that’s what security is all about: not making faulty assumptions, testing everything”. That’s when it hit me. Dan Ellard wasn’t just out of line –– he was a hypocrite.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
No Aaron, you’re a hypocrite. The day you realize you are the cause of all your own problems is the day your life will finally start getting better. Do most people who aren’t evil have a long list of people they want to punch?
Despite Aaron Greenspan’s embarrassing temper tantrum in front of the whole school, his parents continued to egg him on:
“This is totally inexcusable”, my father said upon hearing my latest rant. “Why doesn’t anyone in the administration tell these people to shut up? Don’t they think it’s inappropriate for a faculty member to beat up on a student? Or for students to beat up on other students?”
“No”, I said plainly.
I was nervous about how The Crimson was going to portray the situation.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
If you can believe it, things then got worse for Aaron. While his fellow students were bashing his latest creation school officials were sitting quietly, monitoring the mailing list. They decided the situation was serious enough that they needed to step in, with disciplinary action if needed.
My heart stopped.
“The Dean’s office, and the office of computing services for the FAS have asked that I contact you and ask you to immediately stop collecting student email and password information for security reasons. Any email address, passwords, or student information you currently have should not be used or transmitted in any form until this matter is cleared up. Paul Bottino, FAS computing services, and the dean’s office will look into this matter next week”
He was asking me to prevent anyone from signing up for houseSYSTEM until at least Monday, with a potentially positive Crimson article running on the Friday before. Either way, the impact was most assuredly going to be negative when people found out they weren’t allowed to sign up, based on the concerns of Harvard’s administration.
I told my father. Peering over my shoulder, he read the message and did not seem pleased. I started drafting a reply.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Anyone want to guess whether Aaron listened to the dean and shut down the website like he was supposed to? Of course not. He did what he always does: argue and throw a temper tantrum, rather than admit he was wrong.
Before we disable anything, I would like to know precisely what security concerns there are, which Deans or staff members have them, and what they believe can be done to address them. I am sure we can find a solution to whatever concerns have been raised that will allow students to continue using the services on houseSYSTEM. […]
Given that we do not store member passwords, but only their MD5 hashes, there is no risk of passwords being used or transmitted.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
This is, of course, not true. Students usernames and passwords were transmitted plain text over the wire from Harvard all the way to the server in New Jersey before they could be hashed, and Greenspan could choose to easily intercept the credentials whenever he pleased with a few lines of code. Given what we know about Aaron obsessively logging and storing all activity on his servers to try and use as blackmail, you can bet students were compromised the minute they signed up.
I wonder if the dean bought that?
There is no way for you to put a condition on this. The security concerns are related to storing student passwords in a server not controlled or administered by Harvard. This is a clear violation of the Harvard College rules governing passwords and your site also requires students to violate the rules by giving the passwords to your site.
You must immediately stop collecting student passwords. This is not an option. You do not have to shut down the site, but it must stop collecting this data in any form. Additionally, you must delete any database and record that you have that contains student passwords and send a list to me with all of the user names that were collected by the site since its inception. Those students will be contacted by FAS computer services and told to change their passwords immediately.
The concerns raised by the College will be discussed with Paul when he returns and there will be some attempts to address them with you and the HarvardSEC group. In the meantime, however, I am again instructing you to stop collecting this information, delete what you have collected, and forward the list of all those whose information you have collected”
“What!” I exclaimed after reading it. “Delete the database? That database has all of the course reviews in it! And I can’t turn it over! People signed up for CriticalMass specifically because it allowed them to be anonymous!
I picked up the phone and dialed Jay Ellison’s direct line in Cambridge. There was no answer. I was furious.
“How can they ask you to delete the database without even hearing your side of the story?” my father said, incredulous. “If everything about the security is how you say it is, then there’s nothing wrong…”
“It’s more secure than their own damn systems!” I fumed. “If anyone looked at Harvard’s IT infrastructure with the same level of scrutiny as what they’re doing to me, they’d be absolutely horrified”
Then, I remembered something else.
“You know… what’s more, I actually asked them about this freshman year! I sent an e-mail to Franklin Steen asking him if there was anything wrong with setting up a web-based email system. He didn’t even respond! and now, they want me to delete the whole thing? Two years later? It’s the same freaking code!
I dialed Jay Ellison again. Again, there was no answer. He must have been using his e-mail from somewhere other than his office. Clearly, he didn’t care about encrypting his password.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
When Aaron Greenspan refused to cooperate, Harvard had to threaten disciplinary action:
“Hi, this is Jay Ellison [the dean]. Is Aaron there?” […]
“This is Neil Greenspan, Aaron’s father”, my father said, cutting in.
“Hello, have you been listening the entire time, Mr. Greenspan?”
“Yes, and it’s Dr. Greenspan”, my father said. “I have three degrees, and one of them is from Harvard, as a matter of fact”. He was not happy.
“I’ve been watching as these people on the mailing list have reacted to Aaron’s project, and I must say, I was quite shocked after reading that you continually monitor the list, that you didn’t try to put an end to it. Aaron hasn’t done anything to hurt anyone. He hasn’t publicly insulted anybody”
“Well, my main question is how we move forward,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back on track. “I can stop people from signing up, but I don’t want to, especially since there’s nothing wrong with the site’s security”
“Well, you’re going to have to,” Jay replied.
“And just out of curiosity, the consequences otherwise would be…”
“If you don’t comply with the request to remove the passwords, then the College may have to take disciplinary action“
The first possibility was that the College would take away my network access at school, which would be disastrous. The other option was for the College to simply kick me out.
“Well, I’ll delete the passwords then, and hopefully put the sign-up page back once that’s done”
“Thanks for calling.” I didn’t mean it.
“No problem, and enjoy your vacation,” Jay said.
“Yeah, this is exactly what I wanted to do on my vacation,” I thought. “What a joke.”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Despite increasing scrutiny from Harvard, Greenspan still refused to admit that he had done anything wrong by asking students for their school login information:
I e-mailed Jay Ellison a summary of our conversation so that there would be a record in writing.
“Per our conversation,” I wrote, “I will make further changes to houseSYSTEM in order to comply with the wishes of the College, though I maintain that none of my actions, nor those of [my Student Entrepreneurship Council club], ever violated any College policy.”
I also bought myself a few days time by pointing out that correcting the alleged problems with houseSYSTEM would be slowed by my dial-up connection. […] So long as I could take down the sign-up page after the article ran in The Crimson , I thought I could at least try to look moderately competent.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Despite the serious security concerns, he lied straight to the school’s face to continue illegally collecting student passwords. As usual, Aaron Greenspan then beginning spinning conspiracy theories to shift blame way from himself and his inexcusable conduct:
Everything came into perspective. The administrator was the missing link. The “college.harvard.edu” web site –– different from the my.harvard” portal but arguably more similar to houseSYSTEM in functionality –– hadn’t been redesigned since the late 1990s when a friend of Carl’s had worked on it. It just so happened that I had released houseSYSTEM at the exact same time that the College was planning to re-launch its own site. I was stepping on very large toes, and I hadn’t even known that they were there.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Harvard faculty was not amused by Aaron Greenspan’s failure to cooperate:
The next morning, Jay Ellison sent me a reminder of what exactly the administration was saying.
“In light of our recent email exchange, as well as the phone conversations you have had with me and other members of the College, there appears to be some confusion about the actions you need to take immediately with respect to your requesting FAS passwords. […] In consultation with other members of the College administration, we have determined that you need to take the steps outlined below by noon on Friday August 15.
1. Stop asking for, collecting, or storing (in any form, encrypted or not) Harvard FAS passwords.
2. Provide a list of all FAS usernames which you have recorded as having submitted FAS passwords to the SEC we site.
3. Delete all FAS passwords
You have stated that you do not believe that you have violated any Harvard policy. Because of the serious security concerns involved, we need you to comply with these requests, regardless of your personal beliefs. I need to emphasize that this matter may quickly become a disciplinary issue if you do not take immediate action.
They had backed me into a corner. While the idea of being forced out of Harvard to become a student hero had a certain appeal, it quickly faded as I faced reality. Most of the students who had expressed their views on houseSYSTEM so far saw me as anything but a hero, and there was a good chance no one would care if I left.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
In the last paragraph, Aaron Greenspan’s delusion is plainly on exhibit. Imagine: Harvard has a simple request, for you to not collect any students’ school login information. Even under the threat of expulsion, you still consider refusing to cooperate with them under the belief that stealing everyone’s login information would make you a “student hero”. Aaron, you’re not a hero you’re a villain.
Recall that it was actually the students who complained about their login information being collected. The school only took action because they saw all the students going nuts over it on the school’s mailing list. Imagine the mental gymnastics Aaron Greenspan had to go through to convince himself that he is a “student hero”, when the victims who are complaining are the same students he expects to applaud him for “heroically” stealing their personal information and downloading their emails.
So now that Aaron Greenspan is facing expulsion from Harvard, he has to start cooperating with the school, right? Who wouldn’t?
Aaron wouldn’t. If you think he’s going to stop just because people are telling him he’s doing something wrong, you don’t know the guy. Instead, Greenspan did what he does best: lie to everyone to create a fake uproar in order to threaten and intimidate the school faculty.
I drafted a letter to send to every houseSYSTEM member. If I was going to have to turn over the database, I wasn’t going to let it go without a fight. When I ran the new code to send out my third e-mail, I once again received my own personalized copy.
I started CriticalMass about a year ago to try and improve the information available to Harvard College students about courses. My own experience led me to believe that it would be a helpful tool, and my peers confirmed this belief. Aside from Dean Gross’s comment in the Crimson that, “Usually bulletin boards of this nature generate more heat than light”, the administration had little to say about it. Nevertheless, I realized that many students, concerned about possible administrative repercussions, would only participate if they could sign up anonymously. This capability was programmed into CriticalMass, and later houseSYSTEM, as well.
Unfortunately, those concerns were not as unfounded as I had once thought. Despite repeated attempts to explain the workings of houseSYSTEM to several administrators, I have been personally threatened with disciplinary action by the Harvard College administration if I do no turn over the e-mail address of every houseSYSTEM member, as well as proof that there are no longer any FAS passwords in our database. (The administration refuses to accept the argument that there never were.) In other words, I have been asked to disclose the entire table pertaining to members in unaltered form, complete with information about your choice to remain anonymous on houseSYSTEM. My only other option would be deleting houseSYSTEM in its entirety, but that is not an option that I am willing to entertain.
I realize that this is an egregious breach of your privacy. Adding further irony to the situation is the College’s claim that it is necessary in order to protect your privacy and the fact that it has been justified by administrators who actively refuse to understand the technical details necessarily involved. I have done all that I can to avoid this situation, but given that the administration never consulted me or anyone at the SEC about the manner in which the site functions, it has been an uphill battle.
Harvard College has demanded member information by Friday, August 15 at noon. If you are dissatisfied with the College’s handling of this situation, as I am, or with the idea that the professors whom you rightfully critique on CriticalMass could have your name, cell phone number, and e-mail address, please send an e-mail to Dean Gross ([email protected]).
Perhaps if enough students respond with words to enlighten the administration, Harvard will be more inclined to respond to the critical mass.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
This is how sick in the head Aaron Greenspan is. He has been doing this since his college days: Trying to create a fake uproar to manipulate people into letting him have his way, in this case keeping everyone’s school login info on file. How hard is it to just use a different login system? It would have ended up working out for him anyway, if he ever wanted his website to expand beyond Harvard like the real Facebook did.
As Greenspan has done many times since, he plays the victim. “I’m being threatened with disciplinary action!”. Yes… only because you’re refusing to take some very simple actions to fix the problem. He also falsely claims that the school wants to see which users are anonymous, which is not true at all. All the school wants is a list of users who need to be told to reset their password, and proof that there are no passwords still stored. They didn’t say anything about a field that has info about whether the user is posting anonymously.
Some students that didn’t know better ate up Aaron’s bullshit, unaware he was using them as pawns in his scheme to continue to continue to harvest their school login credentials:
Dear Dean Gross,
I am writing in support of a student I know named Aaron Greenspan. Aaron and I met in a freshman seminar, and have spoken little since then except for the occasional hello in economics class, […]
I am writing to support him because, having heard only his side of the story, it seems as if he is being unfairly required to turn over the members of his site.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Other students weren’t so easily fooled:
I think that the idea behind CriticalMass and even the enhanced version in the houseSYSTEM are interesting and good. However, I have no desire to
a) sacrifice any privacy (how, for instance, do you know if I have packages or not?) or
b) be a party in this bizarre melodrama that seems to have engulfed the program in recent weeks. Also, the excellence of the idea seems to have been accompanied by poor planning and execution. I must say that I find this entire situation to be ridiculous. I innocently signed up for this program in its earlier stages, thinking that it was above board. Then, you demand my FAS password, get in trouble with the administration, and decide that you would rather sacrifice the privacy of your trusting members than do the honorable thing and delete the database or, if necessary, the entire system, even if it means that you will take a fall.
Since obviously, I cannot compel you to take this course of action, I have instead tried to delete my account. Lo and behold, it seems that there is no “delete account” link on the MyAccount page on the website. I request that you manually remove my information.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Other students were also frustrated:
“Exactly what information are you giving to Harvard? Do I need to change my FAS password? What a pain. I wish I’d never signed up for your system”
In a way, I didn’t blame people for being angry, though I usually tried to substantiate my criticism of others, which was a step many of the angry students did not want to be burdened with.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron Greenspan will never admit he’s wrong, no matter how much harm he does. I am certain he suffers from some serious mental condition that prevents him from seeing the world as it actually is in front of him.
Another student tried to help Aaron understand:
“I don’t intend to be mean when I say this, but I do not support your crusade against the administration.
This is because I do know something about website security. Enough to know that storing passwords on a server accessible from the Internet, even if encrypted, is not perfectly safe. Unless you have a professional-grade firewalling and the like (which I doubt), I would not trust my password with you (and I have not).
Additionally, anybody who administers the houseSYSTEM website/database could easily abuse the system.
As a result, I would prefer that you find a way to compromise with the administration. I do not think that giving them information that could link students to their anonymous posts is morally acceptable, no matter the circumstances”
That night, I went to bed knowing that if nothing else, I had rocked the boat.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
There is no need to rock the boat. Just follow the rules. Just be nice to people. You shouldn’t get satisfaction out of being a pain in the ass, lying, and stealing people’s login information in a way that puts their security at risk.
The school eventually got a hold of the email addresses and reset everyone’s password:
“Welcome. You must change your password,” my father’s computer displayed across the screen.
“Bastards!” I shouted. They were forcing everyone to change their passwords after all! I changed mine as they had asked me to do. then, I changed it back. Several of my friends did the same.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
But it turned out collecting everyone’s Harvard login information was only the start of Aaron’s problems with houseSYSTEM:
“Yes, well aside from the security issues, there are some other problems that you need to fix before you can proceed. The SEC needs to register as an official student group with the College”
“We are an official student group,” I said. “We just changed our name. Before it was TECH SA.”
“Not according to what I have here,” Dean Kidd responded.
“Susan Cooke approved the change!” I said. “There must be some mistake.”
“No. You will need to re-submit your by-laws to the Committee on College Life, which meets in October.”
“Alright…” I said. “Anything else?”
“Certainly. Actually, I was looking at your… Think Commputer… site, and I noticed, you have a press release on there for doing, I don’t know what, with the Harvard International Review?”
“What?” I thought. I couldn’t see how there was any connection to houseSYSTEM.
“Yes, my company hosts the International Review’s web site…” I said.
“Right, well, your press release makes it sound as though the Harvard International Review is part of Harvard University. It’s not, it’s a student group. You need to make that clear. You’re also using a photograph of the Harvard T stop on your site, I believe. You need to take that down.
“I took that photograph, it’s not copyrighted by the College. And the public transit system isn’t even College property!”
“It has to come down.”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron Greenspan then sought out more legal help:
“Try Alan Dershowitz,” my father suggested. “Maybe he can give you some backing. He knows the law as well as anyone, and he’s at Harvard.” I sent Dershowitz an e-mail.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Alan Dershowitz was one of the lawyers that helped defend Jeffery Epstein. He refused to work with a monster like Aaron though. You’ve gotta draw the line somewhere.
The school then had to send an email out to all the victims of Greenspan’s phishing attack to correct the misleading information Aaron had put out in an attempt to try and raise a “Critical Mass” of resistance to the administration:
I emphasize that the College did not ask for personal information about students or your subscribers but only for a list of usernames, so that it could inform those users to change their FAS passwords. Aaron was asked to comply by Friday, August 15, which he did. I note that, in addition to the usernames, Aaron provided information that the College had not requested.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
What did Aaron do when called out by the Dean for his blatant manipulative lies?
“DO NOT RESPOND to Jay Ellison’s e-mail. I am speaking with a number of attorneys right now,” I wrote frantically to everyone involved as I looked up the number for a law firm that Brad’s father’s friend had recommended.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
So… are you speaking to them or are you about to call them? You get your friends in trouble, and now you lie to them? And threaten to sue your school?
“Well, it seems as though they’re a little afraid of the competition you’re giving them,” one of the lawyers said. “This could be construed as anti-competitive behavior.”
“I’m not sure I see it like that,” I said, still unsure of Harvard’s real motive.
“Well, regardless that’s what it is in a courtroom.” Realizing that my opinion really didn’t mater, I decided to let the lawyers handle the law.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
This must have been the moment Aaron Greenspan realized you need to lie about what’s happening at all times to protect yourself in a situation where you’re breaking the law. Stealing students’ account information is now “competition”. Sounds exactly like the kind of gaslighting Aaron Greenspan is still doing today.
Finally, Aaron Greenspan decided to shout at the school dean some more:
“…I found out that Mr. Osterberg, who wasn’t a student, but who claimed to be, had actually signed onto houseSYSTEM not only from his own computer, but from Georgene Herschbach’s computer, in University Hall South. Now, I don’t know what an average HASCS staffer would be doing logging on there, unless he was showing something to someone.”
Jay looked unperturbed. “yes, there was a meeting where I believe HASCS gave some administrators a tour of your site…”
I cut him off.
“That’s not acceptable! I offered to show you everything. I even offered to show you the source code! You said “no!”. If you didn’t want to see it, then why did you have to break in, and instruct someone to sign up under false pretenses?” I was raging mad; my cheeks were on fire.
“Not only that! But you just got finished telling me, for more than thirty minutes, how the club that I was elected President of in February, whatever you’d like to call it, wasn’t even a valid student organization! So, if you really believe that, then Rick Osterberg wasn’t even breaking into one of Harvard’s own servers –– he was breaking into MY server! Think Computer Corporation owns that server! Not Harvard! That Jay, is illegal!”
“And this, right here, is proof. Not from some random person. It’s a signed letter, from the Harvard Registrar, certifying that Richard Osterberg is not, nor has ever been, a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.”
“You lied! You did this all to find out what was on the site, and you lied to do it! I hope… that I never, ever have to be this disappointed… in my teachers… ever again!”
I couldn’t help it; I had let down my guard by revealing my emotions. Fortunately, I had kept it up long enough that it didn’t matter. Jay Ellison, for a moment, was speechless. When I left, we both knew who was the adult in the room.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Shouting at teachers and throwing around false accusations makes you an adult? Only in the mind of a child.
Aaron Greenspan then took his bogus accusations of “illegal activity” to Harvard’s President, Larry Summers:
“Well, I’m here because it was a pretty miserable month of August for myself and my entire family. I was forced to deal with the Office of the General Counsel for making a web site, called houseSYSTEM, with perfectly reasonable aims. To make a long story short, I feel as though College violated the guidelines in its own Handbook for Students, and it has certainly not allowed for due process. I guess my question for you really is, ‘How was it possible for the College administration to react in such a way to student initiative?'”
“I can’t speak for the behavior of other people,” the President said. “The Office of the General Counsel was not being disrespectful”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Notice how Greenspan completely misrepresents the issue by leaving out how he collected students login information on a deceptive website designed to look like it was made by Harvard. Refusing to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong and playing the victim is a favorite tool in Greenspan’s toolbox of manipulation.
“I don’t want to bog you down in details, but it seems relevant to mention some now. Aside from issues of disrespect, the administration used false pretenses to gain access to houseSYSTEM even when I presented them with the opportunity to see how it worked. Then, the administration forced me to turn over confidential student records under duress, threatening me with ‘disciplinary action’ if I didn’t comply.” […]
“Oh, I read about that in The Crimson!” I had triggered some recollection of the issue in his mind, finally. “It said you were using their Harvard IDs against College rules. Of course you’re going to get in trouble if you ask for their Harvard IDs!”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron Greenspan lied blatantly right to the Harvard President’s face. Harvard had every right to sign up for the site to see how it worked to protect their students’ personal information. They didn’t care to have Aaron Greenspan try and pull the wool over their eyes –– they were fully capable of investigating the issue themselves. As you may recall, Harvard didn’t ask Aaron Greenspan to turn over any “confidential student records under duress” either. All they asked was that he provide a list of Harvard IDs that had signed up for his site so those users could be told to reset their passwords. For some unknown reason, Aaron Greenspan provided them with far more information than they asked for, violating his users’ privacy needlessly of his own volition.
“In fact, I informed Dr. Franklin Steen, who runs FAS Computer Services, about the system two years ago, and he did not seem to have a problem with it then.”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Yet another deceptive lie. Recall that Aaron Greenspan sent an email to Dr. Steen but received no reply. In what world does a non-response grant you permission to collect students’ school login information? Summers knew enough about the situation to call Aaron Greenspan out on his bullshit:
The President paused to think, tapping his foot under the table. […] “I do not see how your description of the actual events that took place lives up to the seriousness of the allegations you are making.”
At this, I became truly alarmed that I had misrepresented something or everything. Was I being too calm? Should I have come in screaming, with arms flailing? Did he realize the true potential of my work, as I did? Did he understand that this was about more than my vacation, or a web site, but the course of my entire life?Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Aaron, you blew any potential your work had when you wasted all your time arguing and fighting with people instead of trying to make your product better and listening to your customers. Nobody messed up your life, you ruined it yourself. Start taking responsibility for your mistakes and maybe things will start to get better.
“It sounds to me like you were just trying to skirt around the rules… which entrepreneurially-minded people tend to do.” It was a snide remark, and I took offense. I was proud to consider myself an entrepreneur. “You should have expected resistance for not going through the proper channels. You got quite a bit of it –– but rightly so!”
“Do you really think it is fair for the entire Office of the General Counsel to take on a single student? I had to involve outside attorneys to defend myself!”
The President shot back. “First of all, it was not the ‘entire’ Office of the General Counsel. Harvard employs many lawyers, and I am sure just a fraction were concerned with your case. But absolutely! If you hired outside attorneys you should doubly expect the Office of General Counsel to get involved. […] If you were trying to be a rebel, then that is what you would get.”
“I’m not trying to be a rebel! It’s not like I’m doing this just to cause troub––” President Summers cut me off and spoke rapidly.
“Yes you are […] You’ve taken all these actions, but really, you are just enjoying the fight.“Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
In a microcosm of the broader houseSYSTEM controversy, Greenspan completely refused to listen to what Summers was saying and instead decided to take offense. If you try and steal students’ school login information and then have lawyers threaten to sue the school, what do you expect?
“You should have expected so much resistance after you had hired lawyers. After that, it was basically all over. […] If I were you, I would write a letter trying to clarify the situation […]” the President said.
“I have written almost the exact letter you just described in an e-mail, sent to Jay Ellison.”
“‘I’m sorry.’ Did it say that in it?” The conversation was going about as bad as it could go.
“I don’t know what to apologize for, because I haven’t done anything wrong!”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Really? Trying to collect students school login information while pretending to be an official school website wasn’t wrong? Attacking students who warned others not to sign up for the site wasn’t wrong? Trying to sue your own school for enforcing their rules and protecting their students wasn’t wrong?
Aaron Greenspan is the worst guy ever, but his complete lack of empathy and social awareness have blinded him to this reality in a way that’s held him back all his life.
“I disagree with this legalistic approach that you’ve decided to take,” the President remarked. “It’s really counterproductive to the whole ‘venture’ –– but if you want to do it that way, it’s alright. […] my advice, as someone who has seen a lot of complex situations, is to not take the aggressive approach, and to work with people”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Summers understood the situation perfectly, and offered Aaron Greenspan fantastic advice that would have helped him time and time again in life –– if he had bothered to listen to it. Greenspan was so busy throwing a temper tantrum over not getting his way that he missed a valuable lesson that could have changed the course of his life.
Aaron Greenspan was clearly in the wrong for trying to deceptively collect students’ school login information. So why didn’t he just follow the school rules? Why act so aggressively with lawyers, threaten to sue the school, and make bogus criminal accusations when you’re so clearly in the wrong? Aaron Greenspan explained his philosophy in an interview he gave as a teenager:
Q: How do you succeed in negotiating? Do you feel you are at a disadvantage when you negotiate?
A: It depends on the negotiation. When I am negotiating software deals, I usually feel that I know more than the other party involved, and so I’m not typically worried. In other situations, you simply have to be aggressive to prevent the other party from discovering any weaknesses that you may have.Conversations with Teen Entrepreneurs, Ben Cathers
Aaron Greenspan disclosed this strategy when he was just a teenager, but it’s one he’s continued to live by ever since. For him, aggression is what you “simply have to” do when you have major weaknesses that must be hidden from your opponents. Thus, whenever you see Aaron Greenspan acting aggressively, that’s a sure sign that the victim of his aggression has come close to discovering a major weakness of Greenspan’s, such as unethical or criminal behavior.
What was Aaron Greenspan so desperate to hide from Harvard that he was willing to threaten faculty and attempt to sue the school? Some former students we interviewed for our research on this story recalled that the decision to use Harvard student IDs for houseSYSTEM was motived by a desire to download students’ e-mail. This personal information could have been used for blackmail and other nefarious purposes –– just look at all the server logs and e-mails Greenspan saved that were later used to distort the truth and extort Mark Zuckerberg. However, one student speculated that Greenspan’s motive was initially much simpler: That he simply wanted to read the e-mail of a girl he had a crush on to see who she was talking to.
In that case, Greenspan’s aggression served dual purposes. First, it helped hide his true motivations for collecting student passwords, as well as for why he refused to change the site’s login system even after an uproar from students. (Recall that the school had to threaten to expel him before he finally agreed to change it.) If there was any evidence that could expose the truth about Aaron Greenspan’s malicious intentions with houseSYSTEM, he would have to aggressively fight the school to distract them and make sure that evidence wasn’t discovered.
Part of the strategy here is deception and misdirection. If someone knows they’ve done something wrong and are caught red-handed like Greenspan was here, usually they apologize and admit it. By fighting the charges with excessive aggression, Greenspan hoped to make himself look more innocent. The other part of the strategy is just wearing your enemy out –– being such a pain in the ass that their life is ruined as long as you’re part of it. Soon, they’ll be looking for any excuse to let the issue go. I wonder what weaknesses I came close to discovering that made Aaron Greenspan and his charity decide to launch such an aggressive multi-year harassment campaign against me? There’s no way to no for sure, but I have some ideas.
Anyway, that’s the story of how Facebook was invented, according to Aaron Greenspan. Seriously, that’s what he believes –– that houseSYSTEM was Facebook. How could he be so delusional? houseSYSTEM didn’t even include any social features at first. The main features were trading textbooks and smearing your professors anonymously. How anyone could mix up a catastrophic failure like houseSYSTEM with a smashing success like Facebook is beyond me, but again that’s what Aaron Greenspan honestly believes –– and again, he will viciously attack anyone who refuses to share this delusion with him.
The launch of houseSYSTEM was such a shit show that the school newspaper ended up writing about the controversy. The Harvard Crimson article was titled: “Student Site Stirs Controversy“:
“I’m certainly not an expert in computer security or online security, but there are certain red flags that I recognize,” said Graham R. Stanton ’05. “They were asking for the password [to my e-mail account] which is just something that’s not done. It said, when I tried to log in, that I needed it, which to me meant…it probably tried to access my e-mail account or something similar.” […]
She said she would think twice about giving it the requested information after seeing the debate on the Lowell House list.
“I just really don’t want to have to give out any FAS account information on a system that’s not of the highest encryption possible,” she said. “I wouldn’t use it at this time.”
Between the launch of the portal on August 1 and Tuesday night, 400 accounts had been registered.Harvard Crimson
That’s right –– only 400 people signed up for Aaron Greenspan’s website. For comparison, Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly active users today. So after the dramatic failure of the houseSYSTEM launch, Greenspan started emailing other students begging them to join the site. In particular, he targetted other students developing web applications at Harvard at the time. One of those students Aaron emailed ended up becoming a much more successful businessperson than Aaron ever could be. Maybe you’ve heard of him before: His name was Mark Zuckerberg.
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2003 22:18:53 -0400
Neat site. It’s pretty similar to what we’ve been working on with houseSYSTEM. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet…http://www.kirkland.harvardsec.org.
Aaron GreenspanAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Harvard College Student Entrepreneurship Council
Despite Greenspan reaching out to Zuckerberg about CourseMatch.com, Mark didn’t care to respond.
The next day, Aaron Greenspan added a new section to the houseSYSTEM site called “houseSYSTEM Face Book”. “Face Book” was a generic term that referred to the book of student photos distributed at Harvard. According to The New York Times, the term had been used as early as 1902.
Have you ever wanted to find someone in another house? How about a freshman? Ever been frustrated by house web site restrictions? Do these kinds of questions at all remind you at all of cheesy infomercials?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then keep on reading.
The Harvard College SEC presents the newest feature on houseSYSTEM: the Face Book.
Now you can find exactly who you’re looking for, as long as they’re a houseSYSTEM member and they’ve opted-in. And with one out of every eight Harvard College students signed up, and many new members each day, there’s a good chance they have.
Start using the houseSYSTEM Face Book today! Visit your house’s houseSYSTEM site, or to become a member, visit: harvardsec.org
Don’t forget you can also buy and sell textbooks and other items, review courses, and trade DVDs all on houseSYSTEM–and it’s completely free. Keep an eye open for the next feature: the houseSYSTEM Jobs center.Aaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
The “face book” page on houseSYSTEM had nothing to do with the Facebook we know today –– it just showed school photos of students who were using the site, with no social networking features whatsoever. That didn’t stop Greenspan from continuing to pursue Mark Zuckerberg, and later accuse him of stealing the idea for Facebook from him.
One month later, Aaron Greenspan sent Mark Zuckerberg another email. In it, you can see Aaron starting to get jealous over the good publicity Zuckerberg was receiving:
From: Harvard College SEC <[email protected]>
To: Mark Zuckerberg <[email protected]>
I saw the article in [Fifteen Minutes, The Harvard Crimson’s News Magazine] about Synapse, and wanted offer my congratulations. It’s not easy to attract that kind of industry attention. If you don’t already know about it, you should take a look at the Student Entrepreneurship Council, a club here on campus. We’d love to have you as a member.
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. Thanks,Aaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Zuckerberg finally responded politely, but never actually made it to any meetings for Aaron’s lame yet controversial club. Then on January 6 2004, Mark Zuckerberg emailed Greenspan and mentioned he was thinking of making a new web app:
To: Aaron Jacob Greenspan <[email protected]>
I was thinking of making a web app that would use the Harvard course catalog, but I’m a little worried about the university getting upset after the whole facemash episode. I know you used info from the catalog in your shopping list scheduler in housesystem (which is awesome by the way), so I was wondering if you had to get permission to use that material and if so, whom you contacted. Or maybe if you didn’t ask permission but you think I should for extra precaution, do you have any idea whom I could ask?
Thanks a lot! MarkAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Greenspan’s interest was piqued, and he asked Zuckerberg to incorporate his amazing new idea into Aaron’s Hindenburg-level train wreck of a website, houseSYSTEM:
Date: Tue, 06 Jan 2004 10:33:51 -0500
From: Aaron Greenspan <[email protected]arvard.edu>
To: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: question
What kind of app were you thinking of? Maybe we could integrate it into houseSYSTEM.
AaronAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Zuckerberg didn’t think that was such a good idea:
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2004 12:17:59 -0500 (EST)
From: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg <[email protected]>
To: Aaron Greenspan <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: question
I actually did think about integrating it into houseSYSTEM before you even suggested it, but I decided that it’s probably best to keep them separated at least for now. I really like the houseSYSTEM app, but this app requires a lot of user participation, and I’m worried that a) many of the people who have registered for houseSYSTEM in the past don’t really go to the site anymore, and b) the vast number of features offered by houseSYSTEM might intimidate someone just looking for my app. That said, once it’s off the ground, I think it could be mutually beneficial to integrate the two, but we can speak about that then.
For now I’m trying to keep the project on the dl, so I’d rather not discuss the details, but we can definitely speak about it once I am ready to release it.
Yea so I don’t know if you’d be willing to help me out by telling me what processes you’ve gone through in the past to avoid getting ad boarded and such, but if you can tell me anything I would appreciate it greatly.
MarkAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Aaron didn’t catch the hint –– Mark Zuckerberg thought that houseSYSTEM totally sucked, and that users had abandoned it. Unable to read between the lines of Zuckerberg’s polite refusal, Greenspan then tried to recruit Zuckerberg to work on houseSYSTEM:
Subject: Re: question
Very interesting. That might actually be useful. You know we could definitely use someone like you to keep houseSYSTEM going, especially since I’ll be graduating soon… You sure you don’t want to work on it? Seems like you’re doing similar work anyway… 🙂 For me, accusations included, but were not limited to, trademark infringment, copyright infringement, violation of network policies, violation of security policies, and possible future security breaches. Maybe we should meet for dinner sometime or something and I can tell you the whole story, or what I can remember of it. I’d be interested to hear yours, as well.
AaronAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Greenspan never saw houseSYSTEM as a real business. According to his emails, he planned to hand it off to someone else after his three years at Harvard were over. Mark Zuckerberg was two years younger than him, so he promised Mark he could take it over once Aaron left the school.
Once again, Zuckerberg refused Greenspan’s attempts to recruit him, but did agree they could meet up for dinner sometime:
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2004 14:00:08 -0500 (EST)
From: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg <[email protected]>
To: Aaron Greenspan <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: question
I’ve definitely considered joining SEC and I still want to come to a meeting sometime when I get a chance. The general problem I have with these things is I don’t usually have a long attention span for lots of coding. I like coming up with ideas and implementing them quickly, which is why I’ve stuck to mostly web development recently.
So rather than join the houseSYSTEM team, I’d probably rather do development independently and then just intregrate stuff when it makes sense to do so. I’m still interested in checking out SEC and seeing the other stuff you guys are into though.
And yea, we should totally meet up sometime. I’m busy tomorrow night, but how about Thursday? Let me know.
MarkAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
At that fateful dinner, Mark Zuckerberg offered Aaron Greenspan the chance of a lifetime –– an opportunity that would have made Greenspan wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. He asked Aaron to come join him to create Facebook:
On Thursday, January 8th, 2004, at 6:45 P.M., I met Mark for dinner in Kirkland House, where he lived. It was only a few hundred feet from my dorm room. He looked and sounded fairly nerdy, but with a level of self-confidence that took me aback. It was out of line with the way he acted, which was anything but professional. Alarm bells went off in my head as I thought of Cameron Johnson.
“So I’m working on this site,” he said. “And I think it’s gonna be really cool.”
“OK…” I said. “Can you tell me what it is?” I was used to entrepreneurs being overprotective of their usually uninspiring ideas.
“I’d really rather not…” he said. “I want to keep this on the d-l, but it has something to do with graph theory.” I didn’t know much about graph theory, but I thought it involved the paths between nodes in a network, and the challenge of finding the quickest route from point A to point B. It made perfect sense in the context of what I already knew Mark was interested in.
“Is it a Friendster for Harvard?” I asked. It was my best guess based on his modus operandi thus far. He seemed to be awfully interested in my course database, and it made sense to try to combine it with a more upstanding version of the facemash site, despite the fact that he had already faced the Administrative Board once.
“I can’t say,” he replied.
“I don’t know about a site like that. It seems like if people started posting the wrong kind of information–which I think a lot of students wouldn’t think twice about –– it would be a privacy nightmare.”
“I don’t think privacy is that big of a deal,” Mark replied. “I mean, we can always improve the controls, and we just want to make something that will get as many people as possible involved.”
“Well, still, whatever it is, why don’t you consider making it part of houseSYSTEM? We already have 1,200 members who use it regularly…”
“I dunno,” he said. “houseSYSTEM, it’s really nice, and I like it a lot, but it’s just too… useful.”
“Too useful?” I asked. “That’s a problem?” He explained.
“It just does too much stuff. Like, it’s almost overwhelming how useful it is. I want my thing to stay separate for now.“‘
“Okay…” I conceded. “But then why bother talking to me? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that I have a vested interest in sticking with this thing I’ve built already.“
“Yeah, I know,” he admitted. “But I thought you’d be a good guy to talk to in order to see if you wanted to work on this project with me. My roommates are already helping me out, and I’d like you to as well.” His roommate Dustin Moskovitz, sitting next to him, nodded.
Something struck me as being off about the situation. I didn’t like the idea of working for someone who had just been disciplined for ignoring privacy rights on a massive scale. I also had no idea if I was facing another Cameron, though I was beginning to sense that Mark was not nearly as smooth, regardless of his similar ability to overlook ethical issues.
I could picture the FBI agent standing in my living room in Cleveland once again, and I knew that any site with thousands of profiles would be attracting the attention of law enforcement and attorneys at one point or another. After my first experience with SurfingPrizes being the token “mature” founder, I didn’t feel like I needed a repeat experience. […]
“Well, thanks,” I replied. “But I don’t think I’d do very well working for someone. I’m a pretty independent kind of guy,” I responded.
“That’s okay, we can still exchange ideas and stuff,” Mark said. We had a pleasant dinner, exchanged AOL Instant Messenger screennames, and I left to go back to Lowell House.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
That’s right –– presented with the opportunity of a lifetime, Aaron Greenspan turned it down. He missed his chance because he was too prideful and full of himself to see that Zuckerberg was working on something much bigger than anything Greenspan could dream of. He condescendingly looked down at Zuckerberg and demeaned him, without realizing that he too had faced disciplinary action for stealing user passwords when he launched houseSYSTEM. That probably factored prominently into Zuckerberg’s decision not to make his new website part of houseSYSTEM.
Imagine turning down the chance to be a billionaire so casually, without even listening and trying to learn more. How would you react if it happened to you? Already deeply mentally unstable, this mistake gradually pushed Aaron Greenspan completely off the deep end, driving him more and more insane as Facebook grew larger and larger. In 2019, Facebook generated over $70 billion in revenue (that’s $70,000,000,000). If you passed up an opportunity like that, are you sure you wouldn’t also lose your mind?
Some time after dinner, Mark Zuckerberg tried to recruit Aaron Greenspan to come join him in founding Facebook once again, this time via AOL Instant Messenger:
zberg02: hey man
zberg02: i have a question
zberg02: are you interested in doing other things besides the housesystem venture?
ThinkComp: in what contextAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: like would you be interested in possibly partnering up to make a site if it would not be incorporated into housesystem
ThinkComp: for the sec? think? or separate
zberg02: separate i guess
ThinkComp: depends on the site i guess
zberg02: well it would be on the new thing i’m working on
zberg02: i could let you know exactly what i was thinking about it, but i’m a little worried that you might just be inclined to want to incorporate it into housesystem
zberg02: which isn’t something i want right off the bat, and maybe not at all
ThinkComp: i guess i’d need to see the advantage of starting on something new
ThinkComp: since i’ve already sort of got a lot going on…
Once again, Aaron Greenspan turned down the chance to partner with Mark Zuckerberg on building Facebook. The reason he gave Zuckerberg was that he “already sort of [had] a lot going on”. His pride, arrogance, and need to always be the boss stopped him from seeing what was in front of his eyes, and made him bitter for the rest of his life when he realized what he missed.
At this point, the houseSYSTEM brand had been completely tarnished. Students remembered it as just “that website that tried to collect everyone’s passwords”, and nobody really wanted to spend much time there. Not realizing houseSYSTEM was a total turd that Zuckerberg wanted nothing to do with, Greenspan continued to try and convince Mark to incorporate his new idea into the failed houseSYSTEM project. Zuckerberg tried to explain why he didn’t want to as politely as he could:
ThinkComp: it’s much easier to just incorporate things where they fit from my perspective
zberg02: well i agreeAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: but we disagree on whether or not it would fit into housesystem
zberg02: well really i just want to make sure that we’re not doing the same thing
zberg02: because then neither of us would succeed i think
ThinkComp: that’s fair enough, but i don’t understand why it wouldn’t fit and why you wouldn’t want to take advantage of the existing user base
ThinkComp: especially since i don’t know how much people will trust sites you make on your own at this point
Yeah, who is going to trust some random website by Mark Zuckerberg? In hindsight, Greenspan was hilariously short-sighted.
Zuckerberg then revealed the main reason he didn’t want to associate the new site with houseSYSTEM in any way –– he didn’t want the new site to be linked to all the negative publicity around Aaron collecting Harvard students usernames and passwords:
ThinkComp: just because of the previous negative publicity
zberg02: yea i hear that
zberg02: i think that house system is a much more professional app
zberg02: and people know it as that
ThinkComp: i really don’t think you will get in trouble for being too professional
zberg02: well yea
zberg02: but that sort of makes it less interesting i guess
ThinkComp: i don’t think so
zberg02: but it’s made up for by its utility
zberg02: like i don’t think i’d go to housesystem to procrastinate
ThinkComp: because it looks too nice?
ThinkComp: that seems sort of silly
zberg02: well just because of the functionality that’s there presently
zberg02: and people’s opinion of it based on that and how it’s been marketed
ThinkComp: in that case more time-wasting stuff would balance it out nicely
zberg02: but i really just want to make sure there’s not a lot of overhead
zberg02: i am worried that registration for housesystem requires a lot of info
ThinkComp: yeah, it does
ThinkComp: but if 1200 people have filled it out so far, i’m not too worried…Aaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: the most frequent reason i’ve heard for people not signing up for it is that they don’t think anyone else is
ThinkComp: not that registration is hard
zberg02: i’m also a little skeptical about the culture of the site and people’s willingness to give information about themselves
ThinkComp: or that it’s too functional
zberg02: yea i agree...it is too functional
zberg02: like it’s almost overwhelming
ThinkComp: well, but it’s supposed to be
zberg02: like in a site where people give personal information for one thing, it then takes a lot of work and precaution to use that information for something else
zberg02: well it’s good that it’s functional
zberg02: it’s just a little overwhelming for some people i think
This is actually a really interesting insight into what Mark Zuckerberg was thinking about as he created Facebook. In contrast to Aaron Greenspan’s boring site for checking out courses and anonymously smearing professors, Zuckerberg had the insight to build a website that was fun, where people would go to procrastinate and goof off. That’s something a friendless loser like Aaron Greenspan, obsessed with building a “professional” looking site, would never understand.
Zuckerberg knew such a site would require users to upload info about themselves, including photos. Given the uproar and bad press around Aaron Greenspan collecting Harvard student’s passwords, Greenspan’s site had a “creepy” vibe that would make people less likely to share their info. Zuckerberg also astutely observed that if you took someone’s personal info they gave for looking up courses and tried to use it for something fun, the user would feel violated. But if you asked them to enter what they wanted to display on this new site… they were putting up the information they wanted to share voluntarily.
Greenspan was confused –– if Zuckerberg hated houseSYSTEM so much, why did he want to work together on something new?
zberg02: it’s not that what you do is at odds with the atmosphere i’m trying to create
zberg02: it’s just the atmosphere of housesystem isn’t right i think
ThinkComp: from what i can tell it sounds like your idea might again be controversial from the perspectives of other students and administrators
ThinkComp: i’m not afraid of controversy clearly
ThinkComp: but i might be able to keep in it check as part of housesystem
ThinkComp: i’m not so sure i could if i worked on something with you independently
ThinkComp: and there’s the very real risk that it could blow up in both of our faces, which i’d rather avoidAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: i guess that’s basically how i feel
I wonder if Greenspan had any idea he was saying no to a multi-billion dollar opportunity? He continued to press Zuckerberg to incorporate his idea into the houseSYSTEM dumpster fire:
ThinkComp: what if you made a separate site that drew on the housesystem database in the background
ThinkComp: under the sec
ThinkComp: one upload, one login
zberg02: what is it going to draw from the database?
zberg02: so both will have facebooks?
ThinkComp: put it would be a positive feedback loop rather than a negative one
ThinkComp: assuming the administration doesn’t take issue with your idea
zberg02: that’s an interesting idea
zberg02: what if people don’t want to do both sites?
ThinkComp: they dont have to
ThinkComp: but if they sign up for one, they’re automatically in the other.
zberg02: would it be possible to add something like that after the site is launched?
ThinkComp: why would you do it that way?
zberg02: i mean, are you planning on making changes to the housesystem facebook?
ThinkComp: of course
zberg02: so what data will the two draw from each other
zberg02: besides logins?
ThinkComp: member information and facebook information
ThinkComp: though neither site has to display all of it
ThinkComp: it would be sort of like how delta has song airlines
zberg02: delta owns song airlines
ThinkComp: rightAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: your site would be an sec project
ThinkComp: both would benefit
zberg02: that sounds like it could work
zberg02: but it might be a lot of work to modify the stuff i’ve already done
ThinkComp: what did you write it ib
ThinkComp: er, in
zberg02: some perl, some php
zberg02: all the web stuff is in php
ThinkComp: might work then
zberg02: yea…how fast is your server
zberg02: for housesystem
ThinkComp: not too fast
zberg02: oh man
ThinkComp: but it works
zberg02: how much ram
zberg02: there are a lot of cool things that i wanted to do with coursematch that deal with graph theory
zberg02: but it’s all pretty computationally intensive
ThinkComp: i see
zberg02: would the sites run off the same server?
zberg02: or just share the database?
ThinkComp: same server
ThinkComp: unless you have a different one you could put it on
zberg02: we’ll see what i can do
zberg02: i need to go get some work done
zberg02: we’ll speak soon
Wisely, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t want to be owned by Aaron Greenspan. He wanted to make his own site –– one that would actually be a hit.
So that’s how it really happened. Aaron Greenspan made a website that caused a huge controversy, by collecting students usernames and passwords and downloading their e-mail. The launch was such a disaster, it was featured in the school newspaper –– the worst product launch in the history of Harvard. The website was such a disaster Aaron Greenspan nearly got expelled for launching it.
Then, Greenspan introduces himself to Mark Zuckerberg and turns down the chance to partner with him to build Facebook –– twice. Greenspan was too full of himself to realize that Mark Zuckerberg was onto something big. He had to be the boss, and he had to be in control. His pride was his downfall, causing him to miss the opportunity of a lifetime. >issing that multi-billion dollar opportunity pushed an already mentally unstable man straight over the edge. As time went on, Aaron Greenspan grew angrier and more bitter every single day.
FaceNet: Greenspan Copies Zuckerberg
Aaron Greenspan was not happy. Not happy at all. Mark Zuckerberg’s new website, TheFacebook.com, launched with wild success. Before long, Aaron Greenspan wasn’t the guy with the established website talking down to Mark Zuckerberg, two years below him. Zuckerberg’s website had blown houseSYSTEM out of the water, adding over 7,000 students while houseSYSTEM had only around 1,000 –– none of whom were very active. Greenspan knew he had to do something, or this hot new Facebook would leave houseSYSTEM forgotten and in the dust.
So he added a slew of new features to houseSYSTEM to copy some of the best ideas from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. He called this new houseSYSTEM module “FaceNet”. When it launched, the Harvard Crimson picked up the story, describing it as a new competitor to Facebook that Greenspan was launching:
Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 and thefacebook.com may be facing a bit of competition in the world of cyber networking.
Earlier this week, Aaron J. Greenspan ’06 launched FaceNet, a website providing Harvard affiliates with services similar to those offered by thefacebook.com, a popular site that has already attracted more than 7,000 students and alumni through friendship networks.
Greenspan said that more than 50 people signed up for FaceNet, which is run by the Student Entrepreneurship Council (SEC), the night it was launched.Harvard Crimson
Wow! 50 people! Aaron Greenspan’s most successful project ever!
At first, Aaron Greenspan described his new FaceNet site as a “competitor” to Facebook, and pushed back on accusations that FaceNet was too similar to, or a copy of Facebook:
Despite the similarities between FaceNet and thefacebook.com—both allow users to create personal profiles and develop a network of online friends—Greenspan, who served as the president of the SEC, said both sites can thrive at Harvard.
“It is possible for multiple sites to co-exist,” Greenspan said. “The SEC supports entrepreneurship, and we applaud Mark’s efforts.”
“Competition is a very real part of entrepreneurship,” he added.
But users of both sites said it would be unlikely for Greenspan’s site to achieve the remarkable success of Zuckerberg’s, which ballooned in its second week from 650 to over 4,000 members.Harvard Crimson
That’s a nice platitude Aaron delivered about competition, but he didn’t exactly feel the same way once he lost the competition and had to shut his site down. The users were right: It was very unlikely Greenspan’s crappy ripoff of Facebook would see the same remarkable success as Zuckerberg’s. Unsurprisingly, FaceNet completely flopped. From the day it launched, FaceNet users could see that it was bound to fail:
Jeffrey B. Miller ’05, a member of both sites, said that students who have already developed their network of friends on thefacebook.com may hesitate to switch to an entirely different website.
“The FaceNet isn’t as easy to use as thefacebook.com. It might be too little, too late,” said Miller. “It will be hard to compete with thefacebook.com when thefacebook.com already has about 5,000 members and lots of momentum.”
Jonathan G. Sherman ’07 said he agrees that many students may not bother to redo their profiles and friendship networks.
“I don’t know too much about the FaceNet website, but I don’t think that students are going to switch to a completely new website,” says Sherman.Harvard Crimson
Despite Greenspan trying to paint FaceNet as a competitor to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his team never really considered it to be serious competiton:
Zuckerberg’s roommate Christopher R. Hughes ’06, who also helps administrate the thefacebook.com, said he does not view FaceNet as a competitor.
“We don’t really have an attitude of competition,” Hughes said. “I’ve seen the FaceNet website and it looks fine. It looks like an interesting website. But we’re not worried or competitive. That’s not our attitude at all.”Harvard Crimson
In the same article, Greenspan admitted that he decided to create FaceNet after seeing the success of Facebook. Unlike Zuckerberg, he failed to realize that people would be willing to provide information about themselves for a social media profile:
When Greenspan realized that students were willing to disclose a great deal of personal information on thefacebook.com, he decided to add the new FaceNet features onto his universal facebook.Harvard Crimson
But despite the fact that Aaron Greenspan blatantly ripped of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook with FaceNet and betrayed his kindness and friendship, Zuckerberg still messaged Aaron to congratulate him on the launch:
zberg02: hey manAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: your facenet thing is hot
zberg02: how do i add you as a friend
ThinkComp: go to the main thing and just type greensp
ThinkComp: into the center box
ThinkComp: it’s obviously got room for improvement 🙂
ThinkComp: such as adding one at a time
zberg02: one at a time?
ThinkComp: like you just wanted to
zberg02: oh right haha
zberg02: did you code this yourself?
zberg02: it looks like it has the greenspan touch
Aaron Greenspan admitted the site had flaws, and was not easy to use:
ThinkComp: it’s a nice programAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: if only it didn’t break 🙂
zberg02: yea haha
zberg02: how do i add a course as my favorite?
ThinkComp: go to criticalmass
zberg02: i’m clearly bad at this
zberg02: yea i’m in that
ThinkComp: no, it’s not you.
ThinkComp: the UI needs work
ThinkComp: under Lists
ThinkComp: my favorite list i think?
zberg02: oh right
zberg02: no that’s pretty obvious
zberg02: i just browsed to the course profile
zberg02: thinking that there would be a link there
ThinkComp: yeah there should be
ThinkComp: you may run into a bug with the ranking once you add the first course…
ThinkComp: i’ve gotta fix that.
zberg02: eh get one of your people to do that haha
ThinkComp: there are no other programming people
Zuckerberg even encouraged Greenspan to keep working on the site after he graduated:
zberg02: are you going to keep running any of this stuff after you graduate?Aaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: it would probably be better not having to play by harvard’s rules haha
zberg02: anyhow, i need to go learn some psych before wednesday
Unfortunately, the competition didn’t stay so friendly. As Facebook continued to obliterate houseSYSTEM, Greenspan grew increasingly angry. In a clear jab at Zuckerberg, houseSYSTEM ran an ad that used screenshots of Facebook, made fun of Mark Zuckerberg’s name, and claimed Greenspan’s club had created TheFacebook.com. Zuckerberg messaged Greenspan to confront him, but as usual Aaron refused to take responsibility for his actions claiming “someone else” had taken over:
zberg02: hey aaronAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: your ads for housesystem are using screenshots from my site which you don’t have the copyright to
zberg02: i have to ask you to take them down
ThinkComp: [phone, sorry]
ThinkComp: hi, sorry about that
zberg02: no problem
ThinkComp: i’ll pass along your concerns
ThinkComp: i didn’t design the poster
ThinkComp: and i’m not running the club anymore
zberg02: i know
ThinkComp: so i’ll let them know
zberg02: i don’t want to be difficult
Then, Greenspan tried to deflect blame from himself by making some accusations of his own. For the first time, he accused Mark Zuckerberg of stealing the idea for Facebook from him. He even said Mark Zuckerberg had “admitted it”. He threatened him not to “push too hard”. If he did, Greenspan promised to retaliate with a campaign of false accusations:
ThinkComp: on the other hand, you freely admitted taking some ideas from housesystem
ThinkComp: so i wouldn’t push it too hard
zberg02: i just don’t really want them playing on my name
zberg02: when did i do that?
ThinkComp: over dinner
ThinkComp: in kirkland
zberg02: like what?
ThinkComp: well, i should rephrase…
ThinkComp: as i recall you mentioned that a lot of the features in your site would appear as though they could have been taken from housesystem
zberg02: i don’t remember saying that
ThinkComp: and then i noticed a very similar class scheduler, for example
zberg02: i had written that before i met with youAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
zberg02: anyhow, i don’t remember saying anything like that, but the point is, the stuff is decently generic
ThinkComp: it doesn’t matter really…i don’t mind
But Greenspan was lying. He did mind. He was the computer guy, the young entrepreneur. How could someone have built a better website than his? HE was the expert, the one who had the most experience. He truly looked down on Zuckerberg and believed he was better than him. He failed to recognize the world-changing potential of Zuckerberg’s insights, and assumed success must have been stolen from him. In his delusional view of the world, he was the smartest man on Earth. He was completely unable to recognize the talents of others, and that’s why he missed the opportunity to join Facebook in the earliest days. At this point, he could have still joined Facebook any time he wanted. His pride and overconfidence were his downfall.
Zuckerberg was taken aback. He reminded Greenspan that it was houseSYSTEM that had copied social networking features from Facebook –– not the other way around!
zberg02: yea and i don’t have a problem with you adding social networking stuff to your site
zberg02: it’s fine to share ideas by ideasAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: i will tell tum and wentao to take away the screenshot
zberg02: the setup of the ads just suggests that [you and your student club] made thefacebook
zberg02: or at least that was what was reported to me by a few people
ThinkComp: personally, i don’t think so, and you’ve had plenty of coverage which clearly implies otherwise
ThinkComp: but i will tell them, like i said
zberg02: okay thanks
zberg02: sorry to be a nuisance
ThinkComp: not a problem
ThinkComp: you’re right to be concerned
ThinkComp: on the other hand, some competition is always healthy 🙂
zberg02: na i totally agree
zberg02: okay man…well thanks for passing that along to whomever is in charge now
The friendly relationship had been soured as Greenspan continued his ritual of burning every bridge in front of him. Unfortunately, that instant message chat was a warning of things to come:
Can I please have a job, Mark?
After both students had left Harvard, Facebook continued to grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Meanwhile, Aaron Greenspan’s site failed –– nobody was logging in, so he just shut it down. Or maybe it stayed running at Harvard for a while, I don’t know.
Greenspan could no longer maintain his delusion that he was in any way equal to Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg had the hottest startup in the world, and Greenspan had a reputation for stealing his classmates’ passwords. It wasn’t just Greenspan’s business that was failing –– he was failing in his personal life too:
I attempted a few dates with that same girl. Boring as they must have been for her, they were thrilling for me, but I quickly realized that I was essentially unfit for any type of relationship. […]
The police were regular visitors to our house. Who wanted to date someone with such problems? These were the signs of a stable life ahead? I didn’t blame anyone for wanting to stay away, and it was exhausting to explain it all.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
As Aaron Greenspan grew increasingly sexually frustrated and his business fell apart, his heart, bereft of love, began to fill with bitterness. He was furious at Mark Zuckerberg for his happiness and success and grew to hate him and his company more and more every day.
My plan for Think after graduation had been to sell houseSYSTEM as a whole or on an à la carte basis, with the Universal Face Book, CriticalMass, Student Exchange, Posters, and Jobs being some of the many software modules I could offer to universities across the country. Little did I know that over the summer, Mark had beat me to the punch by attracting the venture capital I distrusted so much after reading Jerry Kaplan’s book. Instead of selling to administrators, he opted to market directly to students for free, hoping to make money on advertising.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Mark’s decision to target students directly, rather than trying to sell to universities was a brilliant move. But Aaron Greenspan was too small-minded to understand it.
Still, the more I thought about it, and the more I saw Facebook in the press, the more Mark’s plan didn’t make sense to me on any level. Of all of the ideas I had coded and saved away on my hard drive, my on-line Face Book seemed like it had the least profit potential of them all. Making money off of advertising seemed downright boring compared to the things I wanted to work on.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Greenspan totally failed to realize how big Facebook could be, but still believed that he had invented it –– even though he never would have cared about it if it weren’t for Mark’s success. Despite the fact that Zuckerberg understood the billion-dollar idea that he couldn’t, Greenspan still looked down on him:
In late September of 2004, I was reading The Crimson when I came across an article lauding Mark for his genius and likely similarities to Bill Gates. I didn’t see any similarities between Mark and Bill Gates. Mark was inarticulate and naïve; Gates was shrewd, calculating, and insanely competitive, bordering on autistic.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Greenspan decided if he couldn’t beat Mark Zuckerberg, he would at least try to smear him in the press:
Knowing that Gates’s aggressive personality differed greatly from Mark’s care-free approach to life, I wrote an editorial in response to the Crimson article. Like every other editorial I had ever sent in, it was never published. The fact was that Mark had the press in a frenzy, and I didn’t–I had to give him credit for at least that much.
I felt lost, and I couldn’t decide whether I had been wronged, or whether Mark was simply smarter than I was. My only consolation was that the press wasn’t only in love with Mark. As an avid reader of multiple newspapers, I knew the press sometimes acted just as obsessively as Simon’s classmates at Brehm, unable to let go of a particular individual or concept even when more important events were taking shape. Paris Hilton came to mind.
Since the site’s first days, the phrase “A Mark Zuckerberg production” appeared at the bottom of every page on Facebook. I was sure that it would disappear once Mark’s funding came through and his investors gave the site a once-over. It didn’t. My former classmate’s antics were beginning to grate on me.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Can you feel the bitterness and jealously dripping out of each word? Lost in delusions of grandeur, Greenspan refused to accept that Mark Zuckerberg was smarter than him. He was the computer guy, the computer expert! All his life it was he who knew everything, and everyone else was just clueless –– or so he believed. Now that world view had been shattered by the dramatic success of someone he had condescendingly looked down upon, and refused to work with because he had “too much going on”.
There was no denying the reality of Zuckerberg’s success any longer. Finally Aaron had to swallow his pride and just give up. He wallowed to the phone with his hat in his hand to ask Mark Zuckerberg for a job –– but it was too late:
By December, I figured that I might be able to salvage all of those hours of work if I simply admitted defeat and got in with Facebook, Inc. on the ground floor. I gave Mark a call in Palo Alto and asked if they were still looking for someone for their Vice-President of Engineering position, which was advertised as being open on their web site. “We’re looking for someone with more engineering experience, like, ten to fifteen years,” he told me. Knowing what kind of engineering experience Mark had, I bit my tongue, hard. I had one more idea.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Not long ago when Facebook had nothing, Zuckerberg had begged Greenspan multiple times to partner with him on the project. Greenspan refused, unless he was the boss, turning down the opportunity of a lifetime. Now that Facebook was successful and had secured venture capital funding, Greenspan suddenly felt entitled to a piece of the action –– even though he had said no so many times before because he looked down on Zuckerberg and his team, who knew far more about computer science than he did as an economics major. Now that Zuckerberg had money, he didn’t need to hire a loser like Greenspan. Finally, he could afford to hire any engineer he wanted.
Greenspan’s blood boiled as Zuckerberg refused to give him the VP Engineering position at the hottest startup in Silicon Valley. “How dare Zuckerberg cross me?”, he must have thought. But Greenspan felt entitled, and decided that one way or another he was going to get his money. He decided to blackmail, threaten and extort Facebook’s founder: If he wouldn’t set Greenspan up with a salary, Aaron would try to force him to cough up even more in court:
“I heard about your lawsuit,” I told him, referring to the suit that had been filed by Divya Narenda and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twins who had lived near my friend in Cabot House. I didn’t know any of them, but I knew about their web site, ConnectU. Word had it that they had hired Mark to write the initial site, which they alleged Mark had finished right around the time that we had dinner in the Kirkland dining hall–only Mark never delivered the product.
“You know, houseSYSTEM came before Facebook and ConnectU, and they both have features that look remarkably similar to mine. I have grounds to sue both of you,” I told him. Mark remained silent. “If we teamed up then ConnectU would have no case; with Facebook owning the rights to houseSYSTEM, ConnectU couldn’t claim that you had copied off of them. It would be the other way around.”
“I’ll have to run it by my legal team,” Mark responded. We chatted for a few more minutes, and I said hello to Sean Parker of Napster fame, who Mark had apparently run into on the street. Parker was serving as Facebook’s President.
When I hung up the phone, I felt like I had exhausted my options. If Mark didn’t want to cooperate with me, there was always the possibility that I could sue him myself. I knew something about intellectual property law from my trademark dispute, however, and there was one question that kept running through my mind. “Maybe I could sue him, but what for?“Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
This is how sick Aaron Greenspan is. He had the chance to partner with Mark Zuckerberg and start Facebook. He said no. Despite that, he feels he’s owed the top engineering job at the company despite the fact that he has no software engineering experience from school (because he “didn’t like math”).
He clearly wasn’t the right person for the job, but threatened to make Mark Zuckerberg’s life hell if he “didn’t want to cooperate“. Aaron Greenspan is a bully who will ruthlessly retaliate against anyone who doesn’t let him have his way. He didn’t even know what to sue his former friend for, but vowed to look for something just to torture the poor guy. He had absolutely no empathy for the fact that Zuckerberg was already being prosecuted unfairly, and instead wanted to pile on and claim the idea was stolen from him too!
One Amazon reviewer for Aaron Greenspan’s book was so disturbed by this part of the story they described it as an attempt to “blackmail” Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg:
Zuckerberg’s refusal to hand away Facebook’s top job filled Greenspan with uncontrollable, irrational anger. Aaron Greenspan instantly became obsessed, unable to stop thinking about the perceived slight:
Whether or not a lawsuit was the right choice wasn’t the only question that was looping through my brain on a daily basis. Why couldn’t he have told me that he was going to seek funding? What did he have to lose by offering me a job?
The answer, of course, was that he had a lot to lose. We probably wouldn’t have gotten along in a working environment with Mark owning the majority of the company’s stock, since I naturally felt entitled to the proceeds of my own idea. I would have been a threat. Still, when I had rejected his informal employment offer in Kirkland, he had been talking about a side-project like hundreds I had seen before at Harvard –– not a venture-backed corporation. Would it have really taken that much time to make a phone call before taking the plunge, if only to ask my permission?Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Once again, Greenspan’s delusion is on display. Despite the fact that he clearly remembers turning down Mark’s offer when the project was small, now that it’s successful and venture funded he feels “entitled” to a share of the earnings from a project he refused to help with. Even though he understands that Mark Zuckerberg owns the company, he is so delusional that he somehow feels Zuckerberg needs his “permission” to take venture capital funding. Greenspan justifies heinous acts against his former friend based on this delusion that he has been wronged, when the truth is that he had nothing to do with Facebook at all.
Greenspan couldn’t let his obsession go. He decided to uproot his life and move to Silicon Valley so that he could stalk Mark Zuckerberg. Once he arrived in the same neighborhood as Zuckerberg, he made sure to “accidentally” bump into him “several times” while Zuckerberg was jogging:
Still, Greenspan hasn’t escaped Facebook’s shadow entirely. He happens to live in Palo Alto’s College Terrace neighborhood — the same one Facebook chose for its world headquarters last year. He said he has run into Zuckerberg several times while jogging on California Avenue.
The two entrepreneurs have greeted each other just once, Greenspan said.
“I said ‘hey,’ and he said ‘hey,’ and we went our separate ways,” he recalled. “He can go on doing his thing and I’ll do mine, and that’s fine.”San Jose Mercury
After the first “random” encounter”, Zuckerberg started getting creeped out and stopped saying hi to Greenspan. Aaron bit his tongue. He would never admit it to the media, but nothing about this was “fine” to him.
Jealousy Drives Aaron Greenspan Insane
In a story that’s probably somewhat fabricated, Aaron Greenspan described the moment he supposedly realized Facebook had been stolen from him. Here’s how Greenspan described the encounter that caused him to completely lose his mind:
I don’t know who she was, and I had probably seen students like her a thousand times before, but she is the one who sticks out in my mind. She was an undergraduate I had never met […] standing there in a sparking student center before a public computer terminal, completely engrossed in the screen before her. It only took a moment to recognize the pale blue streaks and blocks of text on the screen that were apparently so intriguing. She was looking at The Facebook.
I was standing alone at the dead-end of a maze of dead-ends, watching from a distance as others repeated the rewards of my creation in which my participation was forbidden. Something had gone horribly wrong.
That’s when I had to admit the truth that for so long I had suspected, but hadn’t wanted to believe.
“He really did steal it from me after all”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
The only thing that went horribly wrong was Aaron Greenspan’s own decision making. Despite the fact that he had ripped off social networking features from Facebook with FaceNet, and had turned down the chance to partner with Mark Zuckerberg multiple times, Greenspan claimed to truly believe Facebook had been stolen from him.
Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg
So what if Mark Zuckerberg refused to talk to him, or acknowledge his existence? Greenspan decided he would send Mark Zuckerberg a letter, and post it publicly for everyone to see. Zuckerberg had refused to give him the job he wanted, even after Greenspan moved to the same neighborhood and “accidentally” bumped into him numerous times. Now, it was time to make good on his threat. If Zuckerberg refused to pay up, he would make sure to hurt him and humiliate him as much as physically possible.
When Yahoo offered to buy the young Facebook for almost $1 billion, Greenspan was once again overcome by jealousy. Emotion consumed him, and forced him to strike. Here’s the letter Aaron Greenspan sent to Mark Zuckerberg and posted online, in full:
In the letter, Greenspan offered unsolicited advice to Zuckerberg –– hilarious, given the fact that his company had failed and Mark’s was wildly successful. He urged Zuck to sell Facebook to Yahoo for just $900 million. Today the market capitalization of Facebook is $762 billion –– nearly 1000 times more than what Yahoo offered. Although jealousy over Facebook’s success consumed him, Greenspan proved once more that he completely failed to understand what it was truly worth. Most young entrepreneurs would have taken the money and ran, but Zuckerberg was wise enough to understand the true potential of what he was building.
The letter also served another purpose: For the first time, Aaron Greenspan publicly accused Mark Zuckerberg of stealing the idea for Facebook from him despite the allegations having absolutely no basis in reality. Why make such ridiculous baseless accusations in public?
Greenspan’s true motive was revealed subtly at the end of the letter: “Just send [your users] to CommonRoom. I’ll be more than happy to take them off your hands”. Besides exacting revenge on Zuckerberg, this was the true purpose of the letter. Since Zuckerberg had refused to hire Greenspan, he would now have to compete with him once more. Greenspan re-launched his failed houseSYSTEM website rebranded with a slightly less shitty name: CommonRoom.
The letter was essentially a publicity stunt to promote Greenspan’s latest Facebook rip-off, and to sadly attempt to tie himself to the company once more. It was essential that CommonRoom be covered all over the media, and playing off Facebook’s fame was a trick to do just that. After all the positive coverage Facebook received while Aaron Greenspan was exposed in the Harvard Crimson as a password stealer, Greenspan had become obsessed with manipulating and controlling what the public saw in the mainstream media. He confessed as much in an interview:
“Word of mouth and the press are the two most cost-effective methods of marketing in existence”, he believed. Greenspan hated paying for things, and knew it was much cheaper to drum up a fake controversy that would get him in the news. That way, he could lean on the credibility and readership of mainstream news outlets for free. Publicly accusing Mark Zuckerberg of stealing Facebook from him was a crazy idea, but believe it or not it worked. News outlets of every kind covered his accusations and the launch of CommonRoom, although not all of the coverage was positive:
Greenspan even got the New York Times to weigh in, based on an existing relationship with a journalist he worked with on a previous story:
But by far the best blog post of all has to be this one, from a website called The Laboratorium. It’s hilarious, and you have to read it. The title is “How to Annoy Friends and Alienate People”, and it’s so spot-on in predicting the course of Greenspan’s life.
But that wasn’t the last time Greenspan tried to smear Zuckerberg and Facebook in the media. When he discovered a small bug in Facebook that was quickly fixed, Greenspan ran to school newspapers to blow the bug out of proportion and claim Facebook had serious “security issues”. Greenspan was clearly trying to spread misinformation about Facebook to scare away their customers, hoping to drive them to CommonRoom instead. Mark Zuckerberg was so shocked by Greenspan’s antagonistic behavior that he messaged Greenspan to confront him about what happened:
zberg02: hey man
ThinkComp: hey, sorry, on the phone
ThinkComp: i assume you got a call fron the crimson
ThinkComp: because i did
ThinkComp: i mean in the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge problem
ThinkComp: i dont think anyone malicious has exploited it
zberg02: i was just wondering why you chose to publicize it though
zberg02: because publicizing it definitely blows it out of proportion
zberg02: it’s a minor flaw, but pretty hard to exploit
ThinkComp: i’m not sure i agree…
zberg02: and even if it could be exploited, that information is available on the site anyway… […]
zberg02: i think in general we do a good job
ThinkComp: i agree, it’s much better now than it used to be
ThinkComp: but hiding security flaws is generally not a good thing
zberg02: i wasn’t hiding it
zberg02: but i think releasing a press release is a bit much
ThinkComp: you were not publicizing it
ThinkComp: it’s the generally accepted way to announce things
zberg02: especially because your press release was biased and made it seem like anyone could get anything
zberg02: which isn’t even true
ThinkComp: well anyone could
ThinkComp: what part was not true
zberg02: only if the file was there
zberg02: which it isn’t unless someone had exported their contact info recently
zberg02: yea, so anyhow we fixed it
zberg02: it’s relatively secure now because the file is randomized
ThinkComp: relatively i guess it’s better
zberg02: but anyhow
zberg02: i kind of view you as a friend
zberg02: we don’t talk frequently but we ask each other questions about stuff
ThinkComp: right, and i’d like to keep it that way
ThinkComp: but when i tell you that something is wrong
ThinkComp: and you know that it affects several hundred thousand people
zberg02: and i understand about wanting to keep stuff secure
ThinkComp: and then nothing happens for a week
ThinkComp: or more in this case
ThinkComp: i’m gonna tell someone
zberg02: it wasn’t more
zberg02: it was 3-4 days i think
zberg02: until dustin got back
ThinkComp: i don’t care who wrote it
ThinkComp: or where they are
ThinkComp: it’s your responsibility to get it done
zberg02: yea but it’s also my responsibility to get other stuff done as well
zberg02: you know how it is to run a business
ThinkComp: believe me, i totally understand that 🙂
ThinkComp: i’m drowning in taxes
ThinkComp: and have 20 other projects going on
ThinkComp: but those projects affect maybe 30 people collectively
ThinkComp: and there’s no danger element
zberg02: and i really do get that you care about people’s security
ThinkComp: you could have opened yourself up to another lawsuit had you left it open longer
zberg02: not quite
ThinkComp: oh yes
ThinkComp: very much so
ThinkComp: FTC code section 5
zberg02: okay, i feel like there is a standard bug disclosure process
zberg02: which includes notifying the person of the bug
zberg02: which you did
zberg02: notifying them that you will disclose it
zberg02: which you didn’t
zberg02: giving them some time to fix it
zberg02: which arguably a week isn’t that long
zberg02: but even if it was
zberg02: i don’t care if people who understand this stuff know about the bug
zberg02: because they are capable of understanding when it’s patched and when it’s secure and the extent to the insecurity
zberg02: talking to newspapers that target our audience causes some hysteria, which just isn’t necessary
zberg02: especially given the magnitude of the problem
zberg02: a whole article is being written about in the crimson now
zberg02: do you think that’s right?
ThinkComp: it will make people aware of this kind of thing
ThinkComp: and people really need to be aware
zberg02: to some extennt
zberg02: but it will also cause some hysteria
ThinkComp: well that’s your hypothesis
ThinkComp: i doubt there will be any hysteria
zberg02: well it will probably cause more fear than there needs to be
zberg02: given that it’s patched now
zberg02: okay, well the reason why i really wanted to mention this to you is because i remember we spoke on the phone a few months back
ThinkComp: i guess you haven’t had anything horrible happen to make you feel that way, and for that i’m glad
ThinkComp: but after the payroll mess i’m in
ThinkComp: i believe that pretty strongly
zberg02: and you talked about you tend to antagonize people by doing certain things
zberg02: i just felt that you should know that i felt antagonized by this
ThinkComp: well i apologize, but you were forewarned
zberg02: i understand that you feel a certain way and want to protect a privacy idea that you hold, but i guess i’d just expect a friend to act differently
ThinkComp: right, and i expected you to take me seriously enough to fix it.
zberg02: and i did
ThinkComp: did you actually fix it that night, like you said you would in your email?
ThinkComp: it’s fixed now
zberg02: well i asked dustin to
ThinkComp: right, well, we’ve been over that
ThinkComp: i think the end result of all this
zberg02: i can send you the email i sent to him and the response i got back saying he’d fix it
zberg02: but that doesn’t matter
ThinkComp: no, i believe you
zberg02: i just don’t think any harm was done
zberg02: so i feel a little antagonized
zberg02: that’s really it
zberg02: i agree that things should be secure
ThinkComp: ok, well, i guess i can’t help that then.
zberg02: and i take responsibility for the problem
zberg02: i’m not trying to push responsibility onto my roommate
zberg02: i’m just explaining why it didn’t get done in the time frame we both wanted
zberg02: well, given that you can’t change anything now, i just wanted to let you know
zberg02: because of what you told me before
ThinkComp: i appreciate it
zberg02: i figured you’d probably want to know how i felt
zberg02: and there’s a chance that this will be picked up on by other papers
zberg02: or by connectu or someone trying to hurt our name
ThinkComp: i doubt it
zberg02: connectu is pretty tenacious
zberg02: if they read something bad about facebook i bet they’d pick up on it
ThinkComp: yeah but it doesn’t relate to copyright infringment even a little bit
zberg02: yea but they’re just generally competitive
zberg02: or try to be
ThinkComp: speaking of which
ThinkComp: you’re not exactly the kind of person who hasn’t antagonized anyone yourself
ThinkComp: another thing i pointed out to you on the phoneAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: is that i have cause to sue both of you
ThinkComp: but i got over it.
ThinkComp: so i hope you can get over this
zberg02: i can
ThinkComp: if other papers call i’ll tell them what i told the crimson
ThinkComp: which is that it’s not a huge deal
ThinkComp: but it should have been fixed sooner
ThinkComp: that’s all.
zberg02: okay fair enough
Overjoyed to finally receive some attention from the media and Mark Zuckerberg, Greenspan decided to try and capitalize on the controversy some more by writing a book called Authoritas, which would tell his story of he supposedly invented Facebook, and how Zuckerberg had stolen the idea from him. He was motivated to start writing the book when he heard that others, including Ben Mezrich, were writing books about Facebook’s founding. That book has provided us with much of the information we now know about Aaron Greenspan’s life.
ThinkComp: but i don’t really want people reading what goes on in my daily life
ThinkComp: i’m writing a book to vent my frustration instead.
ThinkComp: i’m hoping to finish the book draft by the end of this summer
zberg02: what are you writing about? […]
ThinkComp: it’s basically just a truncated auto-biography that stops when i graduate
ThinkComp: but it’s going to really focus on harvard
ThinkComp: and why i leftAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
ThinkComp: i bet university hall will love it
ThinkComp: and so will larry
Aaron Greenspan hired an agent to shop the book around, but every major book publisher in the world rejected his manuscript, agreeing universally that it was one of the worst books ever written. With no one to publish the deranged tale, Greenspan decided to just publish it himself.
Finally, a Reason to Sue
As Aaron wrapped up his book about how he supposedly invented Facebook, he wanted to begin advertising his absurd tale with Google Ads. There was just one small problem: Google wouldn’t let him. They found Aaron Greenspan guilty of illegal false advertising, advertising his book as the story of how Facebook got started when it was really a delusional story about how he believed he had invented it. Google found that the ads clearly violated their guidelines, and suspended all of the false and misleading ads Greenspan had purchased.
On April 14, 2008 Aaron Greenspan received the following email from Google AdWords:
Thank you for advertising with Google AdWords. I recently reviewed your AdWords account and found that your ads and/or keywords violate our guidelines, or you filed an exception request from our policies and it is awaiting a response. Below, please find my report on your account status. […]
Campaign: ‘Think Press”
Ad group: ‘Authoritas’
The Story Behind Facebook
Learn how Facebook got its start
Save 10% on Authoritas
Ad Status: Suspended
– Pending Revision Ad Issue(s): Trademark in Ad Content ~~~~~~~~~
After careful consideration, we are unable to grant the exception requests listed below. Your ad or keyword is no longer active. For your convenience, I’ve included your original message to us directly below each policy violation.
Trademarked Term: Facebook
Your explanation: I own common law trademark rights on the term “Facebook” which predece Facebook, Inc.’s registered trademark rights. That’s why I wrote the book that this advertisement is for.
Trademarked Term: Facebook
Your explanation: I own common law trademark rights on the term “Facebook” which predece Facebook, Inc.’s registered trademark rights. That’s why I wrote the book that this advertisement is for.
-> Ad Content: Please remove the following trademark from your ad: “Facebook”, .
——————— POLICY DEFINITIONS:
Trademark in Ad Content: Due to trademark complaints, we do not allow advertisers to use certain trademarked terms or elements in theirAaron Greenspan’s Timeline of Events
Google AdWords campaigns. You can learn more about Google’s trademark policy at google.com
Aaron Greenspan’s blood boiled as he screamed into his computer scream. He had written a whole book about how he invented Facebook, and now he wouldn’t even be allowed to advertise it as the story of Facebook? The nerve of some people! Foaming at the mouth, he decided it was finally time to take Facebook to court. Later he would also retaliate against Google, taking them to small claims court as well.
Your Honor, Please Cancel Facebook
On April 15, 2008 Aaron Greenspan filed a petition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office Trial and Appeal Board to revoke Facebook’s trademark on their name.
On June 1, 2008 Aaron Greenspan released his book Authoritas.
On March 12, 2009 Aaron Greenspan filed another petition to cancel Facebook’s trademark, this time for “TheFacebook”.
It had been over a year since Greenspan first took legal action, but his patience paid off. The trademark dispute was holding up a multi-million dollar funding round for Facebook, and Zuckerberg needed it gone. So he finally caved, and had his lawyers ask Greenspan what he wanted to make the problem go away.
The terms of the settlement were confidential, but we do know a few details. One was that there were a cash payment associated with Greenspan dropping his two petitions to cancel Facebook’s trademarks. The second was that Greenspan insisted Facebook issued a press release announcing the settlement. This was the real prize for Aaron, and was supposed to prove to the world that he was “not crazy” and really had invented Facebook.
We don’t know exactly how much cash Aaron Greenspan was able to extort from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, but tax records for Aaron’s “charity” for the year 2009 give us a few hints.
That year, the foundation received an “unusual donation” of $250,000. Thus, one might reasonably conclude that Greenspan was able to extort about $250,000 from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The only thing Aaron Greenspan loves more than extortion is tax fraud, so he donated the money he extorted from Zuckerberg and Facebook to his “charity”. Shockingly, although every worker in America pays taxes on their income Greenspan realized that he could avoid paying any taxes at all on the funds he had extorted from Facebook simply by “donating” the funds to himself. Imagine how happy Aaron Greenspan must have been: Mark Zuckerberg had refused to give him a job. He made a threat –– I’ll make you pay one way or another. And now, a few years later he had made good on that threat by taking a few years salary straight out of Zuckerberg’s hand without having to offer up any labor in return.
If Greenspan was pleased with himself for a moment, it didn’t last long. Before the night was over, Greenspan’s victorious amusement quickly turned back to insatiable rage. Facebook had made good on their word to publish the press release… at 11:13 PM Pacific, on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. ( That’s 2:00 AM Saturday morning on the East Coast).
Aaron Greenspan screamed into the sky. Anger, hatred, bitterness and jealously consumed him, and he had no idea how to let go.
The Social Network
After the settlement with Facebook, everyone from relatives to strangers urged Aaron Greenspan to move on with his life and forget about Mark Zuckerberg. But as hard as he tried, as much as he tried to pretend to keep up the appearance of sanity, he couldn’t let it go. Hatred and anger consumed what was left of Aaron Greenspan’s dark heart.
When the San Jose Mercury asked him about the Facebook settlement, Aaron Greenspan claimed it had allowed him to finally make peace with what happened and move on:
The terms of Greenspan’s 2009 settlement with Facebook were not disclosed, but he said last week it has left him more at peace with what happened.
He also said he’s happy to have been left out of an upcoming movie about the company’s beginnings, which instead focuses on three other Harvard students who claimed Zuckerberg had stolen their idea.
In fact, Greenspan said he is beginning to feel for the first time that the whole affair could help his career instead of haunting it. He acknowledged that his connections to Facebook are likely to drive some public and media interest in FaceCash.San Jose Mercury
As usual, Aaron Greenspan lied straight to the reporter’s face –– he can’t help himself, it’s all he knows. Despite his best attempts to maintain the illusion of sanity, he was not at peace with what happened –– despite the fact that Mark Zuckerberg had stolen Facebook from him only in his imagination.
He knew that a movie was being made about the founding of Facebook –– a fantastic movie you might have seen called “The Social Network” –– but he claimed he was happy to be left out. The reality was that Aaron Greenspan was so irrelevant to Facebook’s founding that he didn’t even make it into a movie about all the people who thought Zuckerberg had stolen Facebook from them. Claiming to have invented Facebook was the cornerstone of Greenspan’s identity, so being left out of the movie was a shocking snub. That was far from ok for Aaron, who craved recognition and the spotlight of the media above all else. Desperate for attention, Greenspan’s omission from the Social Network and the book it was based on filled him with uncontrollable rage –– quite the opposite of being “happy” to be left out.
Greenspan even admitted that he hoped trying to insert himself into the story of Facebook would boost his career. It didn’t. Due to Aaron Greenspan’s complete ineptitude in business and shocking lack of social awareness, he masterfully bungled the opportunity that all of the free publicity provided. From then on, his career tanked harder and faster than houseSYSTEM did after the Harvard administration forced it to shut down. In public, he tried to pretend it didn’t bother him. But soon, signs started to emerge that he did care. In fact, he cared a lot. Hatred and jealousy consumed him, and slowly drove him insane.
As Ben Mezrich’s hit book The Accidental Billionaires became the sensational blockbuster known as The Social Network, Aaron Greenspan could contain his anger no longer. Suddenly, everyone knew the story of how Facebook got started –– and they knew Aaron Greenspan had absolutely nothing to do with it. He may have claimed to be “happy” about being left out, but he was angrier than he’d ever been in his life, even though he had already extorted a huge sum of money from Mark Zuckerberg that he claimed helped him “find peace”.
When Ben Mezrich, the author behind The Accidental Billionaires and The Social Network went on CSPAN to promote his book, Aaron Greenspan refused to let him enjoy his moment in the spotlight. He decided he would call in to the show to the ask the author a question designed to completely smear his character and destroy his credibility. The only problem was that Aaron was so livid with anger he couldn’t speak a single sentence calmly. So he did what he always did when he had a problem –– cried to his daddy.
Neil Greenspan promised to call in for Aaron and do his best to smear Mezrich on behalf of his son. You can see a video of that televised call here:
On public television, Neil Greenspan accused Ben Mezrich of being a liar on behalf of his son Aaron. The Greenspans even insisted that the book be classified as fiction, despite the fact that it described events that actually happened. Ben Mezrich had become the latest victim of one of Aaron Greenspan’s smear campaigns, and for what? Aaron Greenspan attacked him for simply telling the truth. This is part of a pattern: Over the years, Aaron Greenspan has ruthlessly attacked and smeared anyone who refuses to buy into his delusional tale of how he invented Facebook. His obsession with me is just a continuation of the same pattern: It all started when I laughed about his claim that he invented Facebook, simply commenting on a story that was all over the news.
How do you explain to people that you picked up a crazy stalker just because you commented on a news story saying you didn’t think he invented Facebook? It sounds crazy, but that’s what Aaron Greenspan does to anyone who questions his delusional version of reality. It’s one thing to be utterly delusional yourself –– everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, of course. But when you start violently attacking others who dare to question your delusions, you’ve stepped clearly into criminal territory.
Neil Greenspan’s incredibly rude phone call was designed carefully by Aaron to humiliate Mezrich, hurt his career, hurt sales of his book, and decimate his credibility. Given that context, Ben Mezrich would be forgiven for getting a little upset at the obvious smear job motivated by a nonsensical grudge. But despite the provocation, Mezrich handled the question exceptionally well, with a level of courtesy and respect Aaron Greenspan would never be capable of.
Ben Mezrich had to laugh at how crazy the situation was, knowing that Aaron Greenspan was clearly motivated by an irrational grudge. He mentioned that Aaron Greenspan had been involved in legal action against Facebook himself, providing important context for viewers to understand the motivations behind the smear campaign against Mezrich. Mezrich knew exactly what was going on: Aaron Greenspan had a “personal beef” with Mark Zuckerberg, and Mezrich’s career and life were just collateral damage. Only “the person who didn’t want the story to be told” would benefit from the book being labeled as fiction, and Aaron Greenspan was exactly that person.
For decades, Aaron Greenspan has been involved in a massive media manipulation campaign focused on pushing his patently false version of events while silencing anyone that dares challenge him. When he needs to keep someone quiet he’ll start attacking them, trying to hurt their career, trying to hurt their family, and smearing the hell out of them. If that doesn’t stop them, he’ll start harassing them in court. He did it to Mark Zuckerberg, and now he would do it to Ben Mezrich. Greenspan licked his lips and smiled. His next prey was in sight.
Immediately after smearing Mezrich on national television, Aaron Greenspan was enraged. How dare Ben Mezrich respond to the attacks on his credibility instead of admitting that Aaron Greenspan had invented Facebook? He quickly retaliated by firing off a threatening email to Ben Mezrich, reprinted below:
My father, Neil Greenspan, informed me today that he called in to the C-SPAN interview program in which you described your work on The Accidental Billionaires and The Social Network (http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/301874-1; the call is about 2:32 in).AaronGreenspan.com
Right, he informed you today. You didn’t cry about it until he agreed to call in. And your grudge against Zuckerberg had nothing to do with it. Got it.
An avid reader, he watches BookTV fairly regularly. Though I did not watch the full three-hour-long interview, I did watch the clip in which my father called to voice his dissatisfaction with your decision to use the term “non-fiction” to describe your work. As I believe you are already aware, to put it mildly, his dissatisfaction echoes my own sentiments.AaronGreenspan.com
Yes, his dissatisfaction literally “echoes your sentiments” because you cried and complained until your Dad repeated your words on TV. It’s just like when Aaron was failing math class at Harvard and asked his Dad to do something because he thought “Maybe since you’ve donated money they’ll listen to you” (his own words).
In response, you claimed that your critics are simply misdirecting their anger with others at you. This is not the case. While it is true that I take serious issue with many of Mark Zuckerberg’s actions, I and those who care about me also take serious issue with *your* actions, completely independent of my history with Mark. You have a well-documented history of twisting the truth into prose that better matches what you believe readers want (http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N17/21.html), which is another way of saying that you are comfortable lying in print.AaronGreenspan.com
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. If anyone is comfortable lying in their writing, it’s Aaron Greenspan. This kind of psychological projection is common in people who can’t accept their own negative qualities. In order to justify and downplay actions they know are horrible, they project those qualities onto their enemies without cause. Ben Mezrich was just trying to tell the story of Facebook’s founding. But because he refused to accept Aaron Greenspan’s lie that Mark Zuckerberg had stolen Facebook from him (when the reality was that Greenspan had actually copied from Zuckerberg), Mezrich was falsely labeled a liar. As the true story of Facebook was told and Aaron Greenspan’s lies were revealed to the world, calling Mezrich a liar helped Greenspan avoid coming to terms with the evil things he’d done to a former friend.
This is why I turned down your offer to be included in your book back in 2008. You are the last person I would want defining my character, and I am glad that you did not. Despite the fact that being omitted from your book and the resulting movie hurt my reputation and career more than it helped, your work is so full of errors it is hard to know where to begin.AaronGreenspan.com
Right. You turned down the chance to be in the book, and you’re glad you’re not in it. Got it. That’s why you’re writing this angry email.
I count five types of errors in The Accidental Billionaires (from least to most serious), and I can provide numerous examples of each: typographical errors; errors involving factual details that could have been remedied with more careful research; fabricated situations that never actually took place; omissions of key facts; and outright lies that twist the meaning of plot elements and characters’ intentions. Were your books called “fiction” these errors (whether deliberate or not) wouldn’t matter, but as you insist, they’re not fiction, and I’m a real person who has done nothing wrong that has been directly and negatively affected by them. In other words, your errors matter a great deal to me.AaronGreenspan.com
Well, if you’re a real person who has been affected by the book doesn’t that prove it isn’t a work of fiction? Aaron Greenspan really believed he had “done nothing wrong”, despite the threats, retaliation, and extortion of his former friend and classmate motivated solely by jealously and bitterness. Almost everything Aaron Greenspan has done in his life has been wrong. Throughout all my research into his life, I’ve never found a single example of Greenspan doing the right thing. He is morally bankrupt because he lacks the capacity for empathy.
But that wasn’t the worst part. Although Aaron Greenspan had refused to work with Ben Mezrich on the book, he had still made it in… it’s just that they sometimes got his name wrong:
Typographical errors I found included misspelling of names, including my own name, which you repeatedly misspelled (it’s Greenspan, not “Grossman”), Victor Gao’s (who you called “Victor Gua”), the phrase “wanted add” (which should have been “wanted ad”), the word “logarithms” (which should have been “algorithms;” they’re different), and the phrase “front-level coding” (instead of “front-end coding”). There are more, and though there are typos in many published volumes by many authors, including my own, it’s really astonishing to me that you got my name wrong in particular when you relied on my book as a primary source, sometimes copying entire phrases.AaronGreenspan.com
Oh no, typos! It turned out The Accidental Billionaires had accidentally called Aaron “Grossman” instead of “Greenspan”. In Ben Mezrich’s defense Greenspan is a pretty gross man, so the typo actually makes more sense than using his actual name.
You have admitted that you fabricate dialog, and it’s well-known that the sex scenes in the book and movie were totally made up to make the story more interesting for a broad audience.AaronGreenspan.com
Yes, because if Aaron Greenspan wasn’t having sex there’s no way anyone else was.
You omitted from your book and/or the movie the key facts that I existed at all; that Mark knew of houseSYSTEM; that Mark had e-mailed back and forth with me about it; that Mark signed up for it; that Mark then signed up for The Facebook (my version); that Mark used The Facebook (my version) extensively in the month of January, 2004 during which he developed his version prior to his site’s launch on February 4, 2004; that Mark and I had dinner in Kirkland House three days before he registered thefacebook.com; that Mark didn’t bother telling me what he was working on; that Eduardo signed up for and used my version of The Facebook; that the Winklevosses were members of houseSYSTEM; that the Winklevosses’ programmers were members of houseSYSTEM; and that Mark broke into the e-mail accounts of Crimson reporters to assess their opinion of the Winklevosses.AaronGreenspan.com
Come on man. Get a grip. houseSYSTEM was a disaster of the website that thankfully failed in its attempt to collect student’s school login information. You sent Zuckerberg your website, you asked him to have dinner, and YOU turned down the opportunity to partner with him to build Facebook. Admit it: You screwed up, and you only have yourself to blame for letting your pride and arrogance blind you. Clearly, Aaron Greenspan did not invent Facebook.
Apparently your rationale for weaving these scintillating-“true”-tales-that-you-admit-are-made-up is that they sell books and movie tickets and hurt no one. Let me dissuade you of that notion once and for all. I have been hurt by your work, and so has the country as a whole. You helped inflate a legend of Mark’s genius that is both false and dangerous. Mark is not a genius and not everything he has done is good. My efforts to set the record straight as to what *actually* happened in Cambridge in 2003 and 2004 have been significantly overshadowed by the false history you have written and promoted, which has been quoted back to me by Fortune 500 CEOs and venture capitalists alike as fact, directly harming my reputation and career.AaronGreenspan.com
This is how Greenspan is able to justify his harassment of Ben Mezrich, which lasted for years and continues to this day. He needed to “set the record straight” with his own delusional story of how he invented Facebook. Anyone attempting to simply discuss the reality of what happened is “hurting his career” and therefore deserves to have their life ruined. What Aaron Greenspan fails to realize is that he’s ruined his own career, and obsessing over manipulating the public conversation surrounding Facebook’s founding is only pushing him further into the abyss.
You’ve made an enormous fortune at my expense. You have inflicted pain and damage you are too selfish to even care about, compounding the pain and damage of the events of the past eight years. Now you have insulted and dismissed my father on national television. I find Joseph Welch’s question to Senator McCarthy the only one fit to summarize the extent of my anger and the depths of your depravity.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The mental gymnastics present in Greenspan’s email are simply astounding. Ben Mezrich did absolutely nothing wrong. He did his best to record the story of how Facebook was founded, and he came up with a book that was extremely engaging and entertaining. Everyone understands the difference between a movie and real life –– well, everyone except Aaron Greenspan.
Greenspan accused Mezrich of “inflicting pain and damage” he was “too selfish to even care about”. Yet in the same email, he acknowledges that Mezrich offered him the chance to be a source for the book which he turned down. How could he do that and then blame someone else when the book didn’t tell his story? In another clear instance of projection, it was Aaron Greenspan who had decided to inflict pain and damage on Mezrich that he was too selfish to even care about. He had done it by smearing Mezrich on national television, and that was just the beginning. In the years since, dozens of victims have suffered pain and damage at Aaron Grenspan’s hands. How could Greenspan quote Joseph Welch and then dedicate the rest of his life to the character assassination of innocent people? Has he left no sense of decency? Is Aaron Greenspan not ashamed of the depths of his own depravity?
Greenspan also claimed to be outraged that Ben Mezrich had “insulted and dismissed [his] father on national television”. This is a hilarious contortion of what actually happened: In reality, he had his father call in and ask a question designed deliberately to assassinate Mezrich’s character and damage his credibility in front of a national audience of potential readers and customers –– all in service to Aaron Greenspan’s selfish quest for credit and recognition. How are you going to call in to ask the author an insulting question, and then claim to be insulted when he answers?
The ability to ask a question at all, let alone have it televised, is a privilege. It’s amazing that Mezrich was as polite as he was given the extremely pernicious and dishonest conduct of the Greenspans. What did they expect him to say? “They’re right, I’m a liar”? If you’re going to try and smear someone they have the right to defend themselves. Unfortunately, Aaron Greenspan does not recognize that right. Throughout his life, he’s repeatedly retaliated against victims simply trying to defend themselves against his public smear attacks. Rather than recognizing the right of his victims to respond to his slander, he views these defenses as unjustifiable moral transgressions against him. Greenspan needs to believe that he’s been wronged to justify his harassment and threats against others. If he ever admitted to himself that his victims have done nothing wrong, he’d be forced to confront the reality that he is the villain of his own story.
Here’s what Ben Mezrich said about Aaron Greenspan in The Accidental Billionaires, his book about the founding of Facebook that became the movie The Social Network:
Eduardo blinked, his hangover suddenly forgotten. Right away he thought it was a pretty amazing idea. It felt big—even though aspects of it certainly sounded familiar. There was a Web site called Friendster that seemed similar, but it was pretty clunky and nobody used it, at least not at Harvard. And some kid named Aaron Greenspan on campus had gotten in trouble a few months before for getting kids to join an info-sharing bbs that had used their Harvard e-mails and IDs as passwords. Then the Greenspan kid had gone on to develop something called house SYSTEM that had some social elements involved in it. Grossman had even added a Universal House Facebook into his site, which Mark had checked out; hardly anyone had paid any attention to it, as far as Eduardo knew. […]
Friendster wasn’t exclusive, the way Mark was describing his idea. And Grossman’s site wasn’t particularly slick, and wasn’t about pictures and profiles. Mark’s idea was really different. It was about moving your real social network onto the Web. […]
Greenspan had immediately tried to get Mark to partner up with him—just like the Winklevoss twins and their Harvard Connection dating site. Everyone wanted a piece of Mark, but Mark didn’t need anyone else. Everything he needed was right in front of him.Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires, Chapters 11 & 13
Mezrich saw Aaron Greenspan’s role in the founding of Facebook very differently than Greenspan himself did: As an objective third party, he saw it accurately in a way Greenspan with his clouded emotions never could. He noted that Aaron Greenspan had gotten in trouble for collecting Harvard students’ school login information, which is what houseSYSTEM was objectively best known for. He knew that it wasn’t the inspiration for Facebook, but just one of hundreds of websites that were being developed at Harvard at the time. Most importantly, he noted that hardly anyone had paid any attention to it –– Aaron Greenspan and houseSYSTEM were irrelevant. Aaron Greenspan might not like that version of the story, but that’s what really happened.
Naturally, Aaron Greenspan did what he always does when someone tells the truth about him: He launched a failed lawsuit against Ben Mezrich, Random House, and Columbia Pictures for not putting him in the movie.
That’s right: After taking Facebook to court for stealing his idea, Aaron Greenspan sued the makers of the movie The Social Network for not putting him in the movie. What’s more, he claimed The Social Network had been stolen from his shitty autobiography, even though he wasn’t in the movie at all.
The Social Network Lawsuit
Aaron Greenspan knew he had no right to sue the makers of The Social Network for not putting him in the movie. But he wasn’t doing it to win: The objective was simply to harass his enemies, and try and get his bullshit story about inventing Facebook back in the news.
Aaron Greespan first filed the lawsuit on November 18, 2011 –– just 12 days after the email to Ben Mezrich that he sent after trying to smear the man on CSPAN. The case was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for the first time on May 9th, 2012. That means that although Aaron Greenspan had absolutely no claim to sue over, he still harassed Ben Mezrich and the creators of The Social Network in court for six months before the case was finally thrown out. But Greenspan wasn’t going to let that stop him: The day after the judge dismissed the case, he filed for an appeal.
On October 17, 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts decision –– Aaron Greenspan had lost again. But he wasn’t done harassing his victims yet. He began drafting a petition to take the case to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t until April 15, 2013 that the Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Even after that, he filed a motion to reopen the case on November 6, 2013. It wasn’t until November 10, 2014 that the case was finally over for good, even though Aaron Greenspan lost at every turn.
It didn’t matter that Aaron Greenspan had no claim to any sort of lawsuit. He was still able to harass Ben Mezrich and the companies backing him for three years. Greenspan’s goal is never to win. He just wants to hurt his victims. Think of all the money wasted on lawyers defending against this baseless claim, and all the headache Ben Mezrich and his family went through because he dared state the obvious: Aaron Greenspan didn’t invent Facebook, and in fact had nothing to do with the company outside of his own delusions.
The Initial Complaint
So let’s take a look at what Aaron Greenspan said in his lawsuit against The Social Network:
Plaintiff brings this action to enforce Plaintiff’s exclusive copyright rights, and to halt Defendants’ unfair business practices, false advertising, libel, and slander.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
How dare you say I didn’t invent Facebook! That’s illegal! Libel, even! Slander!
Just as Aaron Greenspan believed Mark Zuckerberg had stolen Facebook from him, he believed Ben Mezrich had stolen his hit book from Greenspan’s absurd sob story, Authoritas –– but then cut him out. According to Aaron Greenspan, he invented Facebook but Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea from him. Then Greenspan says he wrote the The Social Network, but Ben Mezrich stole his story and erased him from it. (Seriously, this is what he believes!)
Defendants did not at any point obtain the consent of Plaintiff to use material from Authoritas in The Film, nor did Defendants obtain derivative rights in Authoritas.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Partly, Aaron Greenspan was upset at a rejection: When he wrote his book Authoritas, about how he supposedly invented Facebook, he hired an agent to try and get a book deal. They took it to all major publishing companies including Random House, but they all said no because the book was so cringy and terrible. Greenspan was enraged that Mezrich’s fantastic book was offered a deal while he was forced to self-publish his book to share his delusional story with the world.
Second, this case arises from the unfair business practices of Defendant Random House, whose Doubleday publishing imprint agreed to publish The Accidental Billionaires not long after refusing to publish Authoritas, and then used unfair business tactics to market The Accidental Billionaires in such a manner as to avoid paying Plaintiff for rights in Authoritas.
Less than seven months after Defendant Random House rejected Plaintiff’s manuscript, on May 22, 2008, Gawker reported that Defendant Mezrich had already “signed a million-dollar-plus book deal for his memoir about Mark Zuckerberg and the other Facebook founders.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
But what really pissed Greenspan off was that so many people had seen the movie, and now knew for certain that he had absolutely nothing to do with the founding of Facebook:
As a consequence of the success of The Accidental Billionaires and The Film, several million people have been exposed to the story line as told by Defendant Mezrich.
Third, Defendants explicitly and implicitly defamed Plaintiff in The Accidental Billionaires and by omission, in The Social Network. However briefly, the Accidental Billionaires ridicules Plaintiff and insults Plaintiff’s work; no references to Plaintiff in The Accidental Billionaires are praiseworthy, and key references to Plaintiff that one would expect in an accurate re-telling of events are omitted. The Film completely omits references to Plaintiff.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Ah, defamation by omission right! By not mentioning Aaron Greenspan at all, the movie completely defamed him. Of course. They didn’t even praise him! And how could they when there’s clearly so much to praise?
He has repeatedly made false claims, including claims that The Accidental Billionaires and The Film are “true,” “accurate,” and in the case of the book, “non-fiction.” In so doing, Defendant Mezrich has necessarily implied that any contrasting accounts of the same events, including Plaintiff’s account, are untrue, inaccurate, and fiction. Defendant Mezrich has further publicly attributed false motives to Plaintiff’s critiques of his work, including but not limited to jealousy, misdirected anger, and desire to attract unwarranted media attention.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Jealousy? Misdirected anger? A desire to attract media attention that’s not deserved? Nope, that doesn’t sound like Aaron Greenspan at all. Based on this tortured logic, Greenspan demanded that the court force the makers of The Social Network to label their film and book as “fiction”, despite the fact that Facebook is not a fictional company.
To remedy these myriad violations of law and put an end to the ongoing harm caused by Defendants, Plaintiff Aaron Greenspan seeks injunctive relief restricting Defendants’ ability to sell or refer to The Accidental Billionaires as “true,” “accurate,” “non-fiction,” or any phrase with similar meaning. Plaintiff further seeks monetary damages from Defendants for copyright and derivative works licensing revenues wrongly withheld, and for irreparable harm done to Plaintiff’s reputation, career, and future earning potential.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
That’s right, he really requested monetary damages for being left out of The Social Network. What happened to being happy to be left out?
One of Mr. Greenspan’s classmates, who was familiar with both houseSYSTEM and The Facebook, was an individual named Mark Zuckerberg, who, only after extensive use of Plaintiff’s work and after soliciting the assistance of Plaintiff in both technical and business matters, incorporated many of Plaintiff’s ideas into his own web site which he labeled with the same name. Mr. Zuckerberg’s web site, based in part on principals and technologies developed by Plaintiff, formed the basis for the company that is now Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”), of which Mr. Zuckerberg is Chief Executive Officer.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
This is a questionable rewrite of history. Recall from the e-mails above that Greenspan actually e-mailed Mark Zuckerberg after seeing an article about him. Greenspan begged Zuckerberg to check out houseSYSTEM, tried to recruit him, and asked him to dinner –– not the other way around. Yet, Aaron Greenspan still lies in court and claims Zuckerberg “solicited” his assistance when the reality is that Aaron Greenspan was just desperate for media attention and even more desperate for a friend.
Despite being in touch with Plaintiff throughout late 2005, Mr. Zuckerberg systematically excluded Plaintiff from any recognition for contributions to his success and from the company Plaintiff had indirectly helped create. Mr. Zuckerberg also repeatedly ignored Plaintiff’s growing concerns about glaring privacy and security problems with Mr. Zuckerberg’s site. Due to his public opposition to Mr. Zuckerberg’s conduct, for a period of years after graduating from college, Plaintiff was unable to raise venture capital investment for his own company or find work in the software industry, which in turn meant that he could not obtain health insurance, all despite having created products judged by others to have practical use and value.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Aaron, come on. You were unable to raise venture capital or find work because you were acting like a lunatic. If you want health insurance go get a real job for once in your life. Trying to blame your own failures on Mark Zuckerberg is really sad. And which product did Greenspan create that had practical use or value? None: they all failed. That’s why he ended up abandoning product development to become a paid smear merchant later in life.
Each time that Defendant Mezrich has insisted on the veracity of his work, he has magnified the harm of the initial defamation, both explicit and implicit by omission. At times he has magnified and then compounded the harm by making slanderous accusations regarding critics and their motives.
Consequently, each effort by Plaintiff to reasonably counter Defendants’ false claims has caused more and more harm to Plaintiff’s reputation, instead of causing Defendant to cease and desist.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
To follow Greenspan’s logic here, having his Dad call in to smear Mezrich on national television with false accusations was not slander. In Greenspan’s upside down world view, Mezrich responding to the question was slander and it was a crime to respond to Greenspan’s smear job rather than shutting down his book and movie. I call this the Greenspan Doctorine: I will spend all day smearing you, but if you say a word about me I will devote my life to destroying yours.
All Defendants with knowledge and intent, financed, developed, produced, manufactured, distributed, and exploited The Film without properly securing consent, approval of, a grant, or license from Plaintiff.
None of the named Defendants made any effort to remove from The Screenplay or The Film copyrighted elements and material embodied in Authoritas, and the acts, failures, and omissions constitute a reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s rights and interests.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Sorry, they needed your permission to make The Social Network why? Greenspan’s joke of an autobiography doesn’t even mention Mark Zuckerberg until the very end of the book: he’s barely in it. The Social Network is a story about how Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire. Authoritas is a story about the failures of a loser named Aaron Greenspan. The two stories have nothing to do with each other, and yet Greenspan still insists that the hit movie and book were merely ripoffs of his self-published tale of personal failure. A disregard of Greenspan’s rights and interests is proper, as he has no rights and interests in The Social Network at all outside of his own imagination.
At the time, Plaintiff was not even aware of whether or not Plaintiff would be mentioned in The Screenplay. To find out, Plaintiff sent Mr Sorkin inquires via e-mail, via postal mail, and even via the particular Facebook web page specifically dedicated to The Film, which was frequented by Mr. Sorkin. All of these communications went unanswered.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
“Hello is anyone there?!?!? This is Aaron Greenspan the inventor of Facebook. Did you get any of my e-mails, letters or Facebook posts??? Am I going to be in the movie??? Who is playing me?? DO NOT cast Pauly Shore or I will have to press charges!”
And he wonders why they didn’t put him in the movie. Maybe try not acting like a complete psycho next time.
Plaintiff does not appear explicitly by name in [The Social Network], nor is any character intended to represent Plaintiff.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Oh, boo hoo! This may be the stupidest thing anyone has ever filed a lawsuit over. What happened to being happy to be left out of the film? What happened to turning down the chance to work with Mezrich on the book because you didn’t want him to write about you? Greenspan’s nonsensical whinings are full of contradictions. At least try and keep your lies straight.
Defendant Mezrich has consequently caused significant harm to Plaintiff through the implication, understood by millions of viewers of The Film, that Plaintiff had no role in the creation of Facebook. This implication has been conveyed to the public repeatedly, each time magnifying the harm of the initial act.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Many people involved in the creation of Facebook were left out of the film, but that doesn’t mean they were harmed. Movies are not real life, they have to be interesting to watch. If you legally had to make sure everyone involved in Facebook made it into the movie, the whole film would just be characters introducing themselves for one second each. Thousands of people were involved in the creation of Facebook, and all of them would agree that this is an incredibly weak argument.
But Aaron Greenspan had absolutely nothing to do with Facebook at all. He never worked at the company. He was offered the chance to partner with Mark Zuckerberg to build the site, but he turned it down because he thought he had “a lot going on” at his joke of a business. The makers of the film were merely telling the truth by leaving him out. This is classic Greenspan Doctrine: Terrorize those who tell the truth. Why? Because truth is the enemy of the wicked. Aaron’s career would be over if people knew the truth about his life and what he spends his days doing, so he has to work day and night to prop up the lie.
Defamation by omission is in some ways more damaging than the simple conveyance of falsehoods. Even a sympathetic viewer of The Film inclined to disbelieve its accuracy would still come away from it lacking any frame of reference needed to discover the facts involving Plaintiff’s involvement. It is impossible to know how many opportunities were lost to Plaintiff due to this prominent information gap.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
So Aaron Greenspan can smear people all day on his charity’s Twitter account, but that’s less damaging than The Social Network not saying a single word about him at all? Hey, they defamed me by omission too!
On November 6, 2011, C-SPAN aired a three-hour-long interview with Defendant Mezrich concerning The Accidental Billionaires and The Film, among other topics. The interview format allowed callers to directly ask questions of Defendant Mezrich [..]
Plaintiff’s father, Dr. Neil Greenspan, called C-SPAN […] then asked Defendant Mezrich why he did not simply refer to his books as fiction.
Defendant Mezrich’s response was lengthy, defensive, rambling, erroneous, and cast unfounded aspersions on both Plaintiff and Dr. Greenspan that were defamatory in nature. In his multi-part response, Defendant Mezrich reiterated that The Accidental Billionaires was “true,” “accurate,” and “non-fiction,” and that he “stands by” both The Accidental Billionaires and The Film. These repeated false statements further defamed Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s father by implication.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
The Greenspans’ question was a complete smear job on Mezrich, but Aaron deceptively misrepresents it as a “simple” question. Oh, why didn’t you make your book fiction since you were lying about the whole thing? That’s a simple question in the same sense that asking your girlfriend when she started getting so fat is a simple question.
His response was lengthy! Oh god, not lengthy! And why would he be defensive, right after the Greenspan’s tried to smear his credibility live on national television? The aspersions it cast on the Greenspan’s were entirely founded. Ben Mezrich didn’t defame them: The Greenspans embarrassed themselves by wearing their bitterness on their sleeves.
“How dare you make false statements that your work is true! It would only be true if it said I invented Facebook!”
On the evening of November 6, 2011, Plaintiff sent Defendant Mezrich and C-SPAN an e-mail regarding the interview, published on Plaintiff’s personal web site immediately thereafter, decrying the false statements, and Defendant’s false statements about making false statements. Defendant Mezrich did not respond.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Gee, I wonder why?
Prior to the existence of The Accidental Billionaires or The Film, the typical difficulties inherent in starting any recent college graduate’s career were significantly magnified by Plaintiff’s unintended and unwanted involvement in controversy surrounding Facebook’s origins. For many years, through the crafting of Authoritas and by other means, Plaintiff attempted to correct the wrongs that had led to his reputation being tarnished, without allowing those wrongs to remain his exclusive focus.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Why does Aaron Greenspan need credit for inventing Facebook so badly? Even if you did invent it, why do you need everyone to pat you on the back? If you’re really such a genius inventor, just go invent something else.
Greenspan inserted himself into this situation and then blames others for his decision to waste his own time. His obsession with Facebook has been his exclusive focus for decades now, and that obsession destroyed his career.
The Accidental Billionaires and The Film immediately reversed the vast majority of the progress Plaintiff had made toward setting the record straight. Whether intentional or not, news about the book proposal, the likelihood of the book becoming a movie, the book itself, and then the movie itself, all of which contained Defendant Mezrich’s flawed story line, comprised a massive misinformation campaign. Even the effects of the most resourceful and active proponent of Plaintiff imaginable would have been dwarfed by the extent and volume of information distributed by and concerning Defendants’ works. At one point leading up to the release of The Film, a banner advertisement for The Film covered the entire home page of the web site of The New York Times, not to mention other advertisements on busses, in newspapers, on the radio, on television, and in stores.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Aaron… you never made any progress towards “setting the record straight”, because nobody is ever going to believe you invented Facebook. Your “houseSYSTEM” project was nothing more than an attempt to collect students’ school login info, and you were nearly expelled from the school for it. Wake up!
The Social Network is not a massive misinformation campaign. You, screaming in the media for years about how you invented Facebook is a massive misinformation campaign. Having your charity short Tesla, Facebook, Shopify, Credit Acceptance Corp. and others while illegally accepting donations from other short sellers is a massive misinformation campaign. (And tax fraud + securities fraud.) Your smear campaign against Tesla customers is a massive misinformation campaign. The Social Network is a great movie, and it’s much closer to the truth about Facebook’s founding than your ridiculous story.
In interactions with influential figures in the software and financial industries in which Plaintiff still works, Plaintiff has more than once been lectured by individuals unaware of his involvement about the events that took place at Harvard University in The Film. Attempts to politely correct these misapprehensions have been routinely met with suspicion or enormous scorn. These interactions, through no fault of Plaintiff, have damaged Plaintiff’s reputation and career prospects.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Hey, here’s an idea: Stop telling everyone you invented Facebook if you don’t want them to think you’re batshit crazy.
Many individuals have encouraged Plaintiff to “move on” in life, but practically speaking, the magnitude of funding and media interest associated with Facebook now and for the foreseeable future, combined with the aforementioned prevalence of deeply flawed misinformation distributed broadly by Defendants that has tarnished Plaintiff, makes this impossible from a practical standpoint.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Aaron, we all know that moving on is very possible. Stop spending your days dwelling on bitterness and hatred. Go create something. Your irrational, emotional, decades-long rampage of impotent rage is destroying your life. Apologize to all your victims and try and turn things around before it’s too late.
Based on this ridiculous legal complaint, Greenspan demanded the court find the defendants guilty of copyright infringement for stealing the movie The Social Network from his autobiography Authoritas:
Copyright Infringement Against All Defendants (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.)
The Defendants’ copying, use, modification, reproduction, display and distribution of elements of Authoritas, including without limitation, the ideas, expression of concepts, theme, text and plot contained therein and all derivatives thereof, constitutes a violation of the United States Copyright Act, Title 17 U.S.C. §§ 501(a), 106(1), 106(2) and 106(3), and all Defendants were acting as infringers within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. § 105(a).Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
This is, of course, a ridiculous interpretation of copyright law. If I make a movie about World War II it doesn’t mean nobody else can make a movie about World War II without infringing my copyright. They can’t steal scenes from my movie, but they’re free to make their own based on the same events.
Federal Unfair Competition and False Advertising Against All Defendants
Consumers are likely to be misled and deceived, and have been misled and deceived, by Defendants’ representations regarding The Accidental Billionaires.
Consumers are likely to be misled and deceived, and have been misled and deceived, by Defendants’ representations of Plaintiff, and/or the lack thereof, contained within The Accidental Billionaires.
Consumers are likely to be misled and deceived by paid “five- star” reviews of The Accidental Billionaires that were written only because Defendants were compensating the reviewers.
Consumers are likely to be misled and deceived by bulk purchases of The Accidental Billionaires by Defendants that were designed to propel the book to the top of best-seller lists even though such purchases did not represent actual consumer interest.
Defendant’s many deceptive statements intended to sell additional copies of The Accidental Billionaires and The Film violate Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), which prohibits Defendants from using false, misleading, or disparaging representations of fact that misrepresent the nature, characteristics, or qualities of its products.
Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117, Plaintiff is entitled to damages for Defendants’ Lanham Act violations, an accounting for profits made by Defendants on sales of The Accidental Billionaires, as well as recovery of the costs of this action. Furthermore, Plaintiff is informed and believes, and on that basis alleges, that Defendants’ conduct was undertaken willfully and with the intention of causing confusion, mistake or deception, making this an exceptional case entitling Plaintiff to recover additional damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
“The reviews are all paid for and the books sales are all fake! You must pay me!”. Sounds like Aaron Greenspan’s paranoid delusions started long before Tesla.
Defamation of Aaron Greenspan by Benjamin Mezrich
Defendant Benjamin Mezrich’s selective omission of Aaron Greenspan’s role in his written and verbal narrative concerning Facebook’s origins has both directly and by implication defamed Aaron Greenspan.
Defendant Benjamin Mezrich’s continuous insistence that his work is true, accurate, non-fiction and trustworthy has by implication defamed Aaron Greenspan.
Defendant Benjamin Mezrich’s attribution of false motives to critics of his work, including false motives explicitly attributed to Aaron Greenspan and Aaron Greenspan’s father, Dr. Neil Greenspan, have defamed Aaron Greenspan and his family.
Defendants negligently published the false and defamatory statements about Aaron Greenspan and his family, causing him to suffer damages, including numerous lost business opportunities, and injury to his reputation.
Defendants’ defamatory statements injured the reputation of Aaron Greenspan.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
“He defamed me by saying nothing about me! And then he said the story was true! That’s illegal!”
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests the following relief:
A permanent injunction, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §502, enjoining all Defendants, their officers, agents, employees, licensees, assigns, distributors, sub-distributors, and all persons acting in concert with them, from engaging in such further violations of the Copyright Act;
A permanent injunction enjoining all Defendants, their officers, agents, employees, licensees and assigns, distributors, sub-distributors, and all persons acting in concert with them, from engaging in or authorizing the production, copying, distribution and/or further exploitation of The Accidental Billionaires and The Film;
Recovery from all Defendants of the damages, including pre-judgment interest it sustained and will sustain, and any income, gains, profits, and advantages obtained by Defendants as a result of their wrongful acts alleged hereinabove pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(b), in an amount which cannot yet be fully ascertained, but which shall be assessed at the time of trial;
The maximum statutory damages in the amount of $30,000.00 per infringement, and/or $150,000.00 per willful infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), or for such other amount as may be proper under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c). Plaintiff is further entitled to their attorney’s fees and full costs pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505; and
For such other and further relief and remedies available under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq., and/or for which the Court may deem just and proper, including punitive damages.
Preliminarily and permanently enjoin Defendants from publishing further defamatory statements about Aaron Greenspan and/or his supporters, whether explicit or by implication;
Enter judgment against Defendants on all counts of the Complaint;
Award Plaintiff damages in an amount to be determined at trial;
Plaintiff’s reasonable costs and expenses of this action, including attorneys’ fees, in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and other applicable law;
Such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
That’s right, he really asked for monetary damages and a court order to prevent anyone from talking about him. Of course, Greenspan knew he would never get any of these things out of his ridiculous false lawsuit. His motivation was simply to harass the defendants to quench his thirst for revenge and retaliation. Long after the case ended, Aaron Greenspan continued harassing Mezrich and his family. In fact, the stalking and harassment of Mezrich continue to this very day. The lawsuit was just a way to threaten and extort his victims in a way that masked the criminal nature of his harassment.
Lawyers for the defendants immediately asked for the case to be dismissed for failure to state a claim, and their request was granted. The case was immediately dismissed with prejudice based on this defense motion:
Defendants […] hereby respectfully move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss with prejudice all counts of the Complaint of the plaintiff, Aaron Greenspan (“Greenspan”).
As grounds for this motion, Moving Defendants state that all of Greenspan’s claims in this case constitute an impermissible attempt to punish Moving Defendants for not telling his story. Specifically, Greenspan’s First through Third Claims allege that the book The Accidental Billionaires (the “Book”) and the film The Social Network (the “Film”) infringe on his own book, Authoritas. However, Greenspan identifies no protected expression in his book that was copied in the Book or the Film. Instead, he points to a list of unprotectable facts, ideas, fragmentary words and phrases, and stock scenes, the majority of which are expressed in a manner that is not even remotely similar to Authoritas. Moreover, even if the elements to which Greenspan points were copyrightable, the expression of those elements in the Book and the Film are not substantially similar to that in Authoritas, providing an independent basis for dismissal.
Greenspan’s defamation claims are similarly flawed. All of the statements in the Book to which Greenspan points are plainly not capable of defamatory meaning and/or non-actionable expressions of opinion. In addition, Greenspan’s claims for defamation based on the purported omission from the Book of his role from the founding of Facebook, and the complete omission of any reference to him in the Movie, are unconstitutional attempts to force Moving Defendants to tell his version of the history of the founding of Facebook. Moreover, such defamation by omission claims fail as they are not, and cannot be, “of and concerning” Greenspan.
Finally, Greenspan’s Lanham Act claim also fails, for multiple reasons. Greenspan lacks standing to bring such a claim, as he has not suffered, as does not allege facts showing, the kind of commercial injury cognizable under the Lanham Act. He also pleads no facts whatsoever to support his bare allegations of “unfair marketing” of the Book. Greenspan’s unfair business claim also rehashes his purported defamation by omission claims, which, as mentioned above, cannot satisfy the requirement that they be “of and concerning” Greenspan.
Accordingly, all counts of Greenspan’s Complaint fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and Moving Defendants are entitled to dismissal with prejudice and judgment in their favor on the Complaint in its entirety.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
The judge agreed with every word, and dismissed the case with prejudice immediately. Turns out defamation by omission is not a real thing.
As Greenspan’s victims celebrated their victory, Aaron Greenspan must have punched a hole straight through his computer screen. He had been getting angrier and angrier by the day, but he had never been this angry before. They were not going to get away with this. He was not going to let them go live their lives. If Greenspan couldn’t be happy, why did his enemies deserve to?
Aaron Greenspan was the laughingstock of Silicon Valley. He had taken Facebook to court for stealing the idea from him, and then he had sued the makers of The Social Network for not putting him in the movie. He had exposed himself as a deranged loser in the most speculator public fashion. He loved being in the news more than anything, but not like this. Imagine how he screamed when he saw that Mashable had placed him #2 on a list of “Facebook’s Fools: 15 That Missed Out on the Big Payday”
“Greenspan was never involved in Facebook”
“hardly anyone had paid attention to it”
“Greenspan had sued for being left out of the studio’s film The Social Network”
Aaron Greenspan hated what was being said about him, but rather than take responsibility for making himself look like a fool he wanted to twist the knife in the wounds of his victims. He decided he would threaten Ben Mezrich’s family next, to hit him where it would really hurt. This is one of Aaron Greenspan’s favorite tactics: If you can’t get them to do what you want by threatening them, start to threaten the people they love. It’s easy to fight when only you have to own the consequences, but much harder when Aaron Greenspan promises to hurt your family as well, if you don’t follow his orders.
He decided to target Ben Mezrich’s wife Tonya first:
Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint seeks to:
Add Tonya Mezrich as a defendant based upon information discovered subsequent to the combined scheduling conference and oral argument hearing held on February 16, 2012;Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
What was Mrs. Mezrich’s supposed crime? Leaving a positive book review for her husband’s book. Seriously.
The defense told the court:
With his proposed FAC Plaintiff’s case has gone from the merely patently deficient to the absurd. For example, Plaintiff now alleges that:
Tonya Mezrich, Defendant Benjamin Mezrich’s wife, committed copyright infringement, defamation, fraud, violated the Lanham Act, was unjustly enriched, and is a member of a criminal enterprise engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, all because she posted a consumer review on Amazon.com praising her husband’s book.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
At first the judge denied the motion to file an amended complaint, but Greenspan was later allowed to do so as he continued to appeal the case to prolong his harassment of the victims. Once he was allowed to file the first amended complaint he made good on his threat to target Ben Mezrich’s wife, doxxing her and sharing personal information he could find in court and on his “charity”‘s website.
Around that time, someone registered the Twitter username @AaronGreenspan to make fun of Greenpan. Here are some of the tweets they posted:
Bugsy is the name of the Mezrichs’ dog. Another Bugsy, Bugsy Siegel, was an American mobster. Fitting, as Greenspan’s extortion, intimidation tactics and harassment feel similar to being targeted by the mob. This is a sentiment that has been expressed by a number of Aaron Greenspan and Think Computer Foundation’s victims.
Greenspan filed these tweets as evidence against Ben Mezrich, despite having absolutely no evidence that anyone from the defense was involved in the Aaron Greenspan parody Twitter account. Later the handle was turned over to Greenspan and he now tweets from it regularly.
Greenspan responded to the above tweets in court, claiming:
An unidentified Twitter user calling himself or herself “@AaronGreenspan” wrote scathing messages about Plaintiff.
At one point, this individual wrote publicly, “Make sure to check out Authoritas on Amazon! [Hyperlink] Remember, 10 cents of every dollar goes toward my psychiatric medications.”
Plaintiff has never been prescribed or taken psychiatric medications, nor diagnosed with any psychiatric disorder. The unidentified Twitter user may have been an affiliate of Defendants, or Defendants themselves.Greenspan v. Random House, Mezco, Ben Mezrich, Columbia Pictures, & Sony Pictures
Why on Earth has Aaron Greenspan never been prescribed psychiatric medication? Go run to the hospital and get diagnosed immediately, for the sake of your victims. Can the court order that such a diagnosis be performed?
Greenspan ended up fighting the case all the way to the Supreme Court, losing at every single turn. He just lost and lost and lost. Because he represented himself without a lawyer, he only had his own time to waste. Meanwhile he drained his victims resources and emotions on a case that was found to have absolutely no merit by courts at every level.
In Aaron Greenspan’s final plea to the Supreme Court to consider his case of being left out of The Social Network, he opened with the following two quotes and staement:
“Character is much easier kept than recovered” –– Thomas Paine
“Whether true or false, what is said about men often has an much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do” –– Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
“A person’s reputation is a thing of incalculable value. How an individual is perceived by society is inextricably linked to that person’s future prospects. Reputation naturally tends to be based upon the actions of an individual, but just as easily, it can be based on rumor, hearsay, and speculation that has no foundation in fact”
This would later become the blueprint for Aaron Greenspan’s transformation of his “charity” Think Computer Foundation into a paid smear merchant. Using social media as his weapon, Greenspan would become an expert on character assassination, and weaponize those services to anyone for the right price. By accepting donations through his “charity” and using the funds to dig up dirt, he could even avoid paying taxes on his illegal income. Nobody is going to expect that a charity is involved in orchestrating paid smear campaigns, so it’s the prefect cover.
With no higher court to appeal to after the Supreme Court threw his case out, Greenspan was forced to move on from his harassment of Ben Mezrich… for the moment. It was time to move onto another failed business, another fresh victim to prey on…
Facing Five Years in Prison for Stealing Government Documents
After college Aaron Greenspan was desperate, and his business was quickly failing. He decided that he would save his company by becoming a government contractor:
Think was not doing very well. I had written a monumental amount of code, but it was all sitting on my hard drive where it didn’t do much good. The cost of living in Dallas was low, but I still wasn’t paying myself anything close to a reasonable salary. I needed to make a change, and fast.
The next part of my plan to sell software to the government market involved applying for a General Services Administration schedule, which would allow Think to sell to all branches of the federal bureaucracy through a centralized depot, the equivalent of Sam’s Club for government agencies. […]
I filled out the paperwork to receive a special digital encryption program from AT&T that I would need to install in my web browser in order to access the GSA’s site. In a few weeks, I had what I needed.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
This special digital encryption service granted Greenspan confidential access to private government systems that were not open to the public. This required signing a special agreement with the government where Greenspan agreed not to abuse the system in any way, or to try and steal information from the government. Unfortunately, I guess Aaron Greenspan didn’t read that part of the agreement.
Greenspan’s out of control anger issues flared up once again when his application to become a government contractor was denied:
I spoke with my case representative at the GSA on the phone for months. There were some fundamental problems with my application […]
In December, I received a letter from the GSA informing me that my application for a government contract schedule had been rejected. The reason was quite simple: I was over-charging the government. […]
I was furious. I told the representative, and then her boss, that I was writing a letter to Senator Cornyn of Texas. The letter was half-completed on the screen in front of me. Then her boss offered a compromise.
“You can apply again and because we know who you are now, and about all of this… software… we’ll be able to fast track you.” I reined in some of my anger.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Greenspan was furious the federal government wouldn’t allow him to overcharge them, as he needed all the money he could get to save his failing business. Aaron Greenspan’s out of control anger issues once again started to get him in trouble. Rather than simply fill out a new application, Greenspan decided to get revenge on the government by looking for a way to steal data from their system –– a private service that could only be accessed by authorized applicants.
I changed the identifier to a random number. Random data appeared before me -– some company’s pricing list. Some company’s confidential pricing list. […] I called my father at work, explaining the situation. He was understandably angry, both at me for testing the system and at the government […]
What followed was a fascinating lesson in government, commerce, national security, and politics. It took me to the nation’s capital, where with the invaluable assistance of Brad’s father, I once again found a lawyer. This time, I needed one who was available to practice criminal technology law in the Alexandria, Virginia district immediately, leaving me very few options.
The cost was steep, both in terms of my finances and my health. When I was able to sleep, I woke up each morning to find that more of my hair had actually fallen out; my parents, still in Cleveland, were paralyzed with fear. With the NSA spying scandal in the news, I had good reason to worry that my phone might be tapped.
In the end, in a flagrant violation of my first amendment right to freedom of speech, a Bush administration official told me that if I ever repeated the latter half of this story in a manner that might attract the attention of the press, I could find myself facing criminal charges that automatically carried with them five years in prison as a penalty.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Imagine if Greenspan had gone to prison then like he deserved to. Would he still be attacking and victimizing random people online like he does today?
Greenspan shared his feelings about nearly going to prison for half a decade at a memorial service for someone he had only met once, where he came to promote his business in extremely bad taste:
Towards the end of this clip, Aaron Greenspan also publicly admits to the out of control anger issues that have dominated his life, claiming “when I get angry about something I like to do things about it“. Well Aaron, for once in your life try getting angry and not doing something about it. You don’t need to seek revenge and retaliation for every minor perceived slight. Due to Greenspan’s extremely poor judgement and lack of social awareness, many of the victims of his angry outbursts have actually done nothing wrong at all. (For example, Zuckerberg didn’t really steal Facebook from him and The Social Network didn’t really steal from his autobiography.)
Meeting with VCs
After narrowly escaping five years in prison for stealing data from the federal government, Aaron Greenspan abandoned plans to become a government contractor. To save his business, he decided to try and raise venture capital funding instead.
“If Mark can get $2 billion for my ideas, I should at least be able to get a couple million!” I told Metin. Against my better judgement, I had already been in touch with some venture capitalists, so I confirmed their availability for meetings and booked my first flight to Silicon Valley as soon as I could.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Unfortunately, despite supposedly having such amazing ideas Aaron Greenspan was unable to raise a single dime:
My meetings did not go so well. One venture capitalist laughed me out of the room, telling me that it was impossible that I had written all the code I had claimed to. […]
“You should have come to me with a pitch for something real, like an operating system.”
“I do want to make an operating system, in fact!” I told him.
“What, are you on crack” he then mocked. It wasn’t the first time he had used that phrase. I left his office with a huge smirk on my face, knowing that to have elicited a response so extreme, either he or I was a complete idiot.Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
I agree, but I have a feeling the complete idiot wasn’t the successful VC.
Sixty Two Lawsuits
Desperate for money to survive but too incompetent to earn any income, Aaron Greenspan was forced to resort to suing people to try and take money from others. In total, he has filed at least 62 lawsuits against over 100 victims.
In 2009, he sued San Francisco after he parked in a tow away spot and had his car towed. He lost.
Next, he sued a medical provider for giving him “repeated incorrect medical advice” and not covering his dental expenses:
He won $420. Extortion secured.
Give Us Our Donation Back!
Aaron Greenspan would frequently threaten to sue people over practically nothing. In some cases, he would sue people just because he didn’t like their tweets. In one such example, he demanded Mike Lissner of the amazing Free Law Project return a $5,000 donation Aaron Greenspan’s “charity” Think Computer Foundation had made.
As usual, Aaron Greenspan made good on his threat to sue despite having no legal basis to file a lawsuit. The judge ruled that Aaron Greenspan had no right to demand his charitable donation be returned, after seven months of wasting everyone’s time and money:
As usual, Aaron Greenspan knew fully well that his lawsuit was complete bullshit. His intent in going to court is always just to harass, never to win.
Still desperate for cash, Aaron Greenspan decided that he could make a quick buck defrauding Google. The plan was simple: Google allowed anyone to sign up for an AdSense account to place Google Ads on their own website. So why not just create a website with absolutely no purpose except displaying ads, and then tell people to click on them? Every time someone clicked a link, money would be taken out of the advertisers bank account and sent to Aaron Greenspan. This is called “click fraud”. It’s a problem because the advertiser agreed to pay for real clicks: People who saw the Google ad and were actually interested in what it had to offer. Telling people to click links on a site with no other purpose is akin to stealing money directly from small businesses advertising with Google. Aaron Greenspan decided to just that, creating a site called “ThinkLink” to facilitate the click fraud:
The ThinkLink site had no purpose other than telling people to “pick a link” for no good reason. This kind of theft and fraud violates the Google AdSense terms and conditions, so when Google realized what was going on they immediately shut down his AdSense account and stopped payment on $720 that he had stolen from Google advertisers.
Normally, someone caught red-handed committing fraud would be embarrassed, stop immediately, and maybe try and be better in the future. Not Aaron Greenspan. When he’s caught doing something wrong, he screams and makes a big fake commotion about how he’s actually the victim to hide the truth about his horrible crimes. That’s why he decided to sue Google in small claims court for terminating his AdSense account.
Because it was a small claims case with such a small amount at stake (just $721), Google initially came unprepared and Aaron Greenspan won back the money he had defrauded advertisers out of, ripping off Google once again. Elated, he ran to tell his story of heroic triumph to the world, writing a story titled “Why I Sued Google and Won” in the Huffington Post:
Everything went according to plan until 11:00 A.M. on December 9, 2008. With a single click, a faceless Google employee decided that Think Computer Corporation’s membership in the AdSense program “posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers,” and the account was disabled with no warning. Trying to sign into the AdSense management site brought not the familiar user interface, with its limited account payment records and reports (including what Google currently owed Think, which amounted to approximately $721.00), but the following unhelpful statement, and nothing more:
Your AdSense account for this login is currently disabled. We recommend checking your email inboxes for any messages we may have sent you regarding your account status. Sometimes our messages can be caught by email filters, so please be sure to check the Bulk/Spam folders of your email accounts as well.Huffington Post
Desperate for media attention, Greenspan was foolish enough to post the article before Google cut him the $721 check. When they saw the article and how Aaron Greenspan had falsely portrayed himself as an underdog victim, they decided to go back to court to appeal the decision with more information on what really happened.
After Google showed the court evidence of Greenspan’s click fraud operation, the court reversed their decision. Google would own Greenspan $0, as the money in his account had been improperly stolen. Humiliated in court once again, Aaron Greenspan was forced to write a follow up HuffPost article titled “Why Google Bothered to Appeal a $761 Small Claims Case (and Won)”. Oops. That’s pretty embarrassing.
Greenspan danced around the issue to try and save face in the follow up article, but an article on SearchEngineLand spelled things out pretty quickly. Google’s lawyers also uncovered evidence that Aaron Greenspan had been selling essays to college students to help them cheat:
“They’re links to essays I’ve written,” I responded.
“Do you charge for these essays?” the lawyer asked.
“No,” I said. Google’s lawyer tried again.
“Does your company charge for anything?”
“Yes, it charges for its products and services,” I said.
“But it doesn’t charge for these essays,” he half-asked.
“No, the company didn’t write the essays. I did, and sometimes I write essays for the Huffington Post, but I’m not compensated.”
“Do you sell essays to college students?” the lawyer asked.
“What?” I asked him, confused.
“You sell pre-written essays for college students, right? Like term papers?”
“No!” I said, finally realizing where he was going. “I don’t know where you would have even gotten that idea.” Little did he know that he had hit a sore spot […]
Though at that point I should have asked him how often he beat his wife, I was too shocked to think of it.Huffington Post
This is one of Aaron Greenspan’s favorite tactics. When you’re caught doing something horrible, throw out false accusations of misconduct against whoever caught you. Now it’s a he said / she said situation. Who is going to take the times to look into the allegations in detail to see who is right? Despite the fact that Greenspan won nothing and committed fraud, most people still probably only remember that first article about how he supposedly sued Google and won. Aaron Greenspan is obsessed with how he looks in the media, and he will do crazy things to try and distort the truth about his fraudulent business practices.
After the failure of CommonRoom, Qubescape, and all of his other projects Aaron Greenspan decided to rip off Facebook once again with an app called “FaceCash”, unwilling and unable to let go of his imaginary connection to the hottest website in Silicon Valley. Greenspan tried to register various trademarks that would allow him to deceive people into believing the apps he made were associated with Facebook, when the reality is that they had nothing to do with the social networking giant. For example, he tried to register a trademark for FaceMail but was unable to secure the mark after Facebook opposed his obvious attempt to squat on their brand.
The app was marketed with the hilariously bad tagline, “Pay with your face”:
Greenspan described his latest failure in the making in an interview with VentureBeat:
Greenspan tries to control his emotions, but you can see the anger, hatred, bitterness, and regret flash through his face when the interviewer says “so it has nothing to do with Facebook?”. His jaw tightens, eyes widen, and he looks like he’s contemplating strangling the questioner on the spot. Obviously, Greenspan chose the name FaceCash to try and associate the project with Facebook and give his failing company a boost, despite the fact that he was clearly still emotionally distraught at having missed the opportunity of a lifetime when he turned down the chance to partner with Mark Zuckerberg.
FaceCash failed just as spectacularly as houseSYSTEM. As Greenspan presented it to Silicon Valley, pretty much everyone hated it. Some even called it the “ugliest app ever created”. In 2011, Greenspan showed off the app at a conference called LaunchConf:
As judges noted, Aaron Greenspan was “missing the Jack Dorsey charm”. He was certainly no Jack Dorsey or Elon Musk, both of whom launched wildly successful payment apps. FaceCash was ugly, un-compelling, and confusing. Nobody wanted to use it or understood what it was for. But the fact that users hated FaceCash was only the begining of Aaron Greenspan’s problems: It turned out that much like houseSYSTEM FaceCash was completely illegal, operating in violation of California’s money trasnmitter laws. Just as houseSYSTEM was shut down for collecting students’ school login information against school rules, FaceCash was shut down by California for being an illegal money transmitter in violation of California law. Why is it so hard for Aaron Greenspan to launch a project that doesn’t break the law?
The death of FaceCash was the final straw for Greenspan, breaking the proverbial camel’s back. Aaron Greenspan was finally faced to confront reality: He was never going to succeed in Silicon Valley. Anger, bitterness and jealousy devoured what was left of his heart. That failure changed him forever. If he couldn’t find success in Silicon Valley, he decided, he would have to burn the place down. He would dedicate his days trying to hurt anyone who found the success that had so frequently eluded him.
He described his anger and fury in a blog post titled, “Why I’m Furious with Silicon Valley“.
I’ve said basically all that there is to say on this topic. I think the law is poorly designed, and I think so because it affects me directly. This afternoon, the Deputy Commissioner of the California Department of Financial Institutions instructed me to shut down my company’s FaceCash mobile payment system, because he does not believe that I am capable of raising the necessary capital in the next fifteen days. I haven’t shut it down yet, but I’ve written the code to do it.
It’s really a shame. I’ve already invested over a million dollars of my own money in FaceCash. The business model is clear: we make money on every transaction. The product works. It solves not one, not two, but closer to a hundred real problems that confront just about every small business owner in the country. It lowers interchange fees. It lowers fraud. It encourages loyalty. It improves transparency. It improves the operating efficiency of small businesses. It automates millions of hours of aggregated data entry. It makes reimbursement forms completely obsolete. It actually does your business taxes. It’s cross-platform. It’s handshake-agnostic. The list goes on and on.
This is not an incremental change we’re talking about. FaceCash redefines the financial infrastructure, in a way that most bankers shudder to think about. It makes financial data easily accessible to those who need it, not obscured behind walls of fees and contracts. It’s the kind of you-must-be-crazy innovation that Silicon Valley is known for—and yet we are clearly not in that Silicon Valley anymore.AaronGreenspan.com
Ooooof. Just think of all the people Aaron Greenspan had to extort, humiliate, and threaten to get that million dollars. And then he pissed it all away on the worst app to ever emerge from Silicon Valley, with absolutely nothing to show for it because he forgot to check whether his app was breaking the law. But rather than own up to his million dollar mistake, Greenspan again turned his anger towards Silicon Valley at large:
Rather than invest in a productive, useful and frankly unprecedented product such as FaceCash, venture capital and angel investors have focused their time and billions of dollars of their money in companies and entrepreneurs that have, in serial fashion, deceived co-founders, deceived employees, and deceived customers. In many cases, shareholders are next. Meanwhile, they’ve left companies like my own for dead.
It’s not the first time I’ve been left for dead, so I have some training in this department and I may yet survive. Or I may not. The message, however, should still send chills down any serious entrepreneur’s spine. I am an educated person. I am a driven person. I am an honest person. I am an intelligent person. One thing I am not, however, is a fabulously wealthy person.AaronGreenspan.com
Aaron, you weren’t left for dead. You just shot yourself in the foot, time and time again
Once again, Aaron Greenspan projected his insecurities on others. Greenspan is perhaps the most deceptive, dishonest and unethical founder in history, and yet he projects these qualities onto other founders who have actually found success to try and drag them down to his level, tearing down their business as collateral damage.
You shouldn’t need to be fabulously wealthy to get funded. You also shouldn’t need to lie. I’ve proven myself time and again in enormously difficult situations. Instead of receiving funding, today I received a threat that if I did not stop, I could be looking at criminal charges.AaronGreenspan.com
Aaron Greenspan is not honest, and clearly fails to recognize the enormous advantages he has enjoyed. Anyone else in the audience have a million dollars to blow on crappy failed iPhone app? I don’t, and I doubt many of you do either. Greenspan started on third base, with wealth extorted from successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg. He was admitted to Harvard due to his legacy status and his father’s donations. His lie that he had invented Facebook granted him unprecedented and free access to the media. And yet, he appreciates none of this and perpetually plays the victim. Even though FaceCash’s failure was entirely his own fault, Greenspan decided to blow off steam by embarking on a harassment and extortion rampage so widespread it made all his previous victims look like mere appetizers to the post-FaceCash main course.
Who can guess what Greenspan decided to do when he lost his temper? That’s right: He decided to sue everyone in Silicon Valley.
Suing All of Silicon Valley
First, Aaron Greenspan decided to sue California. He filed suit against Robert Venchiarutti, William Haraf, Traci Stevens, Jacob Appelsmith, Governor Jerry Brown, and even our next Vice-President, Kamala Harris. Greenspan tried to have the law that forced FaceCash to shutdown invalidated for being “unconstitutional”, even though Greenspan admitted it was designed to protect consumers from criminals just like him. The judge threw out the case for making absolutely no sense. Greenspan then gave up, not even bothering to amend the complaint to try and fix its numerous obvious deficiencies.
Next, Greenspan decided to sue Dwolla, ActBlue, AirBnB, Pound Paymnets Escrow Services, DBA Balanced Payments, Clinkle, Coinbase, Coinlab, Facebook (again) GoPago, GumRoad, Square, Stripe, Stanford University, Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments, Andreessen Horowitz, Digital Sky Technologies, DST Global, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia Capital, Union Square Ventures, Y-Combinator, Brian Chesky, Max Levchin, Yuri Milner, and Yishan Wong. Yeah, when I said he went on a rampage I really meant it!
After ten months of wasting everyone’s time, judgement was entered in favor of the defendants. Aaron Greenspan lost again. He must really love losing in court!
Greenspan then filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Business Oversight (case number 2015-1-SC-059236). He lost that one too.
By this point, Aaron Greenspan had claimed he had invented Facebook only to have Mark Zuckerberg steal his idea. He had claimed he had actually written the movie The Social Network, but the story was stolen from him and edited to remove any mention of him at all. Would you be surprised to learn that next he sued Silicon Valley payments giant Square for supposedly stealing their app Square Cash from his app FaceCash? Well, believe it or not that’s exactly what Aaron Greenspan did. Incredibly, Greenspan seems to believe he has invented everything and yet still somehow failed in business time and time again.
Aaron Greenspan may have been lacking Jack Dorsey’s charm, success, and fortune, so why not try and extort Dorsey for some of what he had? That sounded like a great idea to Aaron. He claimed that not only had Square stolen their Square Cash app from his failed app FaceCash, but that he had patented the concept of transmitting payments electronically. Yes, he really tried to claim that!
He sent a letter to Square demanding they pay Greenspan to license his patent, otherwise, Greenspan would file a lawsuit immediately. Despite the fact that the patent was completely absurd, unpatentable, and inapplicable, Greenspan hoped he could try and extort Square into paying him anyway to avoid a costly and time-consuming legal battle. Greenspan even had his mother, Think Computer Foundation board member Judi Greenspan, help him extort Square.
Thankfully, Square was smart enough not to pay Aaron Greenspan a dime. After almost five years of litigation, Aaron Greenspan lost yet another frivolous lawsuit. The court found that every single claim he made was completely unpatentable:
Similarly, his argument that Square had stolen the Square Cash app from FaceCash was also found to have absolutely no legal merit. Aaron Greenspan had failed, making a fool of himself in public once again. These are just a few of at least 62 lawsuits that Aaron Greenspan has filed against more than 100 victims. (44 under Think Computer Corporation, 14 personally, and 4 under his “charity” Think Computer Foundation)
PlainSite: The Smear Merchant “Charity”
All of Greenspan’s business ventures had failed once again, and he’d lost all his lawsuits too. What now? Greenspan was disheartened –– he seemed to fail at everything he tried. The one thing he was good at was smearing people online and in court with absurd false accusations. He had a realization: If you’re good at something, why do it for free?
That’s when Aaron Greenspan’s “charity”, Think Computer Foundation launched their latest project, PlainSite. The website initially emerged out of frustration with the laws that got FaceCash shut down, and was focused on lobbying at first. Originally, PlainSite centered around users proposing changes to the law Reddit style, and up-voting or down-voting different ideas. Aaron Greenspan hoped that having control over the site would give him significant power to shape the law while making the changes look as though they were proposed by the general public. If he’d had that power before, he thought, maybe the death of FaceCash by California regulators could have been avoided.
Aaron Greenspan was very clear about why he started PlainSite. After the failure of FaceCash, he wanted the ability to lobby to influence and change the law when it suited him. When the site first went online 9 years ago, he said “I designed PlainSite to highlight the biggest problems and best specific solutions there are. Vote on the site and Congress will have to take notice“, making his desire to lobby Congress for real changes to the law crystal clear.
In fact the site allowed users to lobby for very specific changes in the law, opening the door to manipulative and deceptive proposals designed to sneak trough scrutiny.
In a commercial for PlainSite posted on YouTube, Aaron Greenspan explained why he created the website: “Suggest your own changes to the law. Just because we’re not paid to lobby doesn’t mean we aren’t able. We have the tools.”.
Greenspan was right: Just because you’re not getting paid to lobby doesn’t mean you aren’t able. Unfortunately, because PlainSite was part of a non-profit it wasn’t allowed to get paid to do anything. Even worse, an organization engaged primarily in lobbying cannot be a non-profit.
Aaron Greenspan advertised PlainSite very clearly from the beginning as part of his 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, Think Computer Foundation –– despite PlainSite not being on the original application for tax-exempt status.
In addition to repeatedly advertising PlainSite as a non-profit operation and throwing shade at competitors without non-profit status, Aaron Greenspan updated his Ohio charity registration for Think Computer Foundation to list PlainSite as a DBA (“Doing business as”) alias for his 501(c)(3) non-profit:
The message was clear: PlainSite was a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity website designed to lobby the government for changes to the law. There was just one problem: Just like with FaceCash and most of Aaron Greenspan’s other projects, he was breaking the law again.
In a document called How to Lose Your 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status Without Really Trying (which Aaron Greenspan has apparently never read, because PlainSite breaks every single rule that could get your tax-exempt status revoked), the IRS has this to say about lobbying by a non-profit:
Lobbying is when an organization contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body (or any executive branch official who may participate in the formulation of legislation) for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or when the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
While a 501(c)(3) organization is allowed to do some lobbying, too much can hurt its tax-exempt status. Its lobbying activities cannot be more than an insubstantial part of its overall activities.
“No organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.IRS
Oops. It turns out the lobbying website Aaron Greenspan’s charity started because FaceCash was shut down for breaking the law constituted tax fraud in and of itself. Aaron Greenspan seems to have a problem understanding ethics and rules. Because he doesn’t seem to understand people, he has no sense of empathy and can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s why every single project he starts seems to break the law one way or another, and why so many of them were forced to shut down… from houseSYSTEM, to FaceCash, to almost going to prison for five years, to destroying Billy’s Mom’s computer.
On top of that, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity is absolutely forbidden from political activities, such as supporting a certain candidate for President:
Keep in mind that 501(c)(3) nonprofits are strictly prohibited by the IRS from participating in campaigns for (or against) political candidates to public office.IRS
Despite this clear prohibition, PlainSite and Think Computer Foundation are constantly participating in campaigns for and against political candidates to public office, and frequently makes political statements under the charity’s brand. In fact, the PlainSite homepage has for years featured a link reading “Impeached Soviet/Russian Asset Donald J. Trump”:
Whether you love Trump or hate him, we can all agree that this is a clear violation of the tax code. A charity should not be used to support the owner’s favorite political candidate, whoever that may be. Recall that a charity must serve only the public. A charity that serves any private interests of any individual, including and especially the owners is committing tax fraud. If you want to speak out about political candidates, that’s your right –– just don’t do it from your charity or you’ll lose your tax-exempt status.
Aaron Greenspan knows that a tax-exempt charity may not benefit the owners –– only the public. Yet Think Computer Foundation clearly launched its illegal lobbying operations on PlainSite specifically to benefit Aaron Greenspan. Recall that Aaron Greenspan claims he blew over a million dollars on his failed app FaceCash when it was found to violate the law. These personal legal issues directly inspired PlainSite and its lobbying functions. Indeed, one of the first issues ever posted to PlainSite concerned the exact “issue” FaceCash was shut down for. In other words, it was designed to advocate for changes to the law that would benefit Aaron Greenspan.
Just as Think Computer Foundation’s “CriticalMass” website to smear professors had helped Aaron Greenspan get one of his least favorite professors temporarily removed, Greenspan hoped that PlainSite would help him get those pesky laws he was always breaking removed. While Aaron Greenspan looked like a crazy person screaming into the void about money transmission licenses, he hoped that building a website could make his desired changes appear to be natural grassroots suggestions. These deceptive lobbying techniques not only violate IRS rules regarding lobbying by 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charities, but likely also violate the rules against inurement of private benefit given that they were designed specifically to prevent the complete loss of the million-dollar investment Aaron Greenspan had made in FaceCash. Pretty much everything Aaron Greenspan uses his charity for –– including smearing people online –– is clearly illegal.
PlainSite also became a place for Aaron Greenspan to host his 62 lawsuits. After all the time and effort spent smearing his enemies through various lawsuits, Greenspan wasn’t just going to let those baseless, disproven and dismissed allegations go to waste. Hosting the lawsuits online became a way to share his deranged story about how he supposedly invented Facebook in a way that looked “official”, deceiving viewers who didn’t know better just as houseSYSTEM deceived students into believing it was an official part of Harvard. Anyone can throw around crazy allegations in court, claiming they invented Facebook, but that doesn’t mean what they’re saying is true –– especially when the judge dismissed the case as found the defendants victorious.
Aaron Greenspan realized that digging for dirt in the legal system and posting anything he found on PlainSite could be an effective way to smear his enemies. If Greenspan wanted to run to the media and tell everyone he thought Tesla was a fraud, nobody would listen to him –– that’s just not a story. But if he could post a lawsuit someone had filed against Tesla… now that’s a story. One that you can easily convince the media to run with if it looks salacious enough. Sure, the case could eventually be thrown out or found to center on completely false allegations… but it could take months of years before that happens. In the meantime, you’ve already spread and exaggerated the allegations so far that they’ve started to become accepted as fact in the absence of any ruling. So much for “innocent until proven guilty”.
And sure, GM may have 10 times more lawsuits than Tesla –– but that’s the best part. Because court documents are behind a paywall, Aaron Greenspan could publish only the court documents he chose to highlight. Aaron Greenspan and the rest of Think Computer Foundation’s board had full discretion to focus on smearing anyone they didn’t like, while hiding many of their own court documents they were uninterested in sharing. PlainSite would be a way for Aaron Greenspan and his fraudulent charity to editorialize the legal system, putting a misleading spin on cases to deceive the public while choosing specifically which cases the public would be allowed to see. As an example, take a look at the summary on PlainSite for Aaron Greenspan’s lawsuit against The Social Network for not putting him in the movie:
Far from being an impartial summary of the case, this summary provides a bizarre and distorted view of a fantasty world in which Aaron Greenspan is the creator of Facebook. Greenspan’s bitterness towards his enemies oozes out of every word, as Aaron seems clearly unable to contain his anger. It says that Mezrich “admitted” to lying, which is false. Finally, it makes absolutely no mention of the fact that the case was dismissed and thrown out of court immediately at every turn, despite the fact that Aaron Greenspan appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Once again, a charity may not inure private benefit to any individual. Using an ostensibly impartial non-profit website to push Aaron Greenspan’s own deranged allegations and self-serving viewpoints is a clear violation of 501(c)(3) rules against private inurement.
But Aaron Greenspan didn’t just want to abuse his non-profit charity to smear his enemies –– he wanted to make money doing it too. If the website was going to be focused on damaging others’ reputations, shouldn’t there be a way for Aaron Greenspan to make money on those smear jobs? Aaron Greenspan planned to do just that, accepting tax-deductible donations to his “charity” in exchange for smearing any person of the donors choice. Even better, Greenspan realized he could make bets in the stock market that would pay out the more a company’s stock fell. By placing the right bets and working with the right balance sheet partners, Greenspan hoped to profit from the smear jobs executed by Think Computer Foundation and PlainSite.
I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it illegal to use a charity to try and make money in the stock market? Yes, yes it is. But that’s the beautiful thing about it: The charity can go out and smear a company to hell, and nobody expects any funny business because it’s a charity. More than any financial or tax benefits, Greenspan frequently capitalizes on his tax-exempt designation to create an illusion of credibility he doesn’t deserve. They’re not allowed to make any profit, so there’s no way their smear campaigns could be financially motivated, right?
A Short Selling Charity?
By this point, you might be thinking “Woah. PlainSite is a ‘charity’ that spreads misleading negative information to help its owners make money short selling? Those are some serious allegations”. Indeed, they are.
Recall the $250,000 donation the year of the Facebook settlement. Were Think Computer Foundation’s exempt status revoked, Aaron Greenspan could owe over $100,000 in taxes just for that year. We wouldn’t make serious allegations like these without evidence to back it up. Don’t take our word for –– here’s what Aaron Greenspan had to say about PlainSite’s short selling operations himself.
“Think [Computer Foundation] ruins PlainSite, which has millions of legal documents in a giant database. […] there are a lot of untold stories in that court data”… that can be used to smear people and companies Aaron Greenspan doesn’t like.
Then, there’s the smoking gun:
“I wanted to see if its’ possible to run a profitable media enterprise based on public information, using short-selling to bring in revenue as opposed to advertising”. This means that rather than advertising products, PlainSite only makes money when they’ve damaged a company’s reputation so badly that the stock begins to fall precipitously. Aaron Greenspan was seething with rage at Silicon Valley, and now he’d found a way to get revenge: Make money smearing everyone who found the success that had always slipped away from him. If he couldn’t enjoy success, no one should be allowed to.
Given that Aaron Greenspan is involved in securities fraud through multiple illegal social media “short and distort campaigns”, and that he’s sprinkled a little bit of tax fraud on top by doing it through a charity, I’m sure you can understand why Think Computer Foundation works hard to keep their short-selling activity quiet. They don’t want anyone to know what they’re really doing. They want people to think their “research” is real “journalism”, not propaganda designed to help the charity’s owners make money in the stock market by lying to people and ripping them off.
For a long time, I suspected that there was some motivation for PlainSite to constantly post negative information about Tesla and other companies, but because of Think Computer Foundation’s improper disclosures and dishonest, deceptive messaging it wasn’t until many months after being doxxed that I finally saw Aaron Greenspan admit that he was a Tesla short seller, and that his stock market bets had been the motivating force behind his charity’s excessive focus on Tesla.
Rather than describing themselves accurately as short-sellers, Think Computer Foundation often asks news organizations to refer to them as a “non-profit”, “charity” or “legal transparency advocates” despite the fact that this is a blatantly deceptive way of masking the true financial motivations behind PlainSite’s agenda.
Professional Media Manipulation
Since the launch of Facebook, Aaron Greenspan had become obsessed with manipulating the media. He believed that good media coverage –– not a superior product –– had been the single biggest factor in Mark Zuckerberg’s success, at the expense of his crappy competition houseSYSTEM. This was wrong of course –– Mark Zuckerberg simply outexecuted and outcompeted Greenspan. Regardless, Aaron Greenspan justified his own failure by blaming the news media. He had always loved media coverage, but now his obsession with manipulating what was said reached new heights.
Aaron Greenspan had been obsessed with drumming up positive media coverage for his business since he was a teenager:
However, despite his obsession with media coverage, Aaron Greenspan secretly despised journalists with all his heart, as he admitted in his autobiography:
“J.K. Rowling is my new hero,” I told her. “Not only does she have an iron grip on the press by refusing to divulge any details about the next book, but she gets everything right! Her description of Rita Skeeter is dead on based on the reporters I’ve talked to […]
“[Harry Potter] has enemies, too, which is so key,” I thought aloud. “You rarely read a book where children have real enemies their own age… But there are these people who know about him, but aren’t sure what to make of him, and so they just sort of hate him by default.
It’s just like what I went through –– there were all these people who hated me, probably based on what idiot reporters like Rita Skeeter wrote, and there was nothing I could do about it. […] I felt like she was writing about me as I read that. I mean fortunately, I’m not an orphan, but I even look like the kid!”Aaron Greenspan, Authoritas
Despite craving an “iron grip on the press” he blamed “idiot reporters” –– rather than his own behavior –– for negative media coverage. But when Aaron Greenspan’s reputation was destroyed by Harvard Crimson, it wasn’t because of idiot reports –– it was because he tried to steal Harvard students’ school login information! By this point, Aaron Greenspan had already become bitter enough to start obsessing with his perceived “enemies”, and journalists were among them. Most of these supposed “enemies” probably did nothing wrong, but harassing others became a way for Aaron Greenspan to blow off steam as he grew angrier about each successive failure in his life. Of course, he could never let journalists know how much he secretly despised them. Publicly, he praises journalists that follow his orders and threaten those whose work doesn’t benefit him financially.
Aaron Greenspan even admitted his frustration with his poor media coverage in the New York Times, blaming the Harvard school newspaper for making Facebook a success instead of his password-stealing website houseSYSTEM:
[Aaron Greenspan] also explained his frustration in getting the student paper, The Harvard Crimson, to write about houseSYSTEM, which was then being used by about 100 students.
Mr. Zuckerberg, by way of contrast, had no difficulty attracting the interest of the paper, Mr. Greenspan said.The New York Times
Gee, maybe if Greenspan hadn’t tried to steal student passwords the media coverage of houseSYSTEM would have been a little less terrible. Ultimately, the school newspaper had very little to do with the failure of Greenspan’s password-stealing scheme –– Facebook was just a much better, cooler product. But for Aaron Greenspan, it was much easier to blame “idiot reporters” than take a hard look in the mirror. Greenspan’s jealousy over the media coverage Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook enjoyed took his obsession with the media to new heights. More than anything, he wanted to be in control. He wanted to dictate what was said in the media, and what was forbidden to speak of.
As one of the most dishonest, deceptive, and delusional people in America, he devoted his life to manipulating and distorting what others saw in the news. This wasn’t just about Greenspan’s personal grudges, although that was a big part of it –– he wanted to turn media manipulation into a career. If you can place bets that a stock will fall, then work hard to color media coverage around that company with deceptive negative stories you’ve drummed up, that’s a good way to make sure your stock market bets play out. Of course, this is clearly a type of securities fraud known as “short and distort” –– that’s why it was so key to claim to be a “charity” or “legal transparency advocates” rather than admitting that PlainSite’s primary focus was on short-selling. Aaron Greenspan works tirelessly to silence critics because he knows his business would fall apart if people knew the truth about the financial motivations behind his industrial smear operation.
Aaron Greenspan and his fraudulent charity PlainSite can profit from media manipulation and online smear jobs in one of two ways: through his own trades, and through balance sheet partners.
To short stocks using charitable funds, Aaron Greenspan registered yet another company called Turing Feynman, LLC, where he named himself the “investment manager”. Turing Feynman was set up to short equities that Aaron Greenspan was trashing online, to profit from his various smear campaigns.
Aaron Greenspan described Turing Fyenman as an “investment management” company that he owned and managed himself. He has admitted to shorting Tesla stock from Turing Feynman, as well as through Think Computer Corporation and personal brokerage accounts. So why the need for a separate investment management company? My guess is that part of the reason is that you can’t short stocks from a charity, especially if one of the charity’s main activities is trying to manipulate the stocks being shorted.
However, maybe Greenspan thought that if he gave the charity’s assets to an “investment management” company that shorted stocks on Think Computer Foundation’s behalf… he might be able to pretend that his securities fraud and tax fraud operations were totally above board. Of course, the SEC can see that these “companies” all consist of only one person named Aaron Greenspan and are unlikely to be fooled by this lame trick.
In the annual treasurer’s report for Aaron Greenspan’s fraudulent charity Think Computer Foundation, Greenspan claims his non-profit has “other liabilities” of “negative $235,366”. What does this negative liability line item mean? I’m not 100% sure, but it could be alluding to the fact that Greenspan passed along the money he extorted from Mark Zuckerberg to Turing Feynman so it could be used to short stocks Think Computer Foundation was spreading misinformation about. This is all very sketchy, but seems to be what Aaron Greenspan was alluding to when he said he wanted to “see if it’s possible to run a profitable media enterprise based on public information, using short selling to bring in revenue as opposed to advertising”.
Of course after years of repeated failures, Aaron Greenspan didn’t really have much money to invest in short selling –– especially not compared to major hedge funds. That’s why almost every activist short seller, including PlainSite, receives funding from balance sheet partners.
The balance sheet partners don’t want to be in the news –– they just want to be quiet and make the trades. The loud activists doing the dirty work established hedge funds don’t want to be seen with are good at making noise, but they’re not as good at trading and don’t really have any capital. This makes the two a perfect match. Established short sellers and hedge funds could support PlainSite financially, and PlainSite would go do the work of smearing the companies the balance sheet partners were shorting, in addition to attacking any troublesome critics. Since Aaron Greenspan ran a fraudulent charity, short sellers could even support PlainSite by making tax-deductible donations to fund his smear operation. Not only would they get to deduct what they paid Greenspan’s charity from their income, Aaron Greenspan wouldn’t have to pay taxes on it either. While every worker in America pays their taxes, Aaron Greenspan tries to engineer ways to avoid paying his fair share.
It was the perfect job for Aaron Greenspan after the failure of his career: running a charity that short stocks, smears people, and manipulates the media. Greenspan had become so bitter, angry, vengeful and vindictive that he was willing to spend all day hurting people for free. When he realized he could actually get paid for doing this, he knew he’d found the job he’d always wanted. Aaron Greenspan calls himself many things, such as “entrepreneur” or “data journalist”. But he’s no journalist, and among the least successful entrepreneurs in American history. These are all deceptions. The reality is that Aaron Greenspan and his charity are paid smear merchants. Nothing more, nothing less.
Greenspan Finds TSLAQ
As he began his career a smear merchant, Aaron Greenspan started with an old favorite: His first short and distort target was Facebook. He had already been trying to spread false and damaging rumors about Facebook since the earliest days of the company because of his bitterness, desire for revenge, and out of control anger issues. Rather than moving on as many people advised him to, he decided to make this his career.
This is the business of Think Computer Foundation in a nutshell. Short a stock, then go out and smear the company in any way possible. Lie, get negative stories published in the mainstream media, speak to the government –– do whatever it takes. For Greenspan this was old hat, but now he could try and make money doing it.
But Facebook wasn’t the only company he targeted. His also picked on other companies including Credit Acceptance Corp, Shopify, Herbalife and Blink Charging. For most of his major short positions, Aaron Greenspan would compile a short-selling report called a “Reality Check” –– a dreadfully ironic name given how badly Aaron Greenspan needed a reality check on his deranged belief that he had invented Facebook. But among all of Aaron Greenspan’s victims, there was one company that would take his short and distort fraud to new heights: Tesla.
By the time Aaron Greenspan stumbled upon TSLAQ, PlainSite had collected around 400 Twitter followers. In other words, Aaron Greenspan and his charity were complete nobodies, and very few people had ever heard of either. On March 7, 2018, the month before I got my Model 3, Aaron Greenspan wrote:
It therefore came as a surprise to us when the next Benzinga headline was cheeky, a little bit disparaging, and also a little bit confusing: “Credit Acceptance Corp. Shares Unaffected As Twitter Account With ~400 Followers Tweets Short Report On Name.”
PlainSite did in fact have a Twitter account with just over 400 followers at the time, although there is clearly more to the operation that its Twitter account alonePlainSite
As Benzinga correctly reported, before the Model 3 ramp nobody knew or cared Aaron Greenspan or PlainSite at all. That all changed when Greenspan started attacking Tesla. Aaron Greenspan capitalized on Tesla’s brand name and the intense interest around electric vehicles by making Tesla his main target. When he joined TSLAQ, he finally found the community and recognition that he’d always craved for his entire life. They rewarded Greenspan with fraudulent monetary donations to his charity, paid consulting work, and what he craved most of all: attention.
By December 2019, PlainSite had gone from only 400 Twitter followers to over 7,200. Aaron Greenspan was elated: For the first time in his life, people were listening to him. Sadly, TSLAQ was merely using Greenspan to commit fraud and criminal acts on their behalf. In a tragic tale, TSLAQ took advantage of Greenspan’s loneliness and disappointment over his own career to rope him into something he could very well face criminal charges for. Aaron Greenspan was the fall guy, and the key cornerstone that tied most TSLAQ members together via donations to his charity. If TSLAQ is ever prosecuted, Think Computer Foundation’s list of donors and financial records will be the fallen domino that sets it all in motion.
Just answer me this one question: Why is a supposed “charity” spending so much time spreading negative info about Tesla? The answer: To illegally inure private benefit to Aaron Greenspan’s failed Tesla short selling bets.
Don’t think abusing a charity to short and distort stocks the charity’s owner is betting against is illegal? Well, how about using a charity to smear, defame, and slander that company’s customers?
In 2019, Aaron Greenspan and his charity Think Computer Foundation began accepting donations from Tesla short sellers as payment to stalk, harass, threaten and blackmail Tesla customers. That includes me, as well as many other innocent people. We’ll go into full detail on Think Computer Foundation’s paid smear attacks and harassment against Tesla customers in the next chapter.
Whew! So that’s the story of Aaron Greenspan’s life: a life of criminal activity, fraud, deception, bitterness, anger, and an insatiable quest for revenge. As @tesla_truth started to discover who Aaron Greenspan really was, Greenspan knew he had to put and end to it. Thats why his harassment campaign against me and other Tesla customers has become one of the main focuses of his life: He’s broken the law time and time again with every business he’s ever started, and he knows his new short selling charity is the most illegal and unethical of all.
Aaron Greenspan has even indicated that he’s willing to kill to keep unflattering information about himself hidden from the public eye. So let’s teach Aaron Greenspan about the Streisand effect. Share what you learned from this long chapter with others. Discuss it on social media. Greenspan’s smear operation only works if he’s able to deceive people into trusting him. It only works if they think PlainSite is a “charity”, rather than an textbook example of short and distort securities fraud.
Remember –– this chapter told the story of Aaron Greenspan’s life primarily by quoting his own recollection of events. This is the version of the story that tries to make Aaron Greenspan look good. Imagine how much worse it would be if we heard what really happened from the perspective of his victims?
The next chapter is the craziest of all. It describes how Aaron Greenspan mobilized TSLAQ to attack Tesla customers, and how he lost his mind when Bloomberg Businessweek decided to include me in a feature about Tesla Autopilot. You won’t want to miss it.
Thanks for reading this insanely long story. Most people probably don’t care about this stuff, because they’re not one of Aaron Greenspan’s victims. It’s important for all victims –– past and future –– that the truth about this monster gets out despite all his efforts to hide it.
Tune in next time for “Chapter 8: Attack of the Trolls“. It describes how Aaron Greenspan incited many more TSLAQ trolls to join him in his harassment campaign against myself and other Tesla customers. It covers everything up to the Bloomberg feature on Autopilot that made Aaron Greenspan lose his mind, the death of @tesla_truth, and the start of this blog.
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Aaron Greenspan has filed an illegal SLAPP-suit against Elon Musk and Omar Qazi for bringing attention to allegations of tax fraud, securities fraud, cyberstalking, and criminal harassment by the Think Computer Foundation (doing business as PlainSite). If you can please donate to the Legal GoFundMe or via PayPal to make sure Aaron Jacob Greenspan is finally held accountable for his harassment of so many Tesla customers.