Tech Rewind: A look back at Google's Orkut

Feb 06, 2017, 10:20 IST | A Correspondent

On the birthday of Orkut Büyükkökten, founder of the now defunct social networking platform, Orkut, we take a look at how his creation went on to change social media before Facebook and Twitter started to rule the roost

Orkut, which was one of the most visited social networking websites in India and Brazil at one time was the brainchild of Turkish software engineer Orkut Büyükkökten. Orkut Büyükkökten was a former product manager at Google. Google convinced him to name the website after himself since the company felt that it was his own creation.


Büyükkökten, initially introduced his first social network titled Club Nexus at Stanford University in 2001. It attracted over 2,000 undergraduates thanks to a multitude of features, which included...
- The ability to send e-mail and invitations
- Online chatting
- Buying and selling used goods
- Posting events
- Searching for people with similar interests
- Placing personals
- Posting editorial columns

Orkut Büyükkökten later introduced InCircle an alumni social network for the Stanford Alumni Association intended for use by university alumni groups. His inspiration for creating Orkut, after joining Google came due to his interest in allotting 20% of his time to develop a social network as he intended to connect all the Internet users so they can relate to each other".

Google decided to operate and manage Orkut entirely from Brazil from 2008, partly due to the large user base and growth of legal issues.

>> Orkut enabled a user to add videos to his/her profile from Google Video or YouTube.
>> Google's chat client GTalk was also integrated into the Orkut interface enabling users to chat, share files on GTalk via their personal pages
>> A notable feature was Changing Themes, in which users could change their interface from a wide range of colorful themes in library.
>> Orkut allowed anyone to visit anyone's profile without restrictions unless that person was on a certain user's "Ignore List".
>> Each member could also customize their profile preferences and can restrict information that appears on their profile from their friends and/or others
>> A member can become a fan of any of the friends in their list and can also evaluate whether their friend is "Trustworthy", "Cool", "Sexy" on a scale of 1 to 3 (marked by icons) and this is aggregated in terms of a percentage.
>> Another feature is that any member can add any other member on Orkut to his/her "Crush List" and both of them will be informed only when both parties have added each other.

>> A page titled 'We Hate India' led to the Bombay High Court's Aurangabad bench serving a notice to Google on October 10, 2006. The page carried a picture of an Indian flag being burned and some anti-India content. Even before the petition was filed, many Orkut users had noticed this community and were mailing or otherwise messaging their contacts on Orkut to report the community as bogus to Google, which could result in its removal. The community has now been deleted but has spawned several 'We hate those who hate India' communities.

>> There has also been some media outcry against Orkut after a couple of youngsters were apparently lured by fake profiles on the site and later murdered.

>> The Bombay High Court asked the state government on November 24, 2006, to file its reply in connection with a petition demanding a ban on Orkut for hosting an anti-Shivaji Web community.

>> In 2007, the Pune rural police cracked a rave party filled with narcotics. The police were deliberating on the issue of charging the accused under the (Indian) Information Technology Act, 2000 perhaps because Orkut was believed to be a mode of communication for drug abuses of this kind.

>> On August 22, 2006, Brazilian Federal Judge José Marcos Lunardelli ordered Google to release by September 28 Orkut user’s information of a list of about twenty four Brazilian nationals, believed to be using Orkut to sell drugs and to be involved in child pornography. The judge ordered Google to pay $23,000 per day in fines until the information is turned over to the Brazilian government. It was reported that almost 90-percent Of pedophilia complaints in Brazil came from Google’s Orkut. Google declined to release the information on September 27, 2006, on the grounds that the requested information is on Google servers in the U.S. and not Google servers in Brazil, and is therefore not subject to Brazilian laws.

Security issues
>> FaceTime Security Labs' security researchers Christopher Boyd and Wayne Porter discovered a worm, dubbed MW.Orc on June 19, 2006, which steals users' banking details, usernames and passwords by propagating through Orkut. The worm's trigger was an executable file disguised as a JPEG file. 

The initial executable file that causes the infection installs two additional files on the user's computer. These files then e-mail banking details and passwords to the worm's anonymous creator when infected users click on the "My Computer" icon. The infection spreads automatically by posting a URL in another user's Orkut Scrapbook, a guestbook where visitors can leave comments visible on the user's page. This link lures visitors with a message in Portuguese, falsely claiming to offer additional photos. The message text that carries an infection link can vary from case to case. In addition to stealing personal information, the malware can also enable a remote user to control the PC and make it part of a botnet, a network of infected PCs. The botnet in this case uses an infected PC's bandwidth to distribute large, pirated movie files, potentially slowing down an end-user's connection speed.

The initial executable file (Minhasfotos.exe) creates two additional files when activated, winlogon_.jpg and wzip32.exe (located in the System32 Folder). When the user clicks the "My Computer" icon, a mail is sent containing their personal data. In addition, they may be added to an XDCC Botnet (used for file sharing), and the infection link may be sent to other users that they know in the Orkut network. The infection can be spread manually, but also has the ability to send "back dated" infection links to people in the "friends list" of the infected user. According to statements made by Google, as noted in Facetime's Greynets Blog, the company had implemented a temporary fix for the dangerous worm.

>> On December 19, 2007, a worm written in Javascript by a Brazilian user called "Rodrigo Lacerda" created havoc. The worm which infected over 700,000 Orkut users automatically made the user join the virus related community and infect all friends' scrapbooks with copies of itself. 

Shut down of Orkut
On June 30, 2014, Google announced that Orkut would be shutting down completely on September 30 of that year. Users could export their photo albums before the final shutdown date. Orkut profiles, scraps, testimonials, and community posts can still be exported until September 2016. 

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