Facebook Disconnects Google: Protecting Users… Or Itself?

from the privacy-or-competition? dept

Inforworld reports that Facebook has cut off Google’s Friend Connect service from accessing Facebook’s APIs. Facebook claims that Google Friend Connect “redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users? knowledge, which doesn?t respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect.” Techcrunch has more details about what Google was doing and what Facebook objected to. Facebook is getting a fair amount of flack for this decision, and it’s not hard to see why. Given that Facebook has just rolled out its own competing service for linking third-party websites to Facebook, we can’t help but wonder if the privacy issues aren’t just a cover to avoid having to interoperate with a major competitor.

Still, Facebook’s privacy concerns aren’t totally bogus, and this dispute does illustrate the point we made on Monday about the challenge of building an open API while preserving user privacy. It’s true that users ultimately have control over which applications and sites they approve to access their Facebook data. But users aren’t necessarily going to know which applications have good privacy policies, nor are they necessarily going to want to invest the time and effort to figure it out. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Facebook is imposing at least some minimum standards on sites that use their API. And while Google obviously isn’t a fly-by-night organization, Facebook may be worrying about the precedent it would set if it started allowing sites to funnel information gleaned from the Facebook APIs to third party sites that Facebook had no control over at all.

Mike Arrington wonders, “How dare Facebook tell ME that I cannot give Google access to this data.” I certainly agree with this sentiment in principle, but I think it’s missing the way applications work on Facebook. About once a week I get asked to try out some new Facebook application that I’ve never heard of. I’m already pretty reluctant to approve any of these applications, but I’d be a lot more reluctant if I knew that there was a reasonable chance that signing up would lead to my data being available to random third parties. And in most cases I don’t have the time and the interest to research the details of each application’s privacy policy. So there’s some value in having Facebook enforce reasonable privacy rules on behalf of its users.

But on the other hand, the fact that Facebook can and does arbitrarily disable Facebook apps isn’t going to be good for the health of the Facebook ecosystem. If I were a software developer, I would certainly be reluctant to develop for an “open” platform like that. And in the long run, that’s a big threat to Facebook’s dominance of the social networking universe. Facebook is big, but it’s not as big as the rest of the web put together. If a company like Google can figure out how build a usable, open social network atop hundreds of websites, it will give Facebook and MySpace a real run for their money.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “Facebook Disconnects Google: Protecting Users… Or Itself?”

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RMT says:

Proof that GOOG = MSFT

Anyone that thinks Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are not socially unconscious money makers and has a favorite among them, here is another reason not to love big software companies. Soon Facebook & Myspace will battle for superiority (if or when Facebook partners with a News Corp rival) but will have become in all most all ways equal. What app could possible separate the two?

Dan Lewis says:

The Standard Privacy Policies

I can’t believe you haven’t heard of the Standard Privacy Policies. They’re a set of standard privacy policies that state ranges of uses for consumer data. Companies reuse the portions they agree to support. Things like “won’t share with advertising network partners”, “won’t share with third parties”, “destroyed after X months”, “anonymized”, “liable for data loss”, “data portability supported”, “no resale of consumer data”, you know.

Oh, that’s right. They don’t exist yet.

OSI and Creative Commons have brought a lot of clarity to copyrighted work and licensing agreements. We need an Open Privacy Institute to develop some new rubrics that will bring clarity to the use of consumer data by businesses.

Nicholas Iler says:

Social Networking = Data Archiving and Future Personality Pattern Research

I still don’t really get it. I never really liked Pin-Pals back in the day, but I got involved because I thought it was a cool way to meet people. Later I found out that its an even better way to disguise who you really are.

Now-a-days with MySpace and FaceBook type sites people are taking Pin-Pals to a whole new level. You also can’t lie the same way. Actually people are being quite truthful and in some cases getting into trouble when their boss looks over there myspace page to find out they are exotic dancers in their spare time.

So, this leads me too my point. Soon I believe these social sites will die, just like reality TV will at some point die. The reason I believe social sites will not be around very long is that people are generally pretty private in nature and would rather not have people or bots studying their habits on or offline. I believe people are just wrapped up in tech-no-hype now and have yet to fully realize how much of their personalities and habits are archived in databases like Google Search History. Give them a button and they will surely click it before they ask what it does.

Soon when the databases start filling up they will re-invent new ways to use that data, which of course is your data. That could be giving the Government APIs to search for patterns or whatever. These websites would like nothing more than to grow. The problem is the way they would like to grow does not mean supporting what it can do in a more efficient way. It usually means growing in ways that change the company vastly from for example just a friend site to also a video, picture, gaming and what ever they have a budget for site combined in one.

Personally I like having my eggs spread out in many baskets. This used to be a life lesson. Monopoly’s thrive on the opposite of basket thinking. I hate having my music player in my cell phone in one device. They have yet to offer separate batteries.

Google is a great search engine, Canon make fantastic cameras, HP has the best printers for most if not all needs, Sony has great TVs, Microsoft has Windows, Apple now has iPod and iPhone, Yahoo has great developers.

My point is I’m getting sick of all companies trying to be all things to everyone. What has happened to just being great at what your good at. Sony has crappy speakers, HP makes horrific cameras and Google Desktop slows down my system.

Melvillain says:


I agree with you on companies trying to be everything to everybody, but I would disagree with the idea that social networking will die. I actually think that transparency is the wave of the future not privacy (with nods to Kevin Kelly). When information can be found for everything and everyone the only way to protect yourself is to demand some level of transparency. I’m not saying that you post your credit card number, but we are already broadcasting who we are every time we log on. In addition Gen Y doesn’t care what people know about them and they are the ones fueling the rise of social networking. In a transparent society the people with something to hide are the ones to be feared. Cue the evil laugh from Dick Cheney.

Nicholas Iler says:

Re: @5

I do not believe all social networks will die and should have been a little more clear on my point. I believe business social networking like LinkIn.com are useful.

Some people tend to open there closet of skeletons when their online. Social networks like MySpace that have you fill in all kinds of personal data and talk about things you’ve done in your life. These types of sites should tread lightly.

One example of how government and other entities try to access your data is a torrent search website named TorrentSpy which shutdown because they where being forced to hand over all the data from their users. They didn’t see it that way and shut the doors. You may consider this apples and oranges but the point is your data is not as safe as you may think it is. If government can come up with legal authorization MySpace may just have to hand it over or go down the same way TorrentSpy did.

You just never know what these companies will decide to do with your data five, ten or twenty years from now. Data is the most valuable asset in the world today. There is allows a market for data. Its not like publishing a website and waiting for the cache in Google to expire. Its there for eternity. MySpace will surly sell your accounts to another social networking site if it falls under financial distress. It will become the history of you. It may not be what you wanted everyone to remember about you.

I would rather not have all my childhood mistakes published by me for eternity. Not like that! Young people are enjoying themselves now but we’ll see the repercussions of their profiles ten years from now and then we can decide if it was a good idea or not.

Melvillain says:

Re: Re: @5

Thanks for expanding on your thoughts. I agree that data is the commodity of the future and that anything that goes online stays there forever. Quoting Kevin Kelly, “Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet” (http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php). Which is why, as I said above, I think their needs to be a certain level of transparency. it has to start somewhere.

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