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.
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.