Facebook has a point where it comes to your privacy

My ex-boss, John Furrier, goes after Facebook after Facebook blocked Google’s Friend Connect from using its API to inport friends from Facebook into Google’s Friend Connect.

I saw Dave Morin, who runs Facebook’s developer platform, at Google’s event Monday night. You can see him at the end of the event where I shoved my cell phone in his face and tried to get him to comment. He refused.

After the camera is off he said it was “interesting” that Google had used Facebook as one of the examples during its launch of Friend Connect.

I guess it was a lot more than “interesting.”

They blocked Google because they didn’t want Google to populate its friend network with data collected from Facebook.

Oh, I know, that’s not the real reason they told TechCrunch and others. Here’s the official statement from Facebook.

Facebook is being consistent here. Dave Morin told me a few months ago all about Facebook’s concerns. Such as, what happens if you change your email address, will it change everywhere that your email address got copied to?

Clearly with Google’s Friend Connect the answer is “no.” Why? Because it was a one-time action and there was no live connection back to Facebook and Google’s Friend Connect’s data would get older and older (and more and more out of date). Want to delete your email address off of the Web? Sorry, thanks to other systems Facebook can’t ensure that’ll happen.

Now, I’ve been on both sides of this story. A few months ago I tried using some unreleased technology from Plaxo to do exactly what Google did on Monday night. I not only got kicked off of the API (which is what should have happened) but my account was hidden and I was locked out for about 20 hours.

Facebook’s “penalty” for that behavior was way too harsh. And, some, like John Furrier, believe that Facebook is on the wrong side of the line tonight again.

Me? I think Facebook has a point, but I think the horse is out of the barn already and Facebook won’t be able to shove it back in.

Why? You should check into Minggl. It’s a toolbar that does far more than what Google’s Friend Connect does.

But it does it in a way that Facebook will never be able to block. Why? Because it’s your browser that scrapes all your friend’s info into Minggl’s browser bar. That bar then uploads all that information back up to Minggl. There’s no way that Facebook will be able to block Minggl. If Google wants to push the issue they should do exactly what Minggl is doing.

To get geeky for a moment, Minngl is collecting that data with a separate IP address each time the same one your browser is using. If Facebook wants to block Minngl it’ll have to block you from browsing to Facebook. Facebook can’t do that to everyone, so Minggl has picked an architecture that makes it impossible for Facebook to block. At least using technical methods. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook tried to sue Minggl or other companies that use similar methods to collect data.

Privacy is dead.

Anyone who puts anything on a computer screen that they want hidden from public view should think again. I don’t think it can be stopped and the walled gardens that have built around Facebook and other social networks are temporarily walled at best. That data WILL leak out of the walls and already is. Facebook’s attempt to keep the walls up will prove unsuccessful.

Just ask former KGO Radio Talk Show host Bernie Ward. He was convicted of sending child pornography through email to someone else. If email isn’t a private medium then surely Facebook isn’t. (The person he was emailing those photos to emailed them to the authorities).

What do you think? Does Facebook have a point or is the horse already out of the barn?

UPDATE: This is being discussed at a much faster rate over on FriendFeed than over here.

UPDATE2: Google employee Kevin Marks says I’m wrong in comments here. Here’s his correction to this post: “Robert, you’re wrong about Friend Connect data getting stale. It’s fetched directly from your linked Friend Data sources, including other Social Networks, with short-term caching on Friend Connect servers. There is a live two-way connection – Friend Connect posts back events to the Social Networks’ activity streams when the user choses to do so.”

UPDATE3: Mike Arrington over on TechCrunch thinks I’m wrong on this post. But, if you read the comments over on his blog you’ll see we’re not that far apart.

77 thoughts on “Facebook has a point where it comes to your privacy

  1. You can go around screen scrapping with RIAs. In fact I see this happening in the near future. With RIAs the information can be secured and visualized only by your RIA. The Minggl plugin would have to sniff at the VM level and break the encrypted content.

    Welcome to the DRM of social networking :-)

    I think the solution is http://www.mesh.com. You should own your data and share it easily. It is in my devices, therefore I own it. And it is easy to share, but I own it and share what I want and use any application I want.

  2. You can go around screen scrapping with RIAs. In fact I see this happening in the near future. With RIAs the information can be secured and visualized only by your RIA. The Minggl plugin would have to sniff at the VM level and break the encrypted content.

    Welcome to the DRM of social networking :-)

    I think the solution is http://www.mesh.com. You should own your data and share it easily. It is in my devices, therefore I own it. And it is easy to share, but I own it and share what I want and use any application I want.

  3. Robert—thanks for the love!! And I’d like to reword your “privacy is dead” to “privacy is portable”. Although we didn’t show you our “Privacy Filters” during our last demo/visit (still testing and polishing it), any content you put in Minggl will have the most granular, end-user specified privacy controls that you can imagine. And these privacy controls will follow your content (in the Minggl meta-layer) from site to site. In one example, privacy on your Facebook profile could use tags applied to your friend(s) on linkedin — http://www.minggl.com

  4. Robert—thanks for the love!! And I’d like to reword your “privacy is dead” to “privacy is portable”. Although we didn’t show you our “Privacy Filters” during our last demo/visit (still testing and polishing it), any content you put in Minggl will have the most granular, end-user specified privacy controls that you can imagine. And these privacy controls will follow your content (in the Minggl meta-layer) from site to site. In one example, privacy on your Facebook profile could use tags applied to your friend(s) on linkedin — http://www.minggl.com

  5. This is a highly thoughtful post. I also love Minggl. I like the fact that with Minggl you can message people at the same time across social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), that means if you have different friends on different services that you want to reach in one message you can. I think that’s pretty neat – the integration is important (I don’t know if other services besides Minggl offer that yet, maybe they do but haven’t seen that). Anyway, I think Facebook stopping their data from Google Friend Connect is a major blow to Google Friend Connect. How social is your site if your Facebook friends are not included in your friends list? BTW, I think John Furrier is a great guy, I know him fairly well.

  6. This is a highly thoughtful post. I also love Minggl. I like the fact that with Minggl you can message people at the same time across social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), that means if you have different friends on different services that you want to reach in one message you can. I think that’s pretty neat – the integration is important (I don’t know if other services besides Minggl offer that yet, maybe they do but haven’t seen that). Anyway, I think Facebook stopping their data from Google Friend Connect is a major blow to Google Friend Connect. How social is your site if your Facebook friends are not included in your friends list? BTW, I think John Furrier is a great guy, I know him fairly well.

  7. Facebook is well within its rights to block FriendConnect from harvesting friend lists/contacts. The question is definitely about privacy.

    On the other hand, minggl takes a users choice into consideration, as a user will install it if he is open to having his contact list shared. Flock does the same. And by installing Flock and then allowing it to access my Facebook, I choose to allow my data to be available in the way I wish it would be.

    The concept of privacy has 2 major parameters:: whose privacy and who controls what is to be shared…my 2 bits… its the users privacy which is important, and its got to be the users choice…

    On the other hand, if users want to import their contacts/friend lists across Social Networking Platforms, the platforms should provide tools to allow the same…but these should be used by the users, and not by other platforms …

  8. Facebook is well within its rights to block FriendConnect from harvesting friend lists/contacts. The question is definitely about privacy.

    On the other hand, minggl takes a users choice into consideration, as a user will install it if he is open to having his contact list shared. Flock does the same. And by installing Flock and then allowing it to access my Facebook, I choose to allow my data to be available in the way I wish it would be.

    The concept of privacy has 2 major parameters:: whose privacy and who controls what is to be shared…my 2 bits… its the users privacy which is important, and its got to be the users choice…

    On the other hand, if users want to import their contacts/friend lists across Social Networking Platforms, the platforms should provide tools to allow the same…but these should be used by the users, and not by other platforms …

  9. Wow. You can say this and not feel like a jerk?

    ” You can see him at the end of the event where I shoved my cell phone in his face and tried to get him to comment. He refused.”

    Of course he refused. You SHOVED A CELL PHONE IN HIS FACE.

  10. Wow. You can say this and not feel like a jerk?

    ” You can see him at the end of the event where I shoved my cell phone in his face and tried to get him to comment. He refused.”

    Of course he refused. You SHOVED A CELL PHONE IN HIS FACE.

  11. A subtle but important point is to distinguish between the types of data being shared/exported. There is a valid case about being in control of your own data. But some of the information created on a social network site is jointly owned. So people need to work within the terms of service, including application developers. Two posts that support what Facebook is doing:

    http://mikeg.typepad.com/perceptions/2008/05/facebook-is-cor.html

    http://mikeg.typepad.com/perceptions/2008/05/data-portabilit.html

  12. A subtle but important point is to distinguish between the types of data being shared/exported. There is a valid case about being in control of your own data. But some of the information created on a social network site is jointly owned. So people need to work within the terms of service, including application developers. Two posts that support what Facebook is doing:

    http://mikeg.typepad.com/perceptions/2008/05/facebook-is-cor.html

    http://mikeg.typepad.com/perceptions/2008/05/data-portabilit.html

  13. So facebook say that Google friend connect “redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users’ knowledge”.

    Erm, so what does Facebook Connect do, if it doesn’t do, oh, exactly that?

  14. So facebook say that Google friend connect “redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users’ knowledge”.

    Erm, so what does Facebook Connect do, if it doesn’t do, oh, exactly that?

  15. It just shows how important email addresses have become. They’re the new fingerprints. The expectation is that they’ll never change.

  16. It just shows how important email addresses have become. They’re the new fingerprints. The expectation is that they’ll never change.

  17. Robert, you’re wrong about Friend Connect data getting stale. It’s fetched directly from your linked Friend Data sources, including other Social Networks, with short-term caching on Friend Connect servers. There is a live two-way connection – Friend Connect posts back events to the Social Networks’ activity streams when the user choses to do so.

  18. Robert, you’re wrong about Friend Connect data getting stale. It’s fetched directly from your linked Friend Data sources, including other Social Networks, with short-term caching on Friend Connect servers. There is a live two-way connection – Friend Connect posts back events to the Social Networks’ activity streams when the user choses to do so.

  19. Same question (or issue) comes up when you think of the social graph… if I unfriend someone, we may still be friends forever in various places that scraped it during more amicable days. Pretty soon the social graph starts looking like a credit report, but with no real way to correct it.

  20. Same question (or issue) comes up when you think of the social graph… if I unfriend someone, we may still be friends forever in various places that scraped it during more amicable days. Pretty soon the social graph starts looking like a credit report, but with no real way to correct it.

  21. I hear this banking argument all the time and I think it’s bogus. If somebody takes your money, there is a trail. You will know it instantly and the bank will have to make good on it and give it back. Money is money. It doesn’t have to be the exact same money that they took, just the same amount.

    Data does not work like money. If somebody takes your information, like your business secrets and your social security number and your medical records, you may never know or find out years down the line when you’re adversely affected. And there is no good way to compensate you for the loss.

    If somebody suddenly comes out with a product or service very similar to the one you were designing using cloud computing, could you prove that somebody accessed your records? No. They could argue it’s a coincidence or that they got the information some other way.

    It’s not like banking at all, and everybody who makes this argument doesn’t understand how hard it’s going to be to get the mainstream public to trust the Cloud.

  22. I hear this banking argument all the time and I think it’s bogus. If somebody takes your money, there is a trail. You will know it instantly and the bank will have to make good on it and give it back. Money is money. It doesn’t have to be the exact same money that they took, just the same amount.

    Data does not work like money. If somebody takes your information, like your business secrets and your social security number and your medical records, you may never know or find out years down the line when you’re adversely affected. And there is no good way to compensate you for the loss.

    If somebody suddenly comes out with a product or service very similar to the one you were designing using cloud computing, could you prove that somebody accessed your records? No. They could argue it’s a coincidence or that they got the information some other way.

    It’s not like banking at all, and everybody who makes this argument doesn’t understand how hard it’s going to be to get the mainstream public to trust the Cloud.

  23. I disagree with Dawnkey… “Cloud” computing is going to take hold just like the Internet. There have been several good takes on Cloud Computing over the past couple of weeks and the best analogy I’ve read is that people use to save their money in their mattresses. Now people trust the banks and rarely see most of their “money” as they use it electronically.

    I just finished replicating my original blog (http://www.eclecticismo.com/hhblog) to WordPress.Com (at http://bloghh.wordpress.com) because I trust WordPress will be around for years to come and they have given me the capability to move my data if I ever desire to do so.

    Next up is my 35GB of pictures. Eventually I’ll move my real personal data when I find a vendor who has proven themselves in the market place.

    Have no doubt that “Cloud” computing will grow and become as common as turning on a light switch — the data will just be there no matter where you are in this world and one day in the Galaxy, then it will be “Space Computing.”

  24. I disagree with Dawnkey… “Cloud” computing is going to take hold just like the Internet. There have been several good takes on Cloud Computing over the past couple of weeks and the best analogy I’ve read is that people use to save their money in their mattresses. Now people trust the banks and rarely see most of their “money” as they use it electronically.

    I just finished replicating my original blog (http://www.eclecticismo.com/hhblog) to WordPress.Com (at http://bloghh.wordpress.com) because I trust WordPress will be around for years to come and they have given me the capability to move my data if I ever desire to do so.

    Next up is my 35GB of pictures. Eventually I’ll move my real personal data when I find a vendor who has proven themselves in the market place.

    Have no doubt that “Cloud” computing will grow and become as common as turning on a light switch — the data will just be there no matter where you are in this world and one day in the Galaxy, then it will be “Space Computing.”

  25. Robert, I thought you were all for putting all your private data and company data in the Cloud.

    This is why I think most people will never trust cloud computing.

  26. Robert, I thought you were all for putting all your private data and company data in the Cloud.

    This is why I think most people will never trust cloud computing.

  27. Nice blog post, I 2nd Prokofy. Call me an old-school blogger.

    “I don’t have no time to monitor no skink’in Twit or Friendfeed!

  28. Nice blog post, I 2nd Prokofy. Call me an old-school blogger.

    “I don’t have no time to monitor no skink’in Twit or Friendfeed!

  29. Excellent reporting, thinking and explanation. You’re right. Still, the gesture of trying to maintain privacy is worth something. It’s symbolic. But just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something. I like the psychology of feeling that Facebook is at least throwing up some checkgates against the inevitable Google flood.

  30. Excellent reporting, thinking and explanation. You’re right. Still, the gesture of trying to maintain privacy is worth something. It’s symbolic. But just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something. I like the psychology of feeling that Facebook is at least throwing up some checkgates against the inevitable Google flood.

  31. Everybody wants to “own” the user data and nobody wants to “view” it. So what’s the real problem? Making money on the internet revolves around user data and page views. That’s the bottom line. Facebook knows that the “walled garden” approach is the only way they can keep those two things to themselves.

  32. Everybody wants to “own” the user data and nobody wants to “view” it. So what’s the real problem? Making money on the internet revolves around user data and page views. That’s the bottom line. Facebook knows that the “walled garden” approach is the only way they can keep those two things to themselves.

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