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was no live connection back to Facebook and Google’s Friend Connect’s data would get older and older (and more and more out of date).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. I find this all ridiculous.

    1. Facebook got its start by ripping personal content from other web sites. It’s hypocritical if they really think others shouldn’t try to do the same thing to them. Far more likely it’s just an effort to protect mindshare and revenue that’s behind their complaints.

    2. Minggl shows just how futile it is for Facebook to complain.

    3. Of course Facebook isn’t private. Duh!

    4. We’ve known for a good long while now that e-mail and other Internet traffic isn’t private.

    There’s no news here. Let’s all move along now.

  2. I find this all ridiculous.

    1. Facebook got its start by ripping personal content from other web sites. It’s hypocritical if they really think others shouldn’t try to do the same thing to them. Far more likely it’s just an effort to protect mindshare and revenue that’s behind their complaints.

    2. Minggl shows just how futile it is for Facebook to complain.

    3. Of course Facebook isn’t private. Duh!

    4. We’ve known for a good long while now that e-mail and other Internet traffic isn’t private.

    There’s no news here. Let’s all move along now.

  3. What you is missing is that the end user is who should choose to control his data, not Facebook. And this choose should also be given to all his friends.

    The approach that Facebook should have with Friend Connect is to ask the user and his friends if he wants to make his data portable. If he wants, who is Facebook to stop it?

  4. What you is missing is that the end user is who should choose to control his data, not Facebook. And this choose should also be given to all his friends.

    The approach that Facebook should have with Friend Connect is to ask the user and his friends if he wants to make his data portable. If he wants, who is Facebook to stop it?

  5. I agree about privacy being a good cause to fight for, even if it might be a losing battle at this point. Maybe part of the reason Facebook is trying to do this is to protect its customer base. Maybe the reason they care is because many customers, like the founders once were, are in college. There’s a lot of things posted that aren’t necessarily great for other people in the future to see.

  6. I agree about privacy being a good cause to fight for, even if it might be a losing battle at this point. Maybe part of the reason Facebook is trying to do this is to protect its customer base. Maybe the reason they care is because many customers, like the founders once were, are in college. There’s a lot of things posted that aren’t necessarily great for other people in the future to see.

  7. “privacy is dead” – but if you look at google webmaster guidlines it’s alive and well.
    as soon as you remove the personal aspects name, addy, you become a stat.
    privacy is not ‘dead’, it’s had a boob job and a face lift and is probably selling more units than ever :)

  8. “privacy is dead” – but if you look at google webmaster guidlines it’s alive and well.
    as soon as you remove the personal aspects name, addy, you become a stat.
    privacy is not ‘dead’, it’s had a boob job and a face lift and is probably selling more units than ever :)

  9. I am not sure why people give up on privacy so fast. I think right now is the best time to discuss this and propose solutions! Of course there will always be some way to connect the dots about people but it shouldn’t be that trivial.

    Where is the problem to come up with protocols which allow only those data exposed to those people I wish it to be exposed to?

    I would like people to collect some use case examples where you want to share data in a controlled way. One example would be those many people in Second Life who want their identities being separate from their RL. That’s of course possible in that you simply have 2 facebook accounts, 2 twitter accounts etc. It just does not make sense. Behind the scenes you still would like to copy data over in an easy way. You need to authorize access of course.

    So I would rather like to see the start of a debate on how we can preserve privacy instead of seeing statements like “privacy is dead”. The main problem I see more is that right now most data is publically viewable on most systems and this has to change. Put OAuth in front etc. and give the user control.

  10. I am not sure why people give up on privacy so fast. I think right now is the best time to discuss this and propose solutions! Of course there will always be some way to connect the dots about people but it shouldn’t be that trivial.

    Where is the problem to come up with protocols which allow only those data exposed to those people I wish it to be exposed to?

    I would like people to collect some use case examples where you want to share data in a controlled way. One example would be those many people in Second Life who want their identities being separate from their RL. That’s of course possible in that you simply have 2 facebook accounts, 2 twitter accounts etc. It just does not make sense. Behind the scenes you still would like to copy data over in an easy way. You need to authorize access of course.

    So I would rather like to see the start of a debate on how we can preserve privacy instead of seeing statements like “privacy is dead”. The main problem I see more is that right now most data is publically viewable on most systems and this has to change. Put OAuth in front etc. and give the user control.

  11. Data Portability… Sigh.
    I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anyone here I’m just voicing my own opinions.

    If having data portability is such an important thing to someone then the simplest most effective way of doing so is using your own service to collect that data. Whether it is by having your own blog, personal website, forum or something similar that you own and have full access to. When you want the data, you simply open up your Database and pull out what you want. Quick and easy.

    You want more than 5000 friends, build a blog that supports more than 5000 friends, want a service that has reliable uptime, build a blog that sits on a good server, want to update your information about yourself in one location, login to your blog admin panel and update your information in one location. Simple

    Having the same discussion in 10 different places? Here’s an idea, start the discussion on your blog and discuss it there. The goal of almost all websites is to have visitors on your site and on remain on your site as long as possible, so having the discussion on your site in one location creates lots of traffic to those ads which your sponsors like to have on your site which equals more money for both. (Money isn’t everything so just having visitors would be worth it too even if not trying to increase revenue)

    But how do I get people to my site if I am not networking on Facebook, or MySpace, or twitter or all the hundreds of other social networks? Well it works the same way any other site does it like Digg.com, TechCrunch.com, Engadget.com etc. They write articles, they voice opinions, they engage their customers, it’s interactive, they have discussions they have enough quality content that people come back for more.

    Personally I don’t want someone to share my information from one site to another site, especially without direct permission from me, it’s just asking for trouble no matter how you look at it. Remember how when you sign up on different websites and they say “We do not sell or redistribute your information”? Well the reason for that is because I don’t want my information going places where I didn’t ask it to go. By sharing information through different social networks with or without permission throws the whole idea of protecting your information out the window.

    It’s plain and simple, you want data portability, you have to setup a location that you control, Facebook, Myspace, etc. are never going to give you full access to your information just like I can’t go to the bank and ask for everyone’s account numbers even though we are all in the same “social banking network”.

    Websites are businesses; businesses need traffic to increase revenue, releasing data to other services releases customers from sticking around your site which decreases traffic which decreases revenue.

    (Directed at everyone) Instead of spreading yourself across 50 different social networks where 90% of your followers are probably following you on the same 50 different social networks, how about focusing on your own blog or website where you control the data, the users, the information and the discussion and build it into a successful portal to share ideas and information on?

  12. Data Portability… Sigh.
    I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anyone here I’m just voicing my own opinions.

    If having data portability is such an important thing to someone then the simplest most effective way of doing so is using your own service to collect that data. Whether it is by having your own blog, personal website, forum or something similar that you own and have full access to. When you want the data, you simply open up your Database and pull out what you want. Quick and easy.

    You want more than 5000 friends, build a blog that supports more than 5000 friends, want a service that has reliable uptime, build a blog that sits on a good server, want to update your information about yourself in one location, login to your blog admin panel and update your information in one location. Simple

    Having the same discussion in 10 different places? Here’s an idea, start the discussion on your blog and discuss it there. The goal of almost all websites is to have visitors on your site and on remain on your site as long as possible, so having the discussion on your site in one location creates lots of traffic to those ads which your sponsors like to have on your site which equals more money for both. (Money isn’t everything so just having visitors would be worth it too even if not trying to increase revenue)

    But how do I get people to my site if I am not networking on Facebook, or MySpace, or twitter or all the hundreds of other social networks? Well it works the same way any other site does it like Digg.com, TechCrunch.com, Engadget.com etc. They write articles, they voice opinions, they engage their customers, it’s interactive, they have discussions they have enough quality content that people come back for more.

    Personally I don’t want someone to share my information from one site to another site, especially without direct permission from me, it’s just asking for trouble no matter how you look at it. Remember how when you sign up on different websites and they say “We do not sell or redistribute your information”? Well the reason for that is because I don’t want my information going places where I didn’t ask it to go. By sharing information through different social networks with or without permission throws the whole idea of protecting your information out the window.

    It’s plain and simple, you want data portability, you have to setup a location that you control, Facebook, Myspace, etc. are never going to give you full access to your information just like I can’t go to the bank and ask for everyone’s account numbers even though we are all in the same “social banking network”.

    Websites are businesses; businesses need traffic to increase revenue, releasing data to other services releases customers from sticking around your site which decreases traffic which decreases revenue.

    (Directed at everyone) Instead of spreading yourself across 50 different social networks where 90% of your followers are probably following you on the same 50 different social networks, how about focusing on your own blog or website where you control the data, the users, the information and the discussion and build it into a successful portal to share ideas and information on?

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