While Facebook may be rapidly signing up media companies to use its social plugins, and advertisers to use its performance ad system, its relationships with potentially competitive technology companies aren’t so straightforward. Most recently, Twitter and Apple have so far failed to work out business partnerships with Facebook over how the companies can share user data.
In Twitter’s case, it released an upgrade to its Facebook application in June that, if you had it installed, showed you all of your Facebook friends with Twitter accounts, and made it very easy to start following all of them. Facebook is requiring that partnership terms be in place for all big partners, and Twitter apparently didn’t have that when it launched the app (the simpler ways it accessed user data, like syncing status updates, was not an issue).
Maybe there is some sort of legal or technical short-term reason for the shut-down. And maybe Facebook didn’t want to make it so easy for its users to go off and start building its social graph on Twitter.
Yesterday, Apple launched a music social network, Ping, that at first seemed to have some sort of Facebook integration. It was going to allow you to invite friends from Facebook to use Ping, presumably some sort of friend-finder or mass-invite interface. We don’t know for sure what integration there might have been, though, because the feature never appeared in iTunes 10. [Update: It did appear for some, worked for a short while before being turned off, and was specifically for finding Facebook friends who were also using Ping — similar to what Twitter was trying to do.]
The fact that it didn’t launch is especially surprising because Apple included the Facebook integration in a screenshot in its presentation in San Francisco yesterday, and currently has an app Page — and has advertised Facebook on its Ping splash page since yesterday. Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller even mentioned it yesterday to Kara Swisher of AllThingsD… which brings us to the reason for the feature’s no-show. Minutes away from talking to Schiller, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs told Swisher that Apple could not agree to Facebook’s “onerous terms.”
While the Twitter app was clearly borrowing from Facebook’s social graph, we don’t know what Apple wanted specifically. [Update: Swisher follows up with a little more detail about what happened: the two companies couldn’t agree on terms, so Facebook blocked Apple’s access to the platform, and Apple responded by disabling the feature.]
These are not the first instances of Facebook restricting a large tech company’s access to its otherwise open platform. When Google launched Friend Connect in 2008, Facebook blocked the service from accessing its user data. It essentially argued that Google was not ensuring that users understood how their data was being used, and while it said it was working with Google, it has never turned on full access to let users do things like export their friend lists or other data to Friend Connect (or other Google products, like Orkut).
These are the exceptions to the rule, of course. Facebook does partner with potential rivals. For example, take a look at MySpace’s recent integration of Facebook, where it first asks for lots of Facebook user data, then makes itself a one-way publisher to Facebook. In this case, Facebook and News Corp were apparently able to come to an agreement.
So what’s going on now? Twitter and Apple are making public statements about their dissatisfaction with Facebook’s terms — applying that sort of pressure is a standard negotiating tactic.
Twitter’s status has been pending since June, and it recently reverted its Facebook app from having a broken message for the friends-follow feature, to just showing its other, simpler syncing features as it tries to work out a deal with Facebook. Here what Twitter tells us about the matter:
Several weeks ago, Twitter released an update to its Facebook application: The ability to see which of their Facebook friends have attached their Twitter and Facebook accounts and choose which of those friends to follow on Twitter.
Facebook blocked the ability to access a user’s list of friends within the application. As we’ve not yet been able to come to terms on a solution, we have removed references to the update in the application to avoid user confusion.
There are a few ways this could go. Twitter, and/or Apple could launch a more meaningful integration with Facebook soon — as in the next couple of months — which would show that Facebook is more concerned about the details of the agreement than the concept of giving potential competitors access to its users. Facebook could also do what it did with Friend Connect, and say publicly that there are privacy and security issues. Or it could just keep access off, and not say anything. The problem with that last route is that it could encourage other potential partners to be more cautious about making business deals with Facebook.
Also, Apple hasn’t send anything beyond Jobs’ statement yesterday, but here’s Facebook’s official response to Swisher.
Facebook believes in connecting people with their interests and we’ve partnered with innovative developers around the world who share this vision. Facebook and Apple have cooperated successfully in the past to offer people great social experiences and we look forward to doing so in the future.