The Social Platform PR Wars Continue: Facebook Bans Google Friend Connect

It’s been a very interesting week in the world of social platforms and data sharing: after years of talk in the data portability community, industry behemoths Facebook, MySpace, and Google all announced major data, identity, and privacy portability initiatives within the span of 3 business days.

  • Thur May 8: MySpace announces its “Data Availability” initiative, whereby it will share public user profile data with partner sites like Yahoo, eBay, and Twitter.
  • Fri May 9: Facebook announces its “Facebook Connect” initiative, which will let third party developers access Facebook user profile and friend data.
  • Mon May 12: Google announces its “Friend Connect” initiative, which will let users do much of the same thing through an OAuth/OpenID/OpenSocial system administered by Google.

None of these press events, however, included any actual product announcements. It’s something Marc Andreessen called a case of “strategitis” – making big strategy announcements before developers or users have any products to test out.

Today, Facebook upped the ante significantly by announcing that it is banning Google Friend Connect from the Facebook Platform for violating the Platform terms of service. Facebook’s Charlie Cheever writes,

All Facebook Platform developers agree to the Developer Terms of Service, which strictly limit the collection, use, and redistribution of user information. We have technology and a team to ensure applications abide by those policies.

We’re excited that our industry partners are taking greater steps toward openness and enabling users to share their information around the web. We hope, though, that we can collectively find a model that allows users to share data while protecting the privacy of our users’ data and ensuring that the user is always in control.

In the past, when we found applications passing user data to another party (for instance, to ad networks for the purpose of targeting), we suspended those applications and worked with those developers to ensure they respect user privacy. Now that Google has launched Friend Connect, we’ve had a chance to evaluate the technology. We’ve found that it redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users’ knowledge, which doesn’t respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect and is a violation of our Terms of Service. Just as we’ve been forced to do for other applications that redistribute data in a way users might not expect or understand, we’ve had to suspend Friend Connect’s access to Facebook user information until it comes into compliance. We’ve reached out to Google several times about this issue, and hope to work with them to enable users to share their data exactly when and where they choose.

We think MySpace’s Data Availability, Google Friend Connect, and Facebook Connect can be part of a great movement in the industry to give users a better and safer experience online, while respecting user privacy. We look forward to working with our developer community and everyone else in the industry to help all of our users take their information, and their privacy, with them wherever they go.

The amount of innovation in this space right now is good for everyone, but ultimately, Facebook, Google, MySpace, and other social networking platforms have major challenges ahead to provide the kind of portability users want without violating user privacy or cutting platforms out of the loop. We’ll stay on top of this story as it unfolds.