Jan 3

Jimmy Guterman

Jimmy Guterman

Does Facebook own this blog post?

Facebook, apparently, owns my birthday. Yours too.

At least that's one way to interpret why blogger Robert Scoble got kicked off Facebook. While testing an upcoming version of Plaxo Pulse, Scoble scraped information on his contacts (name, address, and birthday, so he could move them to Outlook, he says), which turns out to violate Facebook's terms of service.

Self-promotion is certainly an aspect of this made-for-the-blogosphere event. It's not like getting kicked off Facebook has prevented Scoble from broadcasting his every micromove. (And it's not like scraping isn't something social networks have to monitor. There are Black Hat scrapers, too. See Dare Obasanjo for more on this angle.) But there are serious issues here deeper than Scoble's behavior. We are strong believers in projects that open up the social graph, we've expressed disappointment when early attempts to do so have delivered less than promised, and we've noted when social networks run amuck with our data. Facebook is locking in its customers. Mark Zuckerberg may be young, but he's not too young to remember how AOL fared with a similar lock-in strategy when the open web challenged it.

The question is simple: Is it your data -- or is it Facebook's? Facebook has given its opinion. What do you think -- and what are you going to do about it?

(See Kara Swisher for more on the topic. Nick Carr covers it, too. He disagrees with my take, and Kara's, but his post made me laugh. In a good way.)

tags: worries  | comments: 20   | Sphere It

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Comments: 20

  Adam [01.03.08 12:59 PM]

It's my data, and I want my portion of the 15 billion.

  chris [01.03.08 01:21 PM]

Facebook is creepy beyond words.

I'm back in touch with a few old friends through it - and I've enjoyed my several months using it. But, apparently like Scoble, I now want to move my node of the social network I exist in to a more open platform. I'd not be looking to leave Facebook if Facebook wasn't trying to force me to stay.

It's a shame, as there's something very charming about Facebook when it's not acting like a needy egomaniac or weird stalker.

And, I just remembered, I only joined Facebook in the first place because my wife joined after reading a Scobleizer post on it. And now Scoble's been banned. Odd.

  Knox [01.03.08 01:22 PM]

As one of the "Scoble 5000" I would contend that my birthday is mine, not Scoble's. I object to him handing my birthday over to Plaxo, which I well remember as every goon I met seemed to spam with some request associated with Plaxo.

  Jimmy Guterman [01.03.08 01:40 PM]

You're right: Plaxo does not have a good history with this. The company appeared to be in a post-spam era, though. But I don't want to have to choose sides between Facebook and Plaxo.

  Kurt Gooden [01.03.08 01:54 PM]

I am not sure why everyone is so appalled by Scoble's experiences. I am sure he has read the terms of service of Facebook and knowingly broke them. I guess I agree with your synopsis of his motives.

If they were to open up further, giving access to my email and other contact information, they must secure it very well and give more control than they currently do over the rest of their platform data.

Currently, if anything, they are protecting the consumer more than harming by keeping it in. There are plenty of Facebook apps that are probably operated by ill-motivated developers eager to sell off a contact list to the first spam-pusher to come along. By holding back uniquely identifiable information they are preventing this resale and potential harm.

I truly believe in openness, however there is just a lot of work that needs to be done to educate the consumer on how to use controls provided to protect their data before opening them right up.

  Andy Wong [01.03.08 02:28 PM]

The users should by principle own the data, as the users created the content. This is very simple, you post a paper note to a bulletin board, and you own the content, not the bulletin board. However, the service providers own the collective intelligence.

Google had got it right. The CEO Eric Schmidt claimed many times that Google tried hard to make the users truly own the data by providing convenient methods for the users to retrieve data and put the data to other platforms. As long as Google has the greatest assets of collective intelligence, Google is not in fear of users moving the data away while respecting the data ownership of the users.

  Tim O'Reilly [01.03.08 02:38 PM]

I'm actually with Nick Carr. Despite the urgent need for data portability and an open social network, scraping a site like Facebook is not the right answer. It's unclear where the boundaries of the data shared via a service with Facebook are. What is truly public, and what is private?

We need a profoundly different architecture for open social networks, one that is centered on the user's database, not the social network platform's, yet interoperability is possible.

I'm hopeful that we'll be able to get to an open social network architecture where exploits like Scoble's are not necessary.

For what it's worth, Terry Jones ( ) has some very interesting thoughts that are relevant to this discussion.

  Deepak [01.03.08 02:40 PM]

There are two questions here (1) data ownership and by corollary FB's walled garden nature and (2) the specific case of breaking FB's ToS by a competitor.

When it comes to ownership, the question is not quite black and white. As Knox says, he would not have wanted his data taken to Plaxo. However, in the larger picture, data portability is not only important but also critical. If we don't like FBs ToS, we don't have to sign up.

On the second issue, the fact remains that Plaxo used a covert method to break FBs ToS and I am pretty sure they knew that. Now that is completely unethical. It also removed the .01% chance that I was going to join Plaxo.

  Jimmy Guterman [01.03.08 03:10 PM]

Three people have written to me, wondering, with varying levels of politeness, why I had come out in favor of scraping. I didn't think I had. I'm certainly not an objective reader of my own writing, but I thought that sentences like "It's not like scraping isn't something social networks have to monitor. There are Black Hat scrapers" made clear that I wasn't pro-scraping. Apparently, I was wrong. Let me be clear: I'm defending neither Facebook nor Plaxo. The point of my post was to show how the Scoble brouhaha illuminates the larger issue of data interoperability.

  dave mcclure [01.03.08 05:10 PM]

Jimmy: i think the issue here is that Scoble & Plaxo were trying to prove a point about data portability / ownership, but were doing 2 things wrong in attempting that effort:

1) they knowingly busted Facebook's TOS

and more importantly,

2) they assumed that Scoble "owns" private email address data for "friends" acquired thru FB

whether or not you believe Facebook is "keeping your data", #1 is flat out just wrong, and curiously in #2 i think it's actually Scoble & Plaxo who are violating user privacy, since it's not clear that any of Scoble's Facebook friends gave him permission to access / own / remove their private email addresses.

what's rather funny in all of this is that Plaxo is the company rolling out the consumer privacy / data portability higher moral authority, and yet they're the ones that are arguably violating user privacy.

if they're trying to make a point about data portability / ownership of social network data then i support their right to make that argument -- and indeed it has some merit -- but doing it this way is just a PR stunt & the wrong way to make their case, imho.

  chris [01.03.08 06:10 PM]

Scoble's harvesting of personal information is certainly an abuse of the trust of his 5000 friends on Facebook. But the idea that Facebook should punish such an abuse of trust is crazy. This isn't about black-hat scraping. It's about the use of information supplied voluntarily and non-contractually. Scoble's a schmuck, for sure, but Facebook is acting like a nanny.

@Knox: Then why did you give someone I guess you barely know access to your private details?

  Jimmy Guterman [01.03.08 06:38 PM]

Great points here, especially from Master of 500 Hats Mr. McClure. And I see this evening that reinstated-to-Facebook Scoble is now comparing himself to Gandhi, which suggests that this whole thing may have been a PR stunt. I still believe this gives us a chance to address the issue of portability. That's something worth fighting for. Scoble isn't.

  Josh Spaulding [01.03.08 07:30 PM]

It's my data, but if they require it in order to create an account it's their responsibility to protect it.

I'm a marketer myself, but I don't agree with this type of crap. FaceBook did the right thing!

  Alex Andronov [01.03.08 10:46 PM]

I have to say that there is a great deal of woolly reasoning going on here.

If Scoble hadn't used a script but had gone to each one of the pages of his "friends" manually and copied the e-mail address and date of birth would that have made a difference? Or if say every time somebody had friended him he'd copied the information off of the page.

He didn't hack the system as such, the data is being displayed. If you don't want Scoble to know that data don't give it to him.

Scoble doesn't "own" the data. It is your birthday after all, but if you e-mailed it to him and he put it in his outlook calendar then would you have a problem? No, but then if you e-mailed Scoble your birthday he probably would genuinely be your friend.

The problem with Facebook is that there isn't a set of types of contact. I want to divide contacts into friends, business contacts, web contacts, businesses who might spam me. And perhaps some others. And each of these classes would have access to differing amounts of data about me. I had hoped that Facebook would allow me to communicate with non-trusted parties without revealing to them my e-mail address - but it's all or nothing.

I don't think what Robert did was right, but if you are one of the Scoble 5000 then you did give him your e-mail address and date of birth, because you allowed it it be shared with your "Friends" and you made Scoble a "Friend". Just because he automatically grabbed everyone it was suddenly a stunt, but he could have grabbed each of you individually and nobody would have noticed - that makes it Facebook and your fault not his.

  Andy [01.04.08 04:21 AM]

Great debate but Facebook have to either open up the data or protect it - there's no way they can sit on the fence. Either way they will lose some users.

  Andy [01.04.08 04:23 AM]

Great debate (for scoble anyway). Facebook cant sit on the fence and must choose between opening up the data or protecting it. Either way they will lose some users.

  Jimmy Guterman [01.04.08 05:46 AM]

Those who've read the comments this far should be rewarded with a link to this Facebook group.

  Chaya [01.04.08 07:12 PM]

The really funny part is that when Facebook first started (maybe for the first year, maybe less) Facebook let you download all your friends' info in a handy little vCard file.

  Michelle [01.08.08 07:24 AM]

Scoble is a dope. Period. Sure, now it becomes a debate. Sure, now he was saying he was duped. Sure, let's take the blame off Scoble and put it on Facebook. Again, Scoble is a dope! If you think he didn't know what he was doing, you know what that makes you? That's right, a dope!

  Ravenii [01.11.08 10:30 AM]

Guess I have to make my new site, assbook (or is it Lassbook?) come out sooner. To pickup crumbs!

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