Facebook Bans Google Friend Connect

by Jesse Farmer on Friday, May 16, 2008

Facebook announced today on their official developers' blog that they have banned Google Friend Connect, stating privacy concerns.

Google Friend Connect is a service that allows users to share their social data, such as personal information and friends, with websites that embed the Google-created widgets. This data can come from many social networks, including Facebook, Hi5, Orkut, and Google Talk.

The key section in the second-to-last paragraph:

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.

They claim that they have "reached out to Google several times about this issue," but do not state what conversations, if any, took place. Nor do they spell out exactly how Google Friend Connect violates the Terms of Service.

Facebook announced on May 9th, 2008 that they will be launching their own competitor to Google Friend Connect, Facebook Connect. Both Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect came on the heels of MySpace's May 8th announcement of their Data Availability project.


First, it's exciting to see competition in the data portability space. What seemed like a fantasy just a year ago is now an inexorable trend: data will flow freely across all social networks. Or, as Charlene Li said, "Social networks will be like air."

Google, MySpace, Yahoo!, and Facebook all have huge stakes in this game, each controlling a slice of the social networking pie. Facebook and MySpace have "social networks" in their own right, but don't forget that friend data can come from services like email and IM, too.

Second, Facebook is skirting a fine, legalistic line. They don't claim they have a problem with Google Friend Connect taking data from Facebook. Rather, their problem is that Google Friend Connect supposedly then shares this data with third-parties. Of course, the blog post announcing all this is rather opaque and gives no specifics.

But does anyone sincerely believe this isn't just Facebook pressing its competitive advantages? They're about to launch their own version of Friend Connect and crippling your competitor in anticipation is a play right out of the Microsoft platform handbook.

I think the folks at Facebook are just upset because Google, for once, got the drop on them. The only way they know how to respond is with muscle rather than grace.

Facebook is a business, so I understand it has to operate out of self-interest, but I hope they're not so self-deluded as to believe this move was motivated by privacy concerns. The original launch of Facebook Beacon is enough to know that Facebook doesn't have privacy on the mind all the time.

On a more general level, Facebook likes to play the world domination game, as Umair Haque has pointed out countless times. Using privacy as a front Facebook acts the paternalist.

Does Facebook know best? Are they the best arbiters of my privacy? Thanks, Facebook, but no thanks. I should be able to do with my data as I please.

Update: TechCrunch has more, including a follow-up from both Google and Facebook.

Update 2: John Furrier has an interesting post where he compares Facebook's strategy to Netscape rather than Microsoft.