Google Drills Down into Friend Connect

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-05-19 Print this article Print



Shortly after Facebook banned Google's Friend Connect, the service's engineers took the time to detail how Friend Connect works.


Facebook claimed it banned the service because it allowed developers to access users' data. So, Google went to great lengths in a blog post to explain that the service does not threaten user privacy, chiefly because users control what data gets shared.


"Users choose what social networks to link to their Friend Connect account. (They can just as easily unlink them.)" wrote Peter Chane, Sami Shalabi and Mussie Shore. "We never handle passwords from other sites, we never store social graph data from other sites, and we never pass users' social network IDs to Friend Connected sites or applications."


The only user information that Google passes from Facebook to third-party applications is the URL of the user's public photo, and if only if a user gives consent.


Now, we've already established that Facebook was engaging in this misdirection because it has a competing service in the works, though we don't really yet know how its connect service will be structured.


Google explains Google Friend Connect reads only the Facebook numeric ID, friendly name and public photo URLs of users and their friends. This is done through Facebook's own public APIs. When user link their Facebook accounts with Google Friend Connect, they must consent to this on Facebook itself.


Google Friend Connect does not permanently store any user data retrieved from Facebook. In fact, Google purges it every 30 minutes "because we don't want to store this data any longer than we absolutely need it," the officials said.


Read the post for the rest of the steps, accompanied by screenshots.


Whether or not you are bothered by Facebook's FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), Facebook actually did a service for users skeptical of, or just curious about, Friend Connect. If Facebook hadn't banned the service last Thursday, I'm not sure we would have gotten these detailed instructions on how Friend Connect works.


Nontechnical people won't necessarily care, but bloggers and privacy advocates, all of whom are struggling with data portability and the notion of moving data from one secure site to the next, want to know this information.


By detailing how Friend Connect works, Google will not only help people understand its approach to data portability (or data availability, if you prefer), but begin to help other vendors and programmers formulate ideas on how to improve it or try something different.


Friend Connect is innovative, but it's not blowing anyone away at this point. It is a building block for better services to come, from Google or someone else.



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