Facebook Disconnects Google's Friend Finder

Facebook declares war on data portability by suspending access to Google's Friend Connect social widget service.

You have been measured. You have been weighed. And you have been found wanting.

That's more or less what Facebook said in banning Google's Friend Connect social widget service, which launched to developers as a preview May 12, just days after Facebook announced a more amorphous data portability move May 9.

Friend Connect aims to let Web site owners add a snippet of code to their Web sites to add user registration, invitations, member galleries, message posting and reviews. The idea is that site owners can socialize their site to boost stickiness.

Facebook engineer Charlie Cheever said in a May 15 blog post that after testing Friend Connect, Facebook found that it redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users' knowledge, which is a gross violation of the company's privacy rules.

"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," Cheever wrote.

He went on to explain that Facebook officials tried multiple times to reach out to Google to get it to comply, but so far no luck. Facebook wants to get this sorted out before it launches Connect, its own effort to allow users to move Facebook content to other sites on the Internet.

Facebook Slaps, Google Doesn't Blink

Facebook's move is a competitive slap in the face to Google as it works to rush its own data portability service out the door after MySpace beat both rivals to the punch with an impressive-looking Data Availability effort.

Google hardly blinked in response, as if it were expecting such a move from Facebook. The company refuted Facebook's claims and said it was disappointed in Facebook's suspension of Friend Connect.

"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," a company spokesperson told eWEEK May 15.

Specifically, Google said a third-party app has access to a user's Friend Connect ID, which is a number, not a name; a name that a user entered into Friend Connect; a user photo (only if users choose to make that photo public on a site); and the Google Friend Connect IDs of any of a user's friends who are also members of a Friend Connected site.

"These apps have no knowledge of who these friends are. They have no access to additional profile data-yours or your friends'. No idea who else is on your friends' list on your social network," the Google spokesperson said.

Facebook Courting User Disdain

Facebook's move won't be looked at kindly by the largely open-source data portability community. After all, it has a tarry history of finding and suspending applications passing user data to another party.

Blogger Robert Scoble was booted from Facebook in January after he used a data import feature from Plaxo Pulse to import names, e-mail addresses and birthdays. He was later reinstated unceremoniously by Facebook after he explained what happened.

But that was one well-liked blogger. Now Facebook must contend with the legion of developers who want to test Friend Connect by leveraging their Facebook data.

Moreover, if there wasn't a rift between Google and Facebook before, there certainly is one now. Google won't look kindly on being kneecapped by the brash startup.