Is Facebook really a black hole ?

A number of us at Talis have been thinking and talking a lot about DataPortablity, my colleague Danny even went as far as recording the YouTube video above, which I think is excellent. When Google recently launched their Friend Connect service earlier this month, it seemed like a step in the right direction. Finally I’d be able to move my social graph from one service to another … I mean it’s my data after all, right?

I had been wondering, as I’m sure many others have, how established services like Facebook would react to Google’s initiative and indeed any initiative by the more open dataportability movement in general, especially when you consider that the only real value Facebook actually has is all the data we, as users, have entered into it. I wasn’t too surprised to read this article by Scott Gilbertson over on Wired Blog, which describes pretty much the kind of reaction that I had expected from FaceBook … but what did surprise me was that Facebook’ terms and conditions do actually state the following:

You may not store any Facebook Properties in any Data Repository 
which enables any third party (other than the Applicable Facebook
User for such Facebook Properties)to access or share the Facebook
Properties without our prior written consent.

Scott sums it up quite succinctly when he says “Facebook’s TOS make no bones about who controls your data. The answer is: not you”. He is also right to point out that Google’s motives are far from altruistic:

But don’t go getting idea that Google is really all that concerned with freeing up your data. Google, like every other site, wants a slice of the pie. If Google helps you gain a little control at the same time, consider it a happy coincidence, not a motivating factor.

Yet what does frustrate me about Facebook is that they are using the tired old excuse that they are trying to keep their users safe; that their users privacy is paramount, which is laughable as Scott also quite rightly points out:

Facebook’s own failed Beacon ad platform effectively showed that, deep down, Facebook doesn’t care about your privacy, it cares about making money off your data. And to do that it has to make sure it keeps that data locked up on the site. Letting Google siphon your info off to other social sites isn’t going to help line Facebook’s coffers.

There’s something deeply wrong with the idea that I can create data about myself, and my relationship with other people, but then that data doesn’t belong to me. For me this situation highlights the importance of DataPortability, as Danny so vividly puts it, to Get Your Data Out. Scott is probably right when he observes:

If we want an open social web, we’re going to have to build it ourselves, using technologies that no one company controls.