Social graphs just wanna be free, but will they ever be?

I can't really work up the same sense of outrage that's accompanied Facebook's decision to give Google the middle finger.

I'm trying without luck to work up the same indignation that's accompanied Facebook's decision to block Google's Friend Connect earlier in the week.

It's become quite the big deal in the blogosphere. Mike Arrington heaped scorn on Facebook's decision while Marc Canter was equally passionate about users getting control over their personal data. (Open is the new black.)

Facebook's defense? Google Friend Connect "redistributes user information from Facebook to other developers without users' knowledge, which doesn't respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect." ( CNET News.com's Dan Farber has a good recap of the blow-by-blow.)

I'm not sure how many people believe that explanation. Privacy is a convenient dodge, but this sounds more like land grab battle between the rival services. (Coincidentally, MySpace.com and Google also made separate announcements recently about creating a more open social Web.)

But here's the disconnect.

From a user perspective, who doesn't want data portability? I'm all for people taking their social graphs wherever they might like. But then there's the reality of commercial interests, which have no interest in helping rivals. The value of a network has to do with the network effect. People go to Facebook or MySpace or Orkut because other people they also know are on a particular service and they want to connect. Sharing the users' social graph means a rival can more easily catch up to the friend networks built by incumbent players such as Facebook.

They may allow just enough data portability to appear to be on the side of the angels. But in the absence of the Second Coming--or pressure to create a nonprofit host for personal data--there's little chance we can expect much more.

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Tech Culture
About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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