Facebook's real reason for blocking Google's Friend Connect

Today in a press conference launching the Japanese language Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed his company's dispute with Google's Friend Connect and the ensuing blog duel, saying he wants to "make it work."

It began last week when Facebook, MySpace, and Google all announced similar plans to share user information seamlessly with other sites. The so-called "walled garden" nature of socially-oriented sites -- where members' information and activities are kept within one property -- was what these three groups were looking to change. In order to do so, they have no choice but to work together.

But in a blog posting by Facebook's Charlie Cheever, he said Google's Friend Connect redistributes users personal information from Facebook to other developers without their knowledge, and that such a practice "doesn't respect the privacy standards our users have...and is a violation of our terms of service."

He therefore concluded that Facebook had no choice but to suspend Friend Connect's access to Facebook.

Over the weekend, Google staffers responded, explaining how friend connect works in the Google Code Blog. It says: "We behave like any other caller of the Facebook API. (See the Facebook developer API documentation for details.) When a user links their Facebook account with Google Friend Connect they must consent to this on Facebook itself..." and goes on to detail the steps to completing info share.

"Google Friend Connect only reads a small amount of user data from Facebook, and does so using Facebook's public APIs. We read the Facebook numeric id, friendly name, and public photo URLs of the user and their friends. We read no other information...The only user information that we pass from Facebook to third-party applications is the URL of the user's public photo."

It then goes on to address point-by-point the information used by applications running on Friend Connect sites: A user's Google Friend Connect ID (a number), Username/screenname (not real name), the user's Facebook public photo URL ("We intend to obfuscate this URL in a future release of Friend Connect"), and the Friend Connect ID of buddy-listed people who are also members of the site running the application.

"That's it. These apps have no access to additional profile data -- yours or your friends'. The apps have no idea who else is on your friends list on your social network(s)."

After this was revealed, InfoWorld ran Zuckerberg's statement on the subject, which lacked the acerbity of Cheever's blog accusation: "Google might share their information with another application, or some part of it, maybe not all of it, without that user knowing."

And then the reason came out, "They launched that without asking us or talking to us about it first so we had no choice but to follow the rules that we had set forth for any developer on top of our platform and we followed them,"

So Facebook blocked out Google's Friend Connect not because it was certain to recklessly spread users' information, but because it didn't officially RSVP to the party like everyone else. Instead, it just walked through the front door. "Google...[makes] good things and our goal is to work with them to figure this out."

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