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Facebook battles Google over access to user data

Friend Connect privacy kerfuffle

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Facebook has suspended the use of a Google service which allowed people to export their Facebook friends list to other websites, claiming that the Google service violates users' privacy.

Google recently released Friend Connect, a system which allows a user of social networking sites to export details from within those services to other websites or services which are part of the Google system.

Facebook, though, has claimed that the Google service violates user privacy and its own terms and conditions and has suspended access to the service, though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that he would like to talk to Google to resolve the problem.

"We’ve found that [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 and is a violation of our Terms of Service," Facebook's Charlie Cheever said in his blog.

"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. We’ve reached out to Google several times about this issue, and hope to work with them to enable users to share their data exactly when and where they choose," he said.

Google disagrees with Facebook's assessment of its technology.

"The only user information that we pass from a social networking site to third-party applications is the user's public photo, and even that is under user control," said a Google blog in response to the Facebook suspension.

"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," it said.

Facebook has been a massive success since 2006 when it stopped restricting access to students and graduates of US universities. It has been more successful in luring professional, slightly older internet users than competitors MySpace or Bebo, giving it a very lucrative audience to which to sell advertising.

It has not surprised observers that the company has stopped Google from allowing people to take their contact lists out of the Facebook system, though Zuckerberg has claimed that he is prepared to negotiate with Google.

"We want to talk to Google about this and see if there's a way we can make it work," Zuckerberg told a press conference in Tokyo this week, according to InfoWorld.

Facebook's terms for application developers say that they cannot store 'Facebook Properties' in a database from where they can be sold, shared, leased or distributed to third parties.

Facebook has announced its own data-sharing service called Facebook Connect. This is designed to allow Facebook members to use their Facebook profiles on partner websites, linking information and services on those websites to Facebook and data contained in it.

The service will not go live for a number of weeks, though, and it is not clear exactly how it will work.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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