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Zuckerberg's Google boycott reaches 32 days (and counting)

'Talk to our lawyers... bitch'

Supernova On the stage, there were three chairs. And just off stage, there were three men deeply obsessed with online social networking: Dave Morin of Facebook, Kevin Marks of Google, and Joseph Smarr of Plaxo.

As they waited for their afternoon panel discussion on the ins and outs of their respective social gizmos, Mr. Plaxo turned to Mr. Facebook and Mr. Google. "I better sit between you two," Mr. Plaxo whispered.

On May 15, Facebook barred the use of Google's brand new Friend Connect service, which lets people easily export their friends list from Facebook and other social networking sites. And more than a month later, Zuckerberg and company have yet to back down.

Facebook claims that Friend Connect violates its privacy policies. But Google says it doesn't. And following 30 days of discussion, they've yet to find common ground.

After taking that stage at today's Supernova conference in downtown San Francisco, Dave Morin - Facebook's senior platform manager - indicated that the hold-up is down to the company's lawyers.

Other than that, Morin wouldn't say more than the company has said before. He insists that Friend Connect fails to give Facebookers sufficient control over their data. "When Google launched Friend Connect, we found that the technology was in violation of our terms of use and we asked Google to talk to us and what not," he said. "We've now been in direct contact with Google representatives and we're trying to find a way we can work together."

But as panel moderator Tantek Celik demonstrated with a wall-sized screenshot, Friend Connect offers multiple privacy settings for each site you export too. One setting prevents even your friends from viewing your personal data, and you can change these settings at any time. "As far we know, we don't violate [Facebook's terms of use]," said Googler Kevin Marks. "I'd like to know what we change to get this turned back on."

Morin responded by telling his audience that Facebook believes in something called dynamic privacy. "We would like to work together with you guys to try to make dynamic privacy happen for everyone, so any privacy setting that a Facebook user sets up on our side replicates on Google Friend Connect or Plaxo or any other service on the internet."

And when Marks reiterated that Friend Connect lets users choose privacy settings on the fly, Morin hid behind his lawyers. "I would prefer not to talk about legal matters on this panel," he said.

This left many to wonder whether Morin and Facebook have another reason for barring access to those 80 million friends lists. "How much of this about Friend Connect getting access to the main value of Facebook, and you not getting something back?" one voice asked from the audience. "Isn't that the underlying issue?"

But Morin said no. He insists that Facebook believes in sharing its "social graph" with other sites - and other sites sharing their stuff with Facebook. Indeed, the company has announced its own data transfer tool, Facebook Connect - though it has yet to launch.

"We need to deliver something that enables [Facebook users] to log into other sites and take their data with them," he said, "and we want to work alongside other sites that are doing similar things, to make sure that in the long run, the end user gets the most value. This [Google kerfuffle] comes down to user control and user privacy."

Considering that there are lawyers involved, we think it comes down to much more than that. And we got the distinct feeling that everyone in the room agreed with us. ®

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