Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington seems to be saying that Facebook is wrong to suck up data from Google’s contact systems, especially after Google has tried to block Facebook from doing that.
In another post on November 5 he even seems to be saying that Facebook should open up its data hoarde and let everyone have access.
So why am I confused?
Because Mike and I have had only one really violent argument. I’ve always thought that Facebook should have opened up and should allow users to take contact info to other systems. Where did that argument break down? In May of 2008. Yes, more than two years ago! On a Gillmor Gang (you can read the transcript, I think the original recording has disappeared, unfortunately, but I’ll try to find that in the morning).
Why did that argument happen? Because I let Plaxo test a system that would suck just my friends email addresses out of Facebook and put them into Google’s contacts. Doing that broke Facebook’s terms of service, and got me kicked off of Facebook for a day.
On Gillmor Gang a few months after that event, Mike and I had it out in a shouting match. Josie Fraser was listening to that show and said it was “the geek world equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show.” Chris Saad was on the show and he encapsulated the points held by the participants very well.
Only I thought that we should ALWAYS be able to move email addresses and names back and forth between these systems without any restrictions.
Only I have been consistent. Glad to have Mike on my side finally.
But, now, let’s discuss this. It’s too late. Google has already lost its database to Facebook. It’s now posturing and doing that poorly. A friend said Google should be cheered for finally standing up. Oh, yeah, that’s like cheering the zookeeper for finally closing the gate after all the animals get out. It’s over. Google allowed the biggest identity
theft migration we’ll ever see in our lifetimes. Those animals aren’t going back in the zoo. How do I sign on Techcrunch today? With my Facebook identity, not my Google one.
What’s funny is that Facebook IS making moves to open up. Back when we had that argument Facebook wasn’t open at all. Today when you use a new music service it already knows about all the previous music you’ve liked. Why? Because of Facebook’s new open systems that didn’t exist two years ago. And I can list a ton of such examples of other such systems that have been built on top of Facebook’s open graphs.
Yes, Facebook still forbids email addresses to go elsewhere. They SHOULD open up, and I’ve heard from some company employees that say they are considering such a move.
The problem? It’s too late for Google. Facebook knows this, which is why it’s being more open. Why? Well, my Google social graph has rotted. The 8,000 names on my Google Contacts are attached to email addresses that are old, not good, and phone numbers that are old, not good. Tonight I tried to call someone from my phone’s contact list. The number was dead. I went to Facebook, grabbed his new number there and I even made the call right from the Facebook iPhone app.
It’s too late for Google to get all of our contact and other data back. They should have closed the zoo gate two years ago. They didn’t. They lose.
Nice for Arrington to get on Google’s side now that the game is already over. When will the real Michael Arrington stand up for true data portability?
What Google needs now isn’t just the email address. It needs our social graph too. Chances that Zuckerberg will hand that over? Between zero and zero.
For some more fun, lets look back at some of Arrington’s quotes from that Gillmor Gang, shall we?
“And this is what I wrote last night in the middle of the night because Scoble’s post really pissed me off. And I’m happy to talk about that too, but I think that if you look back at the days of the mid- to late 1990s, walled gardens were getting a lot of attention. People hated them, but they had the big market caps and AOL is the perfect example of they get you in and they keep you in.”
“Arrington: Well OK, let me talk about that because what Scoble did… See, Scoble screwed up earlier this year, because he used a Plaxo tool that went into Facebook and grabbed all of his friends contact information. And that’s not trivial to do because all that contact information is presented in a JPEG. It’s an image because Facebook doesn’t want people to easily scrape it.
So Plaxo went in, pulled up the friends list, pulled up each page. Used optical character recognition software to turn that into free text and then export it into Plaxo. And because of that, Facebook just banned Robert Scoble. Shut down his account temporarily. He was wrong then. And the reason I think he was wrong to try to do that is he thought, “This is my data, I want to export it.”
But my argument was, that isn’t his data, that’s my data. If I’m his friend and he’s pulling my contact information out of it, he’s changed the rules on me. The rules that I know are set by Facebook, which is that the data is presented only in an image, etcetera and he’s exporting where God knows what could happen to it.
And I don’t know if, a couple years ago I wrote about a company called Jigsaw. Which actually people get paid to upload contact information for possible sales leads. And I think it’s one of the worst things on the Internet. And so this sort of this my basic contact information, I need to have some control over who gets that and how. So I think he was wrong. And I think he knew he was wrong.
So yesterday, he sees this situation happen where Facebook bans Google from letting people export their own contact information. And in his eyes, I think he saw it as an analogy to what happened earlier in the year. So he changed his position and said, “No, no. I think Facebook is right. I think, hey, it showed I was wrong earlier in the year, and Facebook’s right to sort of stop this and protect and my data.”
And so the post I wrote was: “Look, Robert, you’re wrong both times. You were wrong the first time because you were talking about my data, my contact information that you were exporting. Then, yesterday, you’re talking about your own data and how Facebook should have the right to stop that from being exported if you choose to export it.”
Scoble: Let me have something to say here. Let’s back up. There’s two issues here. One, if you really are going to let me act like it’s my data to do with whatever I want, when you give me access to your email address…
Arrington: Oh, God. You’re still stuck on that.
Scoble: I am stuck on it…
Arrington: No, Robert! No! If I hand you my business card, does that give you a right to publish that information on the net and sell it to other people? Which is Jigsaw’s business model.
Scoble: Who said I’m selling it to anybody? It’s not why I’m using it. It’s just an email address.
Arrington: But that’s Jigsaw’s business model.
Scoble: And I’m sick and tired of you guys mischaracterizing what I said! I never said I was going to give it out to the public…
Arrington: It doesn’t matter, Robert. You changed the rules. It doesn’t matter what you were going to do. You changed the rules.
Scoble: I did not change the rules.
Arrington: You took the data. I gave you the data under this explicit set of rules, and those explicit set of rules are: you can look at it as an image on Facebook when you’re logged in. And you took that data, you exported it to a third-party service that I don’t have a relationship with…
Scoble: OK. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait! Let me have a say. You ripped me an asshole without giving me a chance to say anything. Wait a second.
First of all, you friended me. That’s an implicit act giving me some rights. Second of all, you give me your email address, which has no utility at all in Facebook. Why would you give that to me? Are you saying that I can’t enter that email address into Gmail and send you an email? I can’t enter it into Outlook and send you an email? Or I can’t go over to Yahoo email and send you an email? Is that what you’re saying?
Scoble: Then how did I..?
Arrington: I’m thinking you can’t turn it into pretext and export it to a third-party service — who has huge privacy issues, by the way. That’s what I’m saying you do.
Scoble: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Back up, back up, back up. If you give me the ability to enter it into email, into Outlook, that explicitly gives it access to some other things.
Arrington: No. I’m explicitly…
Scoble: It does.
Arrington: Robert, let me explain very carefully…
Scoble: When you hand me your business card…
Arrington: Wait, Robert. Let me explain it really carefully. When I give you my email address, I’m not giving you the right to hand that email address over to third-party services to do with what they want.
Scoble: Yes you are. Absolutely you are. Because, guess what: you already are. You’re giving me the permission to put it into Gmail. That’s a third-party service. You’re giving me the permission to put into Outlook. That’s a third-party service.
Arrington: Hold on. Robert, hold on. You’re right in that I am implicitly giving you permission to put it into Gmail, probably add it to your contact list there, and send me an email. What I don’t want you doing is going to third-party services like Plaxo, which have a horrible reputation when it comes to privacy, and giving them control of that data.
Scoble: You have no right to tell me what to do with that data. You have absolutely no control and no right to control how I use that email address.
Gillmor: OK. All right. Now, here’s where you both have to listen to me for a second.
Gillmor: The fundamental right is the user’s right. The user’s right is an understanding — what some people call a social contract — of what is going to be done with that data. When somebody violates that understanding, forget about the legal conditions, the terms of service, the assumptions on the part of the person who is going to do something with that data. Forget about all that. If the user’s rights are violated, according to the user, from that moment on, the social contract between that user and other people is broken…
Scoble: It’s not the user’s right…
Gillmor: Hang on. Hang on. I’m almost done. And that user, writ large, is going to have a big, big role in what happens to data, generally, moving forward. So, when you went and, as an agent of Plaxo, went after that data, it’s not that we don’t trust you, Robert — of course we trust you. We don’t trust the person that comes along and rummages around in the garbage can and picks up all this data and says, “Oh, hey, cool,” and all of a sudden, we’re getting spammed within an inch of our life for the rest of our lives about the stuff.
Scoble: First of all, Mike’s email was already in Outlook before I scraped it off of Facebook. Second of all, it’s already in Plaxo. But you don’t have access to that account in Plaxo. That’s my account, and it’s my data, and if Plaxo starts fucking with my user rights, then I’m going to go ape shit.
Gillmor: The point is that you are a representative of what could go wrong. It is not that you are wrong. It is that if you establish a precedent to be able to access data in the way you did, other bad actors can come along, and they can broadcast it on Mars and open up a lemonade stand around it.
Scoble: Here’s the whole problem with this whole argument. If he friends me, he’s giving me some trust. If I misplace that trust by putting his email address on my blog, for instance, without his permission…
Scoble: No, Plaxo keeps it private. It’s for my own uses. You don’t have access to my…
Gillmor: You don’t know that Plaxo keeps it private. That’s a contract between you and Plaxo, and I don’t necessarily agree to that contract.
Scoble: Well, OK. But you don’t have control. You are not in control here.
Gillmor: We only have control of our relationships with the people that we know.
Gillmor: If you violate that trust, no matter how innocently you do so, it comes back on you, not on Plaxo.
Scoble: Exactly. I’d better choose my vendors very carefully, and make sure that if they screw me, I go ape shit.
Gillmor: Well, I’ve never heard you go ape shit about Plaxo, because I think they screwed you big-time.
Arrington: And here’s the other thing, Robert. This is a bit of a red herring, because we’re talking about whether, when I give you an email address, it’s mine or yours.
The biggest problem here is that that it screwed up your head, and it got you thinking, “Wow. I just got trashed on the Internet. Maybe I was wrong.” And then the new issue comes along, and you’re so screwed up from the last issue that you’re like, “Oh, OK. This time on the side of right, so Facebook was right in protecting this data.” And again, what happened was you were just dead wrong again.