facebook protects us from having our data scraped – but that also stops us from MOVING our data

Robert Scoble has about 5000 Facebook friends and was using a script to get a “map” of all his Facebook network and data so he could move it to a different platform. He writes in his blog: “I am working with a company to move my social graph to other places.” Facebook responded by disabling his account, because he was, as Scoble quotes their email, “viewing pages at a quick enough rate that we suspect you may be running an automated script”, and because, “This kind of Activity would be a violation of our Terms of Use and potentially of federal and state laws.”

Now I can actually see why you’d NOT want automated scripts sucking up info about us off Facebook. I intend the information on my profile to be read by my human friends, not collected by computers and repurposed for unknown projects. Scoble seems to have been scraping information off his social network on Facebook for a fair reason, though: so that he can re-implement his social network on a different service. The information is, after all, his. Or rather, it belongs to him and his friends – and I’m one of his Facebook friends. So it sounds as though his script was saving information off my profile, too, for instance. I wouldn’t be OK with someone taking that information, much of which is only viewable to my friends, and reposting it on another website.

I don’t really know what Scoble was intending to do with the data. Probably his intents are entirely benign. He clearly sees this as an issue of data portability and of owning your own data.
But whose data is it really? The individual user’s – in this case Scoble’s? Only a tiny fraction of the data on Scoble’s “social graph” was actually created by Scoble himself. Facebook’s? Well, legally, yes, because that’s how they’ve written their terms of use. The reasonable conclusion, in my opinion, is that it should belong to the people who shared their information. Scoble’s “social graph” on Facebook belongs not only to Scoble, but to all 5000 of Scoble’s friends. And how on earth can you really get permission to copy and reuse the data from all these people?

It’s certainly very convenient for Facebook that protecting their users’ privacy fits simultaneously allows them to stop anybody from moving their data to another service.

Update Jan 4: Scoble’s been readmitted to Facebook.

Update Jan 8: Thomas Otter has posted a very interesting blog post describing how Scoble’s actions were in violation of European privacy laws.

03. January 2008 by Jill

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