facebook.jpgHere’s a shocker for you: Facebook doesn’t want to give up its tight-knit control of your personal information. The company has officially banned Google’s recently-launched Friend Connect service, which would allow you to pull your personal data out of Facebook and use it elsewhere.

Considering that the only value Facebook actually has is all the data you’ve entered into it, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the site doesn’t want to hand over control of that information, particularly to a competitor like Google.

And if that means denying Facebook users the right to share their own information with other networks, so be it. This isn’t really about your privacy, after all. This is about Facebook’s data versus Google’s data.

Don’t believe it? Read Facebook’s terms of service (TOS).

Facebook’s TOS make no bones about who controls your data. The answer is: not you.

It gets a little confusing because there’s the TOS you the user agrees to, which is fairly benign, but then there’s the Developer TOS, which, while it doesn’t directly apply to you, does end up affecting what sort of tools you can use on Facebook.

And Facebook’s beef with Google Friend Connect centers around those Developer restrictions. Here’s the relevant section of the Facebook Developer TOS:

You may not store any Facebook Properties in any Data Repository which enables any third party (other than the Applicable Facebook User for such Facebook Properties) to access or share the Facebook Properties without our prior written consent.

In other words, once a user has entered something in Facebook — a list of friends, a blog post, a status update, etc — it’s effectively stuck in Facebook, since developers are not allowed to store that information outside of Facebook.

By limiting what developers can do with your data Facebook in turn limits your ability to pull out the things you put into Facebook. This is why we’ve always referred to Facebook as a black hole.

When Facebook does make concessions and allow you to move data off the site, it’s always on Facebook’s terms — like the announced, but not yet launched, Facebook Connect.

“We’re disappointed that Facebook disabled their users’ ability to
use Friend Connect with their Facebook friends,” a Google spokesman
told Wired.com.

But don’t go getting the idea that Google is really all that concerned with
freeing up your data. Google, like every other site, wants a slice of
the pie. If Google helps you gain a little control at the same time,
consider it a happy coincidence, not a motivating factor.

What’s galling to many is that Facebook still tries to hide its blatant control complex behind the guise of protecting your privacy.

Any time Facebook shuts down a service like Google Friend Connect it brushes off complaints with warm, fuzzy words about keeping you safe. This time the excuse was that Friend Connect “doesn’t respect the privacy standards our users have come to expect.”

Yet Facebook’s own failed Beacon ad platform effectively showed that, deep down, Facebook doesn’t care about your privacy, it cares about making money off your data. And to do that it has to make sure it keeps that data locked up on the site. Letting Google siphon your info off to other social sites isn’t going to help line Facebook’s coffers.

In this particular case Facebook claims that its issue with Friend Connect is that there’s no way to turn Friend Connect widgets off from within Facebook. However, the reason for that is that Facebook doesn’t offer such features in its developer API, so there’s no way for Google to add that feature. If Facebook were really concerned about your privacy it could simply add in the API feature, and maybe it will at some point. But for now it strikes us as an awfully convenient way of keeping your data locked out of Friend Connect.

Unfortunately for Facebook, it seems unlikely the site will be able to maintain that control for much longer. As Robert Scoble points out in his take on the Google-Facebook scuffle, tools like Minggl are already making an end run around Facebook’s restrictions by simply screen-scraping what gets loaded into your browser. As far as I can tell there’s no way Facebook can stop Minggl, short of suing the company out of existence.

But this isn’t just a case of Facebook being overly restrictive and forbidding you from taking your data with you when you leave the site. While much of Facebook’s supposed concern for your privacy may be a desire to protect its own interests, it isn’t all smoke and mirrors.

The issues surrounding your ability to control your data are far more complex than that.

Before you can really address control of your data, you have to first decide what actually is your data. As we’ve pointed out before, how much of your data can be said to be “owned” by you is debatable. Obviously your Facebook Wall posts, updates and personal notes are yours and should be available for export, but what about your friends and all the connections you have on Facebook?

Just because you and I might be connected on Facebook, does that give you the right to export my e-mail and contact info and take it with you where ever you go? You didn’t enter that data into Facebook, I did. So what gives you the right to take it with you when you leave?

How you answer that question will more or less determine who you see as the good guy in this latest scuffle between Facebook and Google.

That’s the real take away from this latest tussle: If you’re looking for a truly open, distributed social network that works across the web, don’t look to existing sites for help.

If we want an open social web, we’re going to have to build it ourselves, using technologies that no one company controls.

Additional reporting by Betsy Schiffman

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