[iDC] Facebook from the trenches

Andreas Schiffler aschiffler at ferzkopp.net
Mon Jun 18 09:44:05 EDT 2007

A Slashdot post entitled "Facebook Apps Facing Delays and Uncertainties" 
caught my attention this weekend. It was written by a developer working 
with the Facebook API which is an interface to extend the webservice 
with custom functionality by creating 'Facebook Applications' and a 
poster child for our new Web2.0 world.

I am mentioning this article as a bit of a follow up to the recent 
Feedburner discussion and its tangents on 'garage entrepreneurship', the 
issues around privacy as the network is developed by private companies 
and the data-in/data-out conundrum when owners change.

Let me summarize a few points which I found interesting.

The author of the comment points out how unsatisfactory the situation 
really is for someone "in the trenches", committing his free (or not so 
free) labor on growing the Facebook cyberspace. Noteworthy in my view 
are particularly these comments: " ... /While I'm impressed with the 
potential of the platform, the experience has made me more concerned 
about the lack of transparency in privately held social networks and the 
risks we take as developers when we invest time in a company's 
platform/.  ..." and "... /My concern with Facebook is that there's no 
one regulating the utility. ...". A call for regulation?

/In the responses the author of the above comments takes a lot of 'flak' 
along the lines of "/I honestly have no idea where the question came 
from. Maybe he's just idealistic./" But many ignore the more ideological 
tone and chime in on the technical critique with comments like ".../ 
facebook is turning into myspace/",  " ... [Facebook] /Applications have 
ruined it/." and "/In term of failed platforms, I think I have a long 
list I invested time in/.".

A general consensus seems to be apparent throughout the discussion (ok, 
Slashdotters are tech geeks) that Facebook has provided something 
worthwile and quite cool. But while many developers like the ideas of 
Facebook having an API, being open, allowing for creative invention it 
seems to leave some bitter taste behind hat seem to capture the 'been 
there, done that' feeling expressed as "... /It's an over-hyped rehash 
of the concept of a forum./". And since most readers are likely 'garage 
entrepreneurs' (or working for them) the regulatory comment is dealt 
with quickly: "/In a free market, the customer regulates. In fact, by 
raising your concerns, you are doing it right now./" - in my view a very 
mechanical response by the developers. Privacy does not become a 
dominant thread in the discussion.

But the readership IS sensitive to privacy issues and one commentator 
finds this 'gem' as he/she calls it, which I quote in full:


    II. Consent Regarding Use of Facebook Site Information

    (a)_ Information That May Be Provided to Developers_. In order to
    allow you to use and participate in Platform Applications created by
    Developers ("Developer Applications"), Facebook may from time to
    time provide Developers access to the following information
    (collectively, the "Facebook Site Information"):

    (i) any information provided by you and visible to you on the
    Facebook Site, excluding any of your Contact Information, and

    (ii) the user ID associated with your Facebook Site profile.

    (b) Examples of Facebook Site Information. The Facebook Site
    Information may include, without limitation, the following
    information, to the extent visible on the Facebook Site: your name,
    your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown
    location (city/state/country), your current location
    (city/state/country), your political view, your activities, your
    interests, your musical preferences, television shows in which you
    are interested, movies in which you are interested, books in which
    you are interested, your favorite quotes, the text of your "About
    Me" section, your relationship status, your dating interests, your
    relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user
    network affiliations, your education history, your work history,
    your course information, copies of photos in your Facebook Site
    photo albums, metadata associated with your Facebook Site photo
    albums (e.g., time of upload, album name, comments on your photos,
    etc.), the total number of messages sent and/or received by you, the
    total number of unread messages in your Facebook in-box, the total
    number of "pokes" you have sent and/or received, the total number of
    wall posts on your Wall, a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook
    friends, your social timeline, and events associated with your
    Facebook profile.

When one tries to add any Facebook application to their profile, it 
says, from which the above was quoted:

    By clicking 'add', you agree to the Platform Application Terms of Use.


In plain text: ANY Facebook application developer has access to ALL the 
information stored in the Facebook profile (see section ii. b. to see 
how broad that is). Me, you, the FBI, Google, spammers, ... just about 
anyone who can make a cool application and gets it approved by Facebook 
can tap into considerable amounts of personal data from anyone who 
clicks on the 'Add' button.

I find that scary - especially when there is NO developer comment to 
this particular 'gem', while other readers simply conclude it may point 
to a failed business model because just "... /providing feeds on whats 
your friends are doing so you can all effectively spy on each other in 
the long run is not going to attract a lot more users/ ...".


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