Google and Facebook to join ranks?

Google and Facebook Join Group

Written by Marshall Kirkpatrick / January 8, 2008 9:45 AM /
The DataPortability Workgroup announced this morning that representatives from both Google and Facebook are joining its ranks. The group is working on a variety of projects to foster an era of Data Portability – where users can take their data from the websites they use to reuse elsewhere and where vendors can leverage safe cross-site data exchange for a whole new level of innovation. Good bye customer lock-in, hello to new privacy challenges. If things go right, today could be a very important day in the history of the internet.
The non-participation of Google and Facebook, two companies that hold more user data and do more with it than almost any other consumer service on the market, was the biggest stumbling block to the viability of the project. These are two of the most important companies in recent history – what’s being decided now is whether they will be walled-garden, data-horders or truly open platforms tied into a larger ecosystem of innovation with respect for user rights and sensible policies about data.

The Representatives

Google will be represented by Brad Fitzpatrick, the inventor of LiveJournal and one of the primary minds behind OpenID, the concept of the Social Graph and the Google-led OpenSocial platform. Facebook will be represented by Benjamin Ling, who today runs the Facebook platform. Ling defected from Google three months ago, where he ran Google Checkout, to join Facebook. Also joining the workgroup is Joseph Smarr of Plaxo, probably the catalyst for all of this after his company scraped Robert Scoble’s Facebook account and set off a huge debate about Data Portability and privacy.

Challenges Ahead

If these industry titans can put aside their rivalry and work together – magic could happen. Hopefully they can work appropriately with the other members of the working group, bleeding edge consultants and representatives of smaller and in many cases more user-centric companies. If so, perhaps we can move appropriately into a future of powerful personalization and logically augmented activity online – while avoiding Minority Report-style dystopian scenarios.

Innovation on the internet is in its early, early days. The participation of representatives from Google and Facebook in this initiative could prove key in the continued development of what’s possible, instead of the early suffocation of what could have been.

May the participants work nicely together to create the magic that we’re waiting for.

See also: The ReadWriteWeb toollkit for 2008, where you’ll find resources for tracking data portability and other key issues in the coming year.


5 Responses to “Google and Facebook to join ranks?”

  1. Yeah, this is pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare. Facebook and Google combining everything they know about us.

    This may be a case of run don’t walk to close all one’s Facebook and Google accounts.

    Privacy matters, but you won’t realize it until it’s gone.

  2. Isaac Halvorson Says:

    I’m not really worried about it all that much. There has been a lot of complaining about Google and Facebook collecting too much information about their users, but I think it’s just people worrying too much.

    Google has never released information about its users, and uses the information it collects for analytical purposes. The only thing that really “reads” the information is a computer, there aren’t any Google employees sifting through our email looking for naughty things.

    As for Facebook, I admit that it’s getting a little… crappy. As far as I know, there hasn’t been too many big issues with Facebook, other than a lot of speculation. There was a lot of himming and hawing when the applications were introduced; people worried about Facebook disclosing too much information to the applications. I’m really not too worried about it, but Facebook doesn’t have the track record Google does, so I’m not as sure about them. (And honestly, if Facebook gets any more like MySpace, I might just ditch it and head to Orkut.)

    A lot of people say that we need more government regulation for our private information online, but I think that’s the last thing we need to do. The internet was built on freedom of expression, creativity, and the flow of information. The more regulation put on it, the worse it will get. It will turn in to the shit we get on TV.

    I think a lot of the issues people have with online privacy is unsubstantiated. And really, if you’re worried about someone finding information about you online, just don’t put it online.

  3. Let’s set aside for the moment Google’s role in facilitating 1) copyright infringement; 2) defamation; and 3) the distribution of pornography.

    There is also the matter of facilitating invasion of privacy by means of Google search under one’s name. If pornography or stealing copyrighted materials won’t lure an audience to Google, then surely snooping on our neighbors will. Don’t underestimate the place in Google’s business model for our basest impulses.

    You argue that worry about online privacy is addressed by not putting things online. Nevertheless, much of the material that used to sit unnoticed on unattended servers has been swallowed up in the wake of Google’s recent drive to increase the size of its indexes, which has become very noticeable over the last two to three years. One remedy might be an opt-out for anyone whose name is used, mentioned or referred to online. That would be industry self-regulation.

    An alternative would be law in the form of something like the EU’s Data Protection Act of 1998. One should not underestimate Old Europe’s advantages in civility and decency.

  4. Isaac Halvorson Says:

    Those are some excellent points that I hadn’t considered, especially about the data already online that was there a long time ago. But I’m still not convinced it’s too big of a deal (yet). And I still think government intervention would not be good.

  5. I *mistakenly* deleted a post from Doctor Drone, so I am adding it for the Doctor:
    Government intervention not good in principle or not good in this particular instance? Why does the EU intervene to protect privacy? Are Europeans dumb? Have you considered that DMCA protects Google from being sued for copyright infringement? They simply have to comply with a Takedown Notice irrespective of the merits and they’re immune from damages of any sort.

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