Scoble, Facebook and Plaxo: Whose Data Is It?

Posted by: Rob Hof on January 03, 2008

Uberblogger Robert Scoble’s Facebook account has been suspended for his use of a service from contact-management firm Plaxo that combed through his 5,000 (yes, 5,000) Facebook “friends” for emails and other info. (Update: Now his account has been reinstated, and he has a video outlining his take.) He’s bitching about it, criticizing Facebook for not allowing access to his data.

If it were all his data, he might be justified. But as a number of people, such as Mike Arrington, Nick Carr, and Jeff Jarvis, are pointing out, it’s not all “his” data. It’s data from other people who friended him, and clearly a lot of those didn’t sign up for Scoble (or Plaxo) to vacuum up their information for any other use. Not to mention it violated Facebook’s stated terms of service.

The larger problem here is that social networks are inadvertently exposing a lot of implicit social contracts people make when they reveal information online. This is just the latest, and it won’t be the last. Every new social feature on the Web will be a minefield until Web services companies start to understand these social contracts and work within them instead of assuming they somehow don’t apply on the Web. Clearly, they do.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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