Facebook is dividing peoples opinions on the web, again. Robert Scoble was alpha testing a new feature of Plaxo Pulse which retrieves names, e-mail addresses and birthdays of your friends on Facebook. Well, Facebook didn’t like that at all and closed Scoble’s account, just to reopen it the next day. The story was covered on many blogs, like TechCrunch, Mashable, Loren Feldman on 1938 Media and Jimmy Guterman on O’Reilly Radar. Some say that Scoble’s actions were corporate espionage and others are defending openess and questioning Facebook’s reaction. There have even appeared Facebook groups like the “Keep Robert Scoble off Facebook”-group with over 200 members and the “Facebook re-open Robert Scoble account !!!!!”-group with almost 500 members.
This raises two questions: 1) who owns your infromation on Facebook and 2) who can use it. Facebook has clearly stated that they own the data and nobody can use it. From a webometricians point of view this is not good, far from it. Webometricians often use web crawlers to retrieve link data and content from various sites researched. Now, Facebook is apparently off limits.
I understand very well that Facebook wants to protect their data. The user data they have collected is the reason why Facebook has been estimated to be worth 15 billion USD, which in my opinion is a ridiculous figure. But who owns your phone number and your e-mail address when you post it on Facebook? Facebook says they do. So the real question is, do you want to give Facebook your phone number and your e-mail address?
I have one prediction for 2008. Some major player on the web will screw up user data in a way that really gets peoples attention. This will hopefully increase peoples awareness about what it really means to publish something on web, and that one should be very aware of the potential risks with that. Then it’s up to everyone to choose whether they want to give their personal information to some company that may use it as they please.