Facebook Faces-Off With Google's Friend Connect

Google's preview release of its Friend Connect service on Monday essentially allows users to pull personal information out of one social networking site and use it to see and interact with existing contacts on other applications and sites, such as Facebook, Google Talk, orkut and Plaxo.

While Google itself doesn't have its own domestic social networking site, Friend Connect aims to serve as a two-way agent, intervening on behalf of other sites that might want access to the data contained in users' profiles.

However, Facebook has made it abundantly clear that Friend Connect is not welcome -- nor entitled to any information -- arguing that Google's Friend Connect violates its Terms of Service that prohibit the redistribution of Facebook's user information to other developers without their knowledge or consent.

The issue ultimately comes down to a matter of information control, resulting in a privacy battle between the two companies over users' profiles.

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In a written statement, Google said that the company's new service was created to "grow traffic by enabling any site on the Web to easily provide social features for its visitors."

However, Facebook contends in a blog post that the move to block Google's access was in the interest of protecting its own users' privacy, claiming that Google violates the networking site's policy by distributing user information to other developers without their knowledge.

"Just as we've been forced to do for the other applications that redistribute data in a way users might not expect or understand, we've had to suspend Friend Connect's access to Facebook user information until it comes into compliance," said Facebook blogger Charlie Cheever in his posting.

In his blog, Cheever claimed that Facebook has "reached out" to Google several times regarding the issue.

Conversely, Google challenged Facebook's claims, countering that the company was in full compliance with Facebook's policies.

"We're disappointed that Facebook disabled their users' ability to use Friend Connect with their Facebook friends," said a Google spokesperson. "We looked at the Terms of Service, and we strongly believe that we're in complete compliance. We also feel that the real question is not about the details -- which we are in compliance with -- it's about intent. Facebook's stated intent is to allow users to be in control of their data, which we think is great. Friend Connect does exactly that -- it absolutely gives users control of their data."

Google also maintained that the larger issue was about users' control of their data, claiming that Friend Connect users allows users to choose what social networks to link to their account.

"We never handle passwords from other sites, we never store social graph data from other sites and we never pass users' social network IDs to Friend Connected sites or applications," Google said.

Perhaps ironically, the move comes a week after the May 9 announcement of Facebook's own Facebook Connect, a service enabling the site's users to integrate their identity, credentials and friends' list seamlessly when using other Web sites. While not yet launched, Facebook Connect aims to allow its users to synchronize and connect their personal information in their profile with other partnering Web sites.

Like Google's Friend Connect, Facebook Connect users will have the same kind of control over applications as they have on the company's site, and have the same ability to edit or update their profile and see the changes on other sites.

Meanwhile, Facebook Connect followed closely on the heels of a recent announcement by MySpace, which plans to launch Data Availability in the next few weeks --another data portability tool allowing users to transfer their data to sites such as eBay and Yahoo.

Facebook did not immediately respond to communication from CRN.