When Google announced its 'Friend Connect' product to deliver social networking features to the 'long tail' of the Web, the option "to see, invite, and interact with... existing friends" from competing social networks was bound to raise a few eyebrows. Not least from Facebook, whose inclusion was made possible via the site's public API not through a formal partnership.
The response: Facebook blocks Google access claiming privacy concerns, while the search giant says it's done nothing wrong as users have to explicitly opt-in by being re-directed to Facebook's own log-in screen, and can unlink their Google Friend Connect and Facebook accounts at any time.
Facebook's biggest beef seems to be that, unlike its own 'Facebook Connect' feature, users who link their Facebook accounts with Google's Friend Connect, and therefore potentially hundreds of other sites on the Web (that's the whole point of Friend Connect), will no longer be able to use Facebook as a central place to toggle which external sites can access some of their data. Instead, Facebook can be used to toggle Google Friend connect access, and then users will need to log-in to Friend Connect to manage access by other sites.
Facebook > Google Friend Connect > Friend Connect supported sites
What has seemed obvious to me all long is that to appease Facebook's concerns, if taken at face value (no pun intended), Google's Friend Connect would simply need to be interoperable with Facebook Connect so that users can toggle access by all the different Friends Connect-supported sites, within Facebook's own privacy controls.
We'll work with them to figure this out
On that note, Facebook said today that it's willing to sit down with Google to explore a way forward. Talking at a news conference in Tokyo to launch a local language version of the site, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: "We want to talk to Google about this and see if there's a way we can make it work", reports Macworld UK.
"Part of the issue with Google's Friend Connect is that when users grant access to Google's product, Google might share their information with another application, or some part of it, maybe not all of it, without that user knowing. And part of what makes our system work is that people know exactly who they are sharing all their information with," he said.
While Zuckerberg's words will give some encouragement to data portability evangelists, they can also be seen as just the latest round of posturing between Facebook and Google. Zuckerberg also claimed that Google didn't give the social networking site a 'heads up' that it planned to include them in the launch of Friends Connect, contradicting earlier claims made by Google engineering director David Glazer last week.
"They launched that without asking us or talking to us about it first so we had no choice but to follow the rules that we had set forth for any developer on top of our platform and we followed them," said Zuckerberg. "But Google's a big player in the space and they make good things and our goal is to work with them to figure this out." The data portability land grab
Of course many suspect that this has very little do to with privacy, and instead what we're seeing is an attempted data portability land grab by Facebook, MySpace and Google, in which users will be given the ability to share their social graphs elsewhere on the Web from where the data originates, so long as the primary source can remain the sole controller of that data -- a kind of social control panel for the Web OS. In this scenario, data can never really leave the originating site - not in the strictest sense as that would imply it doesn't have
to remain on the original host's servers - but, a limited subset of that data can be synced with other sites.