Skip the navigation

Tech blogger kicked off Facebook for downloading content

Robert Scoble's actions shine a spotlight on data portability within social networks

By Heather Havenstein
January 3, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Facebook account of Robert Scoble has been disabled, after the prominent tech blogger tried to download his contacts from the social network, a move that is shining a spotlight on data portability in the Web 2.0 world.

In a blog post on Thursday, Scoble said that he was running a script to move content from his Facebook profile to other places, an action that is not allowed under Facebook's terms of service.

Scoble was using an unreleased feature of Plaxo Pulse,  a social network based on email address books, to import names, email addresses and birthdays from Facebook, he noted  in a subsequent blog post. The tool noted that of Scoble's 5,000 Facebook contacts, 1,800 were already using Plaxo.

"[The importer] did not look at anything else. Just this stuff. No personal information," Scoble wrote. "I wanted to get all my contacts into my Microsoft Outlook address book and hook them up with the Plaxo system, which 1,800 of my friends are already on. It’s ironic that you can import your Gmail address book into Facebook but you can’t export back out."

An e-mail from Facebook's customer service team that Scoble posted on his blog said it had determined that Scoble was "viewing pages at a quick enough rate that we suspect you may be running an automated script."

The note asked Scoble to confirm that he would not "scrape" content from Facebook or attempt to take it in any other way.

Mike Butcher, a blogger with TechCrunch UK, predicted that the portability of data on social networks will be a big issue in 2008.

The disabling of Scoble's Facebook account "will fire the starting gun on all the debates about who owns your data on a social network, debates which -- till now -- have seemed rather theoretical," Butcher said. He suggested that such actions "could even lead to a revolt amongst some Facebook users. The storm that is brewing will not take long to reach Facebook's most senior people."

A Facebook group that formed to protest Scoble being kicked off the social network already had more than 100 members by Thursday morning.

Scoble also noted that the Facebook action prompted him to join a group at DataPortability.org that is working to create standards that will allow users of social networks to port their own content to multiple locations.

In a blog post, Chris Saad, co-founder and CEO of Faraday Media and an organizer of the data portability group, said he welcomed the debate.

"We own our own social graph data -- and we also own all our other data," he wrote in a blog.  "We all know this is just the latest in a long line of problems that are emerging in 2008 and beyond -- so it's great to have the Scobleizer championing the cause for all the standards groups out there. Now with Robert and other great bloggers on our side helping to spread the word ... we have a real chance of helping each of the standards communities get the level of adoption they deserve by putting this all in end-to-end context."

Read more about Web Apps in Computerworld's Web Apps Topic Center.



Our Commenting Policies