Plaxo, Scraping and Data Portability


Some of you may know, during the day I work with a great bunch of privacy advocates. So I’ve got some opinions about the Scroble scraping issue of the day.

Just ask yourself: let’s say large consumer product company X had created a fan group in Facebook. This morning, they decided to launch a new promotional campaign aimed at just these fans, but needed the contact information. Finding Plaxo’s cool new tool, they then simply scraped the name, addy and preferences of all their “fans.”

Would that be acceptable? No. Damien Mulley has it right. It could be considered data theft.

And we would all be justifiably outraged about it.

It’s the idea of scale. You move the information of your 20, 50, 100 or 200 close personal and business contacts, you’re only maintaining your records.

You move 1,000 or more – you’re maintaining a mailing list.

The idea of data portability is that users, consumers, geeks have control of their OWN data. In this case, users entered into a relationship with another user (Scoble) where they shared access to their mutual Facebook profiles.

Facebook, for all its weaknesses and commercial impulses, does have a limited level of privacy protection. The embedding of personal email addys in an image is one. If you want to send me an email from outside the walled garden, you have to take the time to copy the addy by hand.

It’s one protection FOR ME to avoid having my addy scraped and sold off.

So when Plaxo tells Jeremiah Owyang that their new tool is all about data portability – they’re full of crap. It’s all about data collection. Here is an excerpt from a quick interview Jeremiah conducted with Plaxo today:

“…What else should we know? In 2008, data portability thrust is where we want to head, we want to turn the model upside down, so instead of widgets going to the social graph, we would like to make the social graph very portable. This is an area where Plaxo as more depth than anyone else.” (Jeremiah)

In the comments that follow, there is a good discussion of the social contract between “friends” when exchanging access rights and personal information.

Part of this contract, in this case, involves the privacy protections and restrictions put in place by Facebook. Facebook is a wide-open app with a lot of publicly available information, but that doesn’t mean that informed users don’t expect a level of considered behaviour on the part of their “friends.”

When you decide Facebook isn’t the most appropriate tool for you, you can’t attempt to migrate your mass of friends by breaking those protections and restrictions.

Sorry that it’s inconvenient, but that’s the playground you chose to play in.

And if you’re a commercial company that develops a tool designed to rip personal information out of proprietary social networks, don’t tell me you’re doing it in the name of the freedom for information to flow freely. There’s a commercial application behind the motivation.
[tags] data portability, data protection, identity theft, Facebook, Plaxo [/tags]

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1 Comment

  • Ian Ketcheson

    Nicely put, Colin.

    01/03/08 – 11:33 pm

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