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Facebook Sued Over Data Access 73

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-information-wants-to-be-free-but-not-ours dept.
Late last year, a web service called Power.com launched with the aim of allowing users to unify their use of multiple social networks. Facebook quickly filed a lawsuit, objecting to the (user-authorized) gathering of their data. Reader sufijazz writes with news that Power.com has now countersued Facebook, saying, "Facebook improperly restricts its users' access to their private information," and that Facebook's own data scraping makes their lawsuit an attempt to stifle competition. According to TechCrunch, "Facebook can point to its efforts with Facebook Connect, which lets you log in with your Facebook username at third party sites and import some select data from your profile, as evidence of its openness. But this isn't true data portability, it's just a new walled garden — third parties are generally only allowed to cache your data, which means that you're still tethered to Facebook."
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Facebook Sued Over Data Access

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  • Well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idiot with a gun (1081749) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:09PM (#28657095)
    This is an interesting change. I'd rather Facebook be too stingy with my information, as compared to the usual loose attitude towards user's data and data security that most companies seem to have. Better safe than sorry.
    • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

      by maharb (1534501) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:18PM (#28657141)

      I think this has more to do with you wanting to move your data, not them just handing it out. There is a huge difference.

      This example is more related to you going to a hospital and requesting your health records be transferred to another hospital and they say no. Don't get it confused with privacy/security.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I think this has more to do with you wanting to move your data, not them just handing it out. There is a huge difference.

        I don't really agree. The bits aren't being loaded carefully in moving boxes and transported by truck. Copies of digitally stored information are cheap and if you own your own data facebook shouldn't have any objections to you using your own data elsewhere.

        Placing bits of information on a pedestal like they were a Gutenberg bible is a bit like the thinking behind disallowing copying o

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by AlexBirch (1137019)
      I think you didn't RTFA, they are being stingy to you with your data.
      • by SpeedyDX (1014595) <speedyphoenix@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:45PM (#28657271)

        Yeah, technically they're withholding your data from a third party even after your authorization. But if you consider the vast majority of Facebook users, don't you think most of them need this kind of hand-holding? These are people who would authorize a complete disclosure of most of their personal information on Facebook to take a "Which Twilight Character Are You?" quiz. If anything, I think Facebook should be even more stingy, even if you choose to authorize disclosure. If you really really really really really wanted to give a third party your personal information, then you can usually do so yourself, without the third party acquiring that information through Facebook.

        Now, I don't know how power.com works, nor did I RTFA, but I assume it requires certain information from Facebook that is not really yours. Information such as links to your profile, your friends' profiles, pictures, groups, what-have-you. Such information is probably strictly Facebook's property. Without such information, power.com would be useless anyway.

        At any rate, as I said, if you really wanted to give your personal information to a third party, you can do so without the help of Facebook. Facebook's stinginess at releasing personal information is a good thing, and I think they should go even further in their stinginess. Personal information sometimes isn't removed from third party apps even after removal of the app, and I think Facebook should start using the ban hammer on apps and developers who keep personal information even after deauthorization. I think such stinginess can only be a good thing, until they start withholding your personal information from you directly.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AlexBirch (1137019)
          I think this lawsuit is good, because then the court can decide what is yours and what isn't. It's like selling your organs, yes they're yours but the law says you can't legally waive your rights to them. Even if you click a million checkboxes or sign forms.

          I would love the fact if Facebook was being stingy with my information to advertisers, but they're not. Or what if I could select what information to send to applications, instead of the all or nothing approach. It sucks when they're only stingy with
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Finder83 (829130)

            I think this lawsuit is good, because then the court can decide what is yours and what isn't.

            Yes, since the national government has a long history of supporting individual privacy and keeping our best interests at mind over that of corporate interests.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by AlexBirch (1137019)
              How can this case make the situation worse? It can only reinforce the de facto standard.
              Also this is corporate interest versus corporate interest, not citizens against Facebook. It would be nice to see the EFF or ACLU get involved.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                This is pretty much what I'm thinking. I've already got tons of people asking me why I don't respond to their messages because facebook randomly closed off my access to my account (used for overglorified email really) but left it fully open and searchable. I've tried about 4 times now to get it at least locked down so people can't keep finding it anymore but all I get is the runaround about how that is what they do (hint: they don't) and how it won't ever be reactivated.

          • by rel4x (783238)

            I would love the fact if Facebook was being stingy with my information to advertisers, but they're not

            A bit outdated...but behold the beauty of easily scrapable ajax ad interfaces. [tinypic.com]

        • Disclaimer: I do not have a Facebook account.

          Please cite for me an actual benefit of having a Facebook account?

          Otherwise - GET OFF MY LAWN!
          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            online phone book for when you format your computer, but forget to backup your contact's list.
            other than that... it's just another pointless social page

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nbates (1049990)

            You can keep track of long lost friends.

            In my case, I changed city about 6 times, and changed school about 5 times. (no, I wasn't raised in a circus) So there is a lot of people that I knew but lost track of.

            I joined Facebook some weeks ago and now I have about 50 "recovered friends", that is, people that used to be my friends but then I lost touch. I chatted with some, said happy birthday to others, etc.

            It would have been more difficult finding them without facebook, since finding each friend manually woul

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by unity (1740)
              "In my case, I changed city about 6 times, and changed school about 5 times. (no, I wasn't raised in a circus) So there is a lot of people that I knew but lost track of. I joined Facebook some weeks ago and now I have about 50 "recovered friends", that is, people that used to be my friends but then I lost touch. I chatted with some, said happy birthday to others, etc."

              ^That right there is why I will never get a facebook account. If I want people I used to know and associate with to make contact with me
              • by nbates (1049990)

                You don't have to have everybody on your facebook account. I know there is people I found on facebook but I never asked to join me.

                And maybe you call it fake because you think of it as a friendship. It is not a friendship, it is a relationship, period. Of course I have friends, and I keep in touch with those. But there are also this people who "was cool back then", and now I have them on my facebook account, and I get interesing feedback when I post a fortune cookie. Not a disruptive technology, I know... b

                • by unity (1740)
                  "Anyway, you don't have to do it. Not everything is for everybody. I was just sharing my experience. It is a good tool for my needs and personality. Maybe it is not for yours."

                  We are in complete agreement.
                  Cheers!
          • by siddesu (698447)

            It is like the files of the KGB or the Stasi -- your "friends" write embarrassing things about yourself, and you don't know who's reading them -- except you do it willingly and co-operate, and the level of detail is greater.

            • by ivucica (1001089)

              It's an urban legend that there's Facebook-CIA ties. You decide.

              • by rs79 (71822)

                No, of course not. The CIA doesn't do anything nasty online anywhere, ever. In
                fact they don't do anything. And they're definitely not involved in icann.

              • by siddesu (698447)

                It is really hard to tell if large US websites have ties with the government.

                Especially after that case from a few weeks ago when a government official called to extend the power of the twitter for the benefit of ... errr ... the people of Iran.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Runaway1956 (1322357)

            I've had an account for a long time. Two or three years, I guess. I was invited by a friend, so I registered. It's 99% waste of time, and 1% a convenient way to keep track of friends. Pretty much the same as Myspace, without the glaringly ugly personal pages.

            As for your lawn, I'll get off it when I finish urinating on it, you crotchety old bastid. You should show a little more respect to a man who is half bald, half gray, and all gnarly!

          • by Kleen13 (1006327)
            I'll say this... when you deactivate your account and then sign back on months later, all your data is intact, as it was when you tried to quit...... I think this all comes down to the EULA at signup.... but I'm sure as hell not going to read it for this article...... Any takers?
        • by MadFarmAnimalz (460972) * on Saturday July 11, 2009 @03:49AM (#28658507) Homepage
          Information such as links to your profile, your friends' profiles, pictures, groups, what-have-you. Such information is probably strictly Facebook's property

          If you're my friend, that's a fact about me. Why should Facebook own that fact?

          • by Dhalka226 (559740)

            If you're my friend, that's a fact about me. Why should Facebook own that fact?

            They don't. You're perfectly free to enter such information on any site you want, including power.com.

            But who are you, and who am I? How does a site differentiate MadFarmAnimalz from whatever-the-hell-state-you're-in from MadFarmAnimalz from some-other-state, or from the same state but who isn't you? There's some degree of work that went on there, some sort of system set up that makes it easy for you to do so, some degree of

        • I dont think you understand TFA. Facebook _did_ share data with the company, but then Facebook sued them saying that they where not allowed to get that data. There was no practical barrier, and never was one, however Facebook wishes to impose a legal barrier onf entry, and propritary control over its users data (to which the user, and not Facebook, holds any available rights)

    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:35PM (#28657225)

      If it's "Their" private data then how hard will it be for "Them" to add it to Power.com? It looks like Power.com is trying to import and sync all the different social networks and facebook is saying No.

      On one hand, if I hand all of my info to site X, why can't I give site X permission to give it to site Y.

      On the other, If I give all my information to site X. Who am I to tell them what they can and can't do with it. It's like trusting the guy on the street corner and the cardboard box to be your banker. Sure if I ask for some of my money to do something with I'd like it back, but I don't expect him to give me any.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jafafa Hots (580169)

        You have to admit there is a need for this kind of product though.

        If youre a person who networks through these sites, or say you have a band or whatever, it could be a full-time job to deal with keeping your various profiles current, etc.

        There are some attempts to integrate parts of things, like ping.fm for example... but if you could have ONE online presence that you were able to take wherever you wanted to, be it facebook, myspace, twitter, or whatever next week's flavor is - it would be a huge service to

  • Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Morlark (814687) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:14PM (#28657121) Homepage

    I sometimes wonder about the state of society that lawsuits like these should even come about in the first place. If people are dumb enough to give away their login credentials to some random website, what business is it of Facebook's? And if Facebook wants to shut the door on third parties, surely it's their service to do with as they wish?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AlexBirch (1137019)
      Their service yes, but your data? What are my rights? If I sign to give away my first born, is that legally binding?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy (595695)
        Just because you type some stuff into some website, doesn't mean the web site has to give you a nice easy automated way of getting all that data back out again. Take a look at slashdot Just from browsing my profile, I can only see my comments until some time back in November 2008. Yet I've been posting for years. If you want a copy of any information that you post on facebook, keep a copy on your own computer. Facebook provides a free service, and if they don't think there's any value in you being able
        • I think this is about the website from stopping me. Not about them making an easy to use API to extract that information.
          Microsoft also thrives on not playing nicely with others, but I know how the /. crowd likes it.
          ~~~
          Abraham Lincoln "Stand with anyone that is right; stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong."
          --Abe Lincoln
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mysidia (191772)

            They're well within their rights to stop automated attempts to scrape content and pursue actions against people who partake in tortious interference. Where a third-party site specifically encourages Facebook users to violate the ToS agreement by providing username and password credentials users are forbidden from disclosing.

            Matters would be very different if it was just users scraping their own profile page for their persoanl use, in a non-disruptive and undetectable manner.

            Or if the third party just

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Ansoni-San (955052)

          If you want a copy of any information that you post on facebook, keep a copy on your own computer. Facebook provides a free service, and if they don't think there's any value in you being able to take that data out, then that's their perogative.

          I don't know where you are but in the UK there's this thing called the Data Protection Act [wikipedia.org][wikipedia.org]
          So at least here it's not their perogative as to if you get to take your data out. The most they can charge you for it is £10.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mysidia (191772)

        You have full rights to your data, of course they are under no obligation to provide you a copy of all your data. Unless you live in a jurisdiction that has privacy laws that require they provide all personally identifiable information for your inspection and correction.

        You can login to facebook, using your username and password, and see all your data, however. I would say that they give you ample access to it.

        What they don't let you do is utilize their service to export all your data directly t

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AlexBirch (1137019)
          I'm glad you weren't around when I wanted to take my phone number to a different service. There was a time when you couldn't do it.
          Do I have the right to access the data of my friends? That is the heart of the matter. I don't care about my data, I already have it.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mysidia (191772)

            You have a right to access data of your friends that they allow you to access and that Facebook allows you to access, in the manner that they choose to permit that access.

            Much like you have a right to see this comment response on slashdot in response to yours.

            If slashdot so chose, they could decline to accept it, and decline to grant you the right to see it.

            Just like FB could decline you the right to see a copy of a friend's profile page.

            But FB doesn't, they give you the ability to view your friend

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CapnStank (1283176)
      Haven't we learned anything in life about the average-idiot though? Its not about whether or not we can protect ourselves we need to baby everyone around. That's why there's labels on electronics that tell you not to operate it near water. Warnings about why one shouldn't be using depressants around moving vehicles etc. Time and time again people have not proven to be responsible with their own decisions and need to be protected.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mysidia (191772)

      Because of the obvious abuses that can be committed with those credentials under your name. And you are responsible if you release those credentials.

      It's not even allowed [facebook.com] to release, it's a specific violation of the contract that you have agreed to when you signup for an account on facebook.

      • 4. You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender.
      • 5. You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
      • 6. You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account,
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DaRanged (735002)
      <quote><p>... If people are dumb enough to give away their login credentials to some random website ... </p></quote>

      People are more than just dumb when they sign up to things like Facebook, Skype, and nowadays just about any other social networking site / application. How many spam email / invites do you get from people you know who just signed up to Facebook and they (were stupid enough to) let Facebook into all their email accounts, IM contact lists by giving the website the user
    • by blippy (844130)
      All these lawsuits. Aren't they just tales of sound and fury, signifying nothing? In 20 years, when Facebook and whoever else is involved have long passed, it wont even be in our collective memory to look back and realise just what a load of nonsense this all was.
      • by moortak (1273582)
        In 20 years we will likely have top live with the precedents set in cases like this. Our legal system is shaped and refined by loads of petty cases.
  • by e**(i pi)-1 (462311) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:02PM (#28657353) Homepage Journal
    Maybe social networks need to become "friends" first to allow mutual aggregation of customers ...
  • This is handwaving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mysidia (191772) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:12PM (#28657399)

    "Facebook improperly restricts its users' access to their private information,"

    Huh, what? You entered the data in your profile. Naturally, you have the data, at least, if you chose to keep a copy of it.

    Facebook.com's terms of service don't contain any clause or term of use where they guarantee they will provide you any data you have entered for free access by any third party application or service.

    This is as if you published a book on an online website, and a third-party decides to sue the website, because you signed up with a third-party, giving the third-party permission to reprint, but your book-publishing website chooses not to cooperate.

    Just because the information is yours, doesn't mean you have a right to authorize someone to scrape it from an online service you have posted it to. That online service has an interest and a right to control the terms and conditions under which their servers may be accessed.

    • Wait, really? Let's say my HD crashes and I want to download all the pictures I ever uploaded to FB. This could take a long time if I do it one right-mouse-click at a time.

      I'm not allowed to write a script that logs into my FB account and gets all my pictures for me? I can't give someone else my FB log/pass and let them do it for me (automated or not)? FB agrees it's my data, and I have access to it through their provided web interface. I'm not asking for a special XML pipe or anything. I'd be kind
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ignoring the fact that all the pictures are downsized and not the original pictures you would want.
        who honestly uploads files to facebook as a means of storage? It's not the purpose of the site.

      • by unity (1740) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:23AM (#28658041)
        That's exactly what it means. The servers/site/HDspace/bandwidth is THEIR property they can decide whatever limitation they want. If you don't like it, don't rely on them to bail you out if your HD crashes.
      • by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:44AM (#28658117)

        So long as your action does not violate any term of service, and if those terms of service mean you end up having to right click on every single image, so be it - but your stinky 3rd party friend over there, he ain't welcome. Facebook TOS. Understand? It don't matter a damn how much you trust this other entity, facebook do not want their site scraped - and frankly, they have a right to be pissed, it is, after all, their website, and you accepted the rules when you signed on. End of story.

        • No, their rules can't be above the law. In my country at least, any rule saying they'll keep the data even if you're against it (when you try to leave them, for example) is illegal, as you have the legal right to force them to delete your data.
          That's what this suits are trying to prove: if Facebook can legally prevent this kind of access.

          • by ivucica (1001089)

            But FB is not in your country, so you can't force them to give you your data.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            That might be true, that you can demand they remove information, and force them to, but only if FB operates a site in your country. Otherwise, FB only really has to follow the laws of the countries they operate in.

            Your legal rights are specific to your jurisdiction -- if FB doesn't exist in your country, your rights may be different.

            e.g. Special and unusual privacy rights may not exist with regards to your dealings with FB, sorry, but those only apply to domestic corporations.

            Just like slashdot can pos

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Wait, really? Let's say my HD crashes and I want to download all the pictures I ever uploaded to FB.

        Having failed to backup your data, you are in a very unfortunate situation.

        However, that does not change your rights or facebook's rights, with regards to their site or those pictures.

        You're still not entitled to scrape their site or release your credentials to a third party in violation of your agreement.

        But they may allow you to perform a one-time scrape of only your pictures, should you do it in

    • If I understand this correctly, what you're saying is email sites like Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc., would, if they so choose, have the right to prohibit Facebook from scraping your contact list even if you give them the login information. Interesting...
      • by mysidia (191772)

        Yes. Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail, could include a clause in their ToS that you assent to when you sign up, that prohibits you from sharing your username and password.

        If a third party service specifically solicits you for your credentials to those sites, then their request is an example of tortious interference [wikipedia.org], because they are convincing you to breach your contract (the one that states you agree not to share your password).

        And yes, they have a right to prohibit third party sites from logging in (impers

        • Ok, so, granted it may be legal for such sites to do this, doesn't it just seem a little bit two faced for Facebook to depend on the ability to scrape other sites in order to provide their services, yet prohibit other sites from similarly scraping them? One measure of ethical behavior is what would happen if everyone behaved like that. Facebook's utility would be somewhat impaired if everyone behaved like they do.
          • by mysidia (191772)

            Do you have an example of what Facebook supposedly scrapes?

            Even if they do scrape something from a site that allows scraping, that doesn't necessarily mean they have to allow it themselves, or that they should allow massive spidering of pages on their server.

            • Seeing as how their "friend finder" asks you for your email login info, it apparently scrapes the names and addresses from your contact list looking for additional friends that you haven't yet entered manually. I haven't used it myself because I don't like the idea, and if yahoo mail or gmail or hotmail decides they don't like it, it will completely nix the automated riend finder at least for people with those email accounts. And in fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it turns out it already violates the TO
              • by mysidia (191772)

                Google and Hotmail at least, have APIs that allow third-party websites to get your contact lists.

                You provide UN and Password, Gmail will prompt you to grant the third party site 'permission' to access your contact list, you accept, they get the list.

                Is Facebook not using the APIs provided by the webmail providers for this purpose?

                • Is Facebook not using the APIs provided by the webmail providers for this purpose?

                  I don't know, but it's irrelevant to my point. My point is that Facebook provides this feature through the goodwill of other sites in providing user granted acccess to them via third parties. At the same time, Facebook refuses the same sort of goodwill towards other sites. It seems hypocritical to me.

                  • by mysidia (191772)

                    Facebook containing integrations that allow users to conveniently use their contacts like that is actually beneficial to Gmail, etc.

                    They're delivering a convenience to Gmail/Hotmail/etc users that the users get just because they use that webmail service. And Facebook is definitely not a service built around that scraping -- the scraping is minor, only done specially at user request, and most people probably don't even use it. As a result, it's not really disruptive and probably not an issue, due to the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously. Facebook, Myspace, WAYN, Twitter, all of that garbage.

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