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Web Founder Labels Facebook a Threat

Written on
Nov 22, 2010 
Author
Gavin Dunaway  |

facebook_small.jpgADOTAS – Twenty years after its launch, the web is in great peril, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with founding the world wide web (see, the British government doesn’t just give knighthoods to pop stars). The menacing threat? Facebook.

In an overly long article about open standards and net neutrality, the director of the international World Wide Web Consortium sounds the alarm about social network sites like Facebook and LinkedIn walling off their user data and encouraging web fragmentation.

“The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service — but only within their sites,” he writes. “Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site.”

Berner-Lee argues that the social network becomes a central platform and kills the ability for users to control their own data. He praises recent startup efforts such as Diaspora and identi.ca, which offer user control of information social network. Interestingly enough, he actually compares the social network to AOL’s 90s dial-up empire, a walled garden only offering a slice of the web.

This article coincides well with Google’s decision to cut off its Contacts API to Facebook and other networks that refuse to export contact data to outside applications in a manner “substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts.”

“We’re disappointed that Facebook didn’t invest their time in making it possible for their users to get their contacts out of Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “As passionate believers that people should be able to control the data they create, we will continue to allow our users to export their Google contacts.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s eventual goal seems to be to integrate the network’s socializing technology in every corner of the Internet, in effect making the network the main portal to the Internet. Facebook is even raising the stakes by jumping into email and SMS management with its revamped Messages service. Of course it’s keeping its data siloed because it wants the world to come to Facebook — and the world keeps rolling in.

British tech journalist Lawrence Latif suggests that Berners-Lee’s ideas are easily trumped by the “naked economics of web advertising” as walling off data is essential to the future success of social networks.

But in the piece, Berners-Lee seems to be suggesting there is no such thing as online privacy. A good deal of the data Facebook is holding back is stuff its users don’t want shared.

The article gets a bit ironic when Sir Berners-Lee argues against government and corporate “snooping.” If the web is a public forum, like he argues, shouldn’t governments and corporations (ahem, data collectors) be allowed to collect information?

It’s been 20 years since the launch of the web and its maturation is obvious. However, Berners-Lee is arguing that its primary nature hasn’t changed, but the fact he steps all over himself in his polemic shows that it has. Data buying and selling is a thriving industry, thus data ownership — and protecting such data — is a necessity. Anyone got a silo to spare?





Gavin Dunaway is Editor, U.S. at AdMonsters, a leading trade publication, event producer and service provider for the online advertising industry. Previously, he had been Senior Editor of Adotas, where he arrived after years of ping-ponging around various industry publications. This Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate also enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

Reader Comments.

Berners Lee’s position is silly. What data have I on Facebook that I can’t re-enter somewhere else? my friend list and posts? So what. FB is giving me lots of communication utility for free, managing all the bandwidth and data and photos, relationships, etc. So in return they get to control the system. the users are not held back from going somewhere else if they prefer. That’s what happened to Myspace, it sucked and we all went to FB. We did not need Myspace to allow data export in order to move.

Posted by Scott | 3:19 pm on November 22, 2010.

FB does allow you to dump your FB friends’ email address into Yahoo mail, then you can dump htem into Gmail. I did so right before my FB suicide on February 1st 2010. Same with LinkedIn.

Posted by Matt Catillon | 5:28 pm on November 22, 2010.

Data = traffic = money… Until that changes, I can’t blame any business for wanting to keep at least a moderate grip on the very thing that makes their paychecks possible. I think its a little naive to think we’re ever going to have the idealistic, utopian Internet that some people thought it could be. I’ve worked with the FB API, and I was a little shocked at how much I could access.

Posted by Gary | 6:24 pm on November 22, 2010.

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