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Facebook shouldn't block you from finding friends on competitors

Facebook shouldn't block you from finding friends on competitors
From TechCrunch - April 13, 2018

Twitter, Vine, Voxer, MessageMe. Facebook has repeatedly cut off competitors from its feature for finding your Facebookfriends on their appsafter jumpstarting its own social graph by convincing people to upload their Gmail contacts. Meanwhile, Facebooks Download Your Information tool merely exports a text list of friends names you cant use elsewhere.

As congress considers potential regulation following Mark Zuckerbergs testimonies, it should prioritize leveling the playing field for aspiring alternatives to Facebook and letting consumers choose where to social network. And as a show of good faith and argument against it abusing its monopoly, Facebook should make our friend list truly portable.

Its time to free the social graphto treat it as a fundamental digital possession, the way the Telecomunnications Act Of 1996 protects your right to bring your phone number with you to a new network.

The two most powerful ways to do this would be for Facebook to stop, or congress to stop it from, blocking friend finding oncompetitors like its done in the past to Twitter and more. And Facebook should change its Download Your Information tool to export our friend list in a truly interoperable format. When you friend someone on Facebook, theyre not just a name. Theyre someone specific amongst often many with the same name, and Facebook should be open to us getting connected with them elsewhere.

Facebook Takes Data It Wont Give

While it continues til this day, back in 2010 Facebook goaded users to import their Gmail address books so they could add them as Facebook friends. But it refused to let users export the email addresses of their friends to use elsewhere. That led Google to change its policy and require data portability reciprocity from any app usingits Contacts API.

So did Facebook back off? No. It built a workaround, giving users a deep link to download their Gmail contacts from Googles honorable export tool. Facebook then painstakingly explained to users how to upload that file so it could suggest they friend all those contacts.

Google didnt want to stop users from legitimately exporting their contacts, so it just put up a strongly worded warning to Gmail users: Trap my contacts now:Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that wont let you get it out? . . .Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data. And Google offered to let you Register a complaint over data protectionism.

8 years later, Facebook has grown from a scrappy upstart chasing Google to become one of the biggest, most powerful players on the Internet. And its still teaching users how to snatch their Gmail contacts email addresses while only letting you export the names of your friends unless they opt-in through an obscure setting because it considers contact info theyve shared as their data, not yours. Whether you should be allowed to upload other peoples contact info to a social network is a bigger question. But it is blatant data portability hypocrisy for Facebook to encourage users to import that data from other apps but not export it.

In some respects, its good that you cant mass-export the email addresses of all your Facebook friends. That could enable spamming, which probably isnt what someone had in mind when they added you as friend on Facebook. They could always block, unfriend, or mute you, but they cant get their email address back. Facebook is already enduring criticism about how it handled data privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yet the idea that you could find your Facebook Friends on other apps is a legitimate reason for the platform to exist. Its one of the things thats made Facebook Login so useful and popular. Facebooks API lets certain apps check to see if your Facebook Friends have already signed up, so you can easily follow them or send them a connection request. But Facebook has rescinded that option when it senses true competition.

Data Protectionism

Twitter is the biggest example. Facebook didnt and still doesnt let you see which of your Facebook friends are on Twitter, even though it has seven times as many users. Twitter co-founder Ev Williams,frustrated in 2010, said that They see their social graph as their core asset, and they want to make sure theres a win-win relationship with anybody who accesses it.

Facebook went on to establish a formal policy that said that apps that wanted to use its Find Friends tool had to abide by these rules:

Essentially, apps that piggybacked on Facebooks social graph had to let you share back to Facebook, and couldnt compete with it. Its a bit ironic, given Facebooks overarching strategy for years has been replicate core functionality. From cloning Twitters asymmetrical follow and Trending Topics to Snapchats Stories and augmented reality filters, all the way back to cribbing FriendFeeds News Feed and Facebooks start as a rip-off of the Winkleviis HarvardConnection.

Restrictions against replicating core functionality arent unheard of in tech. Apples iOS wont let you run an App Store from inside an app, for example. But Facebooks selective enforcement of the policy is troubling. Itsimply ignores competing apps that never get popular. Yet if they start to grow into potential rivals, Facebook has swiftly enforced this policy and removed their Find Friends access, often inhibiting further growth and engagement.

Friends Arent Just Names

Social Graph Portability

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