Facebook owns my Social Graph… It shouldn't

###Key points:

– Social networks position themselves as new addressbooks
– Social networks decide their own Terms and Conditions of use. That is OK
– Exiting users not given the ability to remove shared content from site. Not OK
– Remaining users left with holes in addressbook. Not OK.

### Main Article

Facebook, LinkedIn, and various other Social Media properties have been fighting hard to monopolize user’s online time and become their de-facto addressbooks and ways to share photos. While these applications have proven to be a great tool for consumers, current practices and policies by the parent corporations have determined a ‘reliance’ on social networks a danger.

It’s time for consumers and corporations to rethink their use of social media.

Recently an industry colleague, Stephanie Frasco, had her account disabled by Facebook. I’m not going to comment on why it happened or what triggered it – it is up to Facebook to set their Terms of Service and make judgements on user activity, and I respect that.

What troubles me is the manner in which her account was disabled – and the ramifactions of it on online communities.

When Stephanie’s account was disabled, she lost her data ( or at least any sort of access to it ). This didn’t just mean that she couldn’t message friends through Facebook or play a third-rate Scrabulous clone called ‘Scrabble’ — it meant that Stephanie could no longer access the phone numbers, email addresses, postal addresses of her friends through the network. It also meant that she lost the ability to access the photos she posted online – or the ones friends had tagged her with. When her account was disabled it wasnt limited to ‘read only’, she wasn’t given a window or ability to download her content, she was simply disappeared… silently, quickly, without a blink of an eye.

Seasoned industry people will laugh “Well that girl was stupid — she should have had a non-Facebook listing of all her contacts people.” Seasoned industry people are smart like that – they don’t rely on Facebook or other websites to exclusively handle contact info… but social media properties are actively promoting themselves to the 100million plus non-industry users as their new online homes — and their new online addressbooks, to overtake their default pen&paper, computer and even cellphone versions.

What troubles me even more about Stephanie’s case, is that not only did she lose access to Facebook… but I lost access to her.

Contact Info on Social Networks is like a double edged sword: information is rarely entered by a user into their own addressbook, instead someone else’s information is incorporated into their social graph. This results in an addressbook that is always ‘up to date’ — but offers out-of-sync details when a user abandons an account or loses entries when a user deletes their profile.

People often ask the question “Who owns the Social Graph?” I recently wrote an 8,000 word primer / whitepaper on the legal and technical aspects of the subject, along with best-practice recommendations on ToS and Data Portability for FindMeOn’s corporate clients. ( It will be public soon folks! It’s getting a final review right now ). One of the largest hurdles to Social Graph portability that we discuss is access and sharing in relation to copyright and contract law ( i.e. what can be shared and under what conditions )

In the Frasco/Facebook case, those questions weren’t raised to my satisfaction. Facebook simply stated “We own your social graph”.

Except Facebook didn’t tell Stephanie that… they told it to me.

When Facebook disabled Stephanie’s account, they didn’t just keep her from logging in to their walled garden — they removed her from *my* Social Graph.

I no longer have her updates , postings, content that she shared… with all of Facebook or even with me. Facebook was nice enough to keep her imprint in my inbox and messages, although with an ’empty’ link and profile photo. ( which, incidentally, is one of FindMeOn’s recommendations for account closings ). However, she’s not in my addressbook – I can’t click her info and send her an offline email, I can’t see her in my friendlist, I can’t use Facebook as way to interact with her outside of Facebook.

What Facebook should have done, was to freeze her account as is. Within the constraints of the Privacy Policy / Terms-Of-Service , Facebook should have kept as much of her information active and available as possible — not as a service to Stephanie, but as a service to the 100+ users that incorporated her into their social graphs. At the least, Facebook users should have been sent an email stating “Person X in your addressbook has left Facebook. You have X days to copy/transcribe information that they made visible to you.”

Instead, what Facebook did was say “We own your addressbook. We own your Social Graph”.

I say “Not anymore”.

It is absurd and overly arrogant that Facebook has decided to say who can and can’t be in *my* addressbook. Not only am I limited to having an addressbook of people that ‘want’ to join Facebook’s walled garden, but now I learn that addressbook may be shortened as they prune network membership to their desires.

I’m glad that I keep my contact info off Facebook and up-to-date manually — and I pity people who do not.

I used to think Facebook was neat — but now I STRONGLY question it’s utility. What good is a tool that lets you manage contacts/relations, when it dictates which contacts/relations you’re allowed ?