Google's Friend Connect vs. Your Privacy

Google is announcing Friend Connect tonight, a service advertised to "help website owners grow traffic by enabling any site on the web to easily provide social features for its visitors." Friend Connect employs OpenID and OAuth which is a good start, but how it puts them together is lacking vision and, disturbingly, may raise significant privacy concerns.

Google is a member of the Data Portability Working Group which is working on open standards that tackle difficult issues such as privacy, control and data exposure. Unfortunately, while Google is thus aware of the issues, it has instead chosen to create yet another closed system where the social graph and all of the key connections people make is contained on Google's servers. Friend Connect provides its services in an iframe that makes integration simple - and thus will speed deployment - but limits flexibility. While undeniably powerful given Google's ability to datamine net connections, this is neither open nor user-centric.

In creating Friend Connect Google seems to by throwing its weight around in the social network sphere in much the same way Microsoft does regarding web interface standards. In the latter case, Microsoft - knowing it owns nearly 90% (and shrinking) of the browser market - has the power to disregard internationally accepted web standards with respect to how elements are displayed on the page, causing headaches for web developers building to the standards. Similarly, Google - knowing it owns a huge (and increasing) amount of link data - has the power to create seductive services that sites will use while disregarding community-developed best practices that support full user control over how, when and with whom data is shared.

I have to close with a disclaimer that all this is speculation upon what I've been able to discover so far with respect to Friend Connect which, as of this posting, has not yet been released and thus not reviewed. One can hope that they listen to the organizations of the Data Portability Working Group and the privacy concerns they are working to address.