I was sick of social networking before it was cool. (I may still have an account on Ryze, for heaven’s sake.) But I am growing intrigued with the concept once again. Perhaps I’m having my own little Social Networking 2.0! (OK. That’s all the self-reference I’ll do in 2008 – I guarantee it.*)
I’m interested in the brouhaha that Plaxo has created by creating a process in which they screen-scrape Facebook members’ email addresses. Facebook presents them as images to make harvesting difficult, but apparently Plaxo is using OCR to gather them, contrary to Facebook’s Terms of Service. Best of all, Plaxo is using journalists and bloggers to test it. Robert Scoble has gotten zapped by Facebook for using the Plaxo scraper.
There are wonderful competitive issues, PR issues, and privacy issues here, all balled together in an ugly mass.
I think Michael Arrington has it right:
Beyond the automated script issue, Facebook also has a very good reason for protecting email addresses – user privacy. Robert Scoble may be perfectly fine with having my contact information be easily downloaded from Facebook, but I may not be. Ultimately it should be me that decides, not him. And if Plaxo wants to push the envelope on user privacy issues, again, perhaps they should at least have given Facebook a heads up. And be prepared to take the consequences themselves instead of passing them off to their users.
*not a guarantee