Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Free the Scoble 5,000!!

It is easy to make light of the constant swirl of twittery online activity that surrounds well-known blogger Robert Scoble.

But Facebook’s disabling of his account yesterday–because he was apparently using a script to access and pull data from his own profile there to move it to other social graphs of his choice–is not going to turn out well for the social-networking company.

In fact, it seems to me that the company is about to shoot itself in the foot once again. And–let’s be honest–Facebook certainly doesn’t have any bullet-free feet to aim at after its recent debacles with its stalkerish Beacon ad product and its ill-advised legal action against a magazine that published embarrassing information about Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

As goofy as it seems, it looks like Scoble has aimed perfectly at the Achilles’ heel of Facebook–the testy issue of data portability and how much control you should have over your own information online.


In this case, as Scoble wrote in a blog post today, the fight with Facebook is over an effort he has been making with DataPortability.org, which notes on its Web site that “our identity, photos, videos and other forms of personal data should be discoverable by, and shared between, our chosen tools or vendors.”

Such activity–which Facebook characterizes as “scraping”–is not allowed under its Terms of Use.

More to the point, such an ability would be damaging to Facebook’s business plan around building a robust ad business. The success of that squarely relies on people staying and actively using the service because they have committed time and effort in putting up scads of information, photos and videos about themselves on the service, as well as establishing a complex and personally valuable network of friends.

For example, Scoble has said he has about 5,000 friends on Facebook alone–the upper limit on the service.

That’s some digital Rolodex you don’t want to lose, and Facebook knows this.

Thus, it has zero interest in allowing people to escape easily if they want to, even though THE INFORMATION ON FACEBOOK IS THEIRS AND NOT FACEBOOK’S.

Sorry for the caps, but I wanted to be as clear as I could: All that information on Facebook is Robert Scoble’s. So, he should–even if he agreed to give away his rights to move it to use the service in the first place (he had no other choice if he wanted to join)–be allowed to move it wherever he wants.

Still, in an email to him, Facebook customer service wrote: “Our systems indicate that you’ve been highly active on Facebook lately and viewing pages at a quick enough rate that we suspect you may be running an automated script. This kind of activity would be a violation of our Terms of Use and potentially of federal and state laws.

“As a result, your account has been disabled. Please reply to this email with a description of your recent activity on Facebook. In addition, please confirm with us that in the future you will not scrape or otherwise attempt to obtain in any manner information from our Web site except as permitted by our Terms of Use, and that you will immediately delete and not use in any manner any such information you may have previously obtained.”

Scary! Of course, because it is Facebook, there is already a group formed to urge he be reinstated.

In other words, Facebook is about to get Scobleized and it is not going to be pretty.