Last year, Facebook changed its mission statement, from “Making The World More Open And Connected” to “Bringing The World Closer Together”.
As I said in September 2005, interoperability is not just a technical question but a sociotechnical question (involving people, processes and organizations). (Some of us were writing about “open and connected” before Facebook existed.) But geeks often start with the technical interface, or what is sometimes called an API.
For many years, Facebook had an API that allowed developers to snoop on friends’ data: this was shut down in April 2015. As Constine reported at the time, this was not just because the API was “kind of shady” but also to “deny developers the ability to build apps … that could compete with Facebook’s own products”. Sandy Paralikas (himself a former Facebook executive) made a similar point (as reported by Paul Lewis): Facebook executives were nervous about the commercial value of data being passed to other companies, and worried that the large app developers could be building their own social graphs.
In other words, the decision was not motivated by concern for user privacy but by the preservation of Facebook’s hegemony.
When Tim Berners-Lee first talked about the Giant Global Graph in 2007, it seemed such a good idea. When Facebook launched the Open Graph in 2010, this was billed as “a taste of the future where everything can be more personalized”. Like!
Philip Boxer and Richard Veryard, Taking Governance to the Edge (Microsoft Architecture Journal, August 2006)
Josh Constine, Facebook Is Shutting Down Its API For Giving Your Friends’ Data To Apps (TechCrunch, 28 April 2015)
Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois, Everything Facebook Launched At f8 And Why (TechCrunch, 2 May 2014)
John Lanchester, You Are the Product (London Review of Books, 17 August 2017)
Paul Lewis, ‘Utterly horrifying’: ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine (Guardian, 20 March 2018)
Caroline McCarthy, Facebook F8: One graph to rule them all (CNet, 21 April 2010)
Sandy Parakilas, We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself (New York Times, 19 November 2017)