Who owns your friends: You or Facebook?

Robert Scoble, the big time Web celeb and co-author of Naked Conversations, has been kicked off Facebook for violating the site’s terms of service.

In a post about the move today, Scoble admits he was running scripts on the site (apparently in violation of Facebook’s terms of service) but says he should be allowed to take his friends with him and move to another social network. He’s thrown his support behind dataportability.org.

The argument in favour of friend portability is summed up well by a comment on Scoble’s blog from Chris Hambly, who writes:


Yes this is one of the reasons FB annoys me, it is MY social graph, my time and energy, I want to export it.


Yes, it’s your time and energy, but is it really your social graph? Sorry Scoble, I disagree.

As a private company, Facebook has no obligation to let you have a last meal and say your bye byes when you violate its terms of service. Scoble paints himself as some sort of dark knight vigilante, testing Facebook’s terms of service to protect us all. And maybe he is. But he broke the rules, he got caught and now he has to pay the price.

Many will argue that it’s good business for Facebook to allow data portability. They say that the network that has the least onerous terms of service will prevail. And to a point I agree, but not when it comes to data portability. That’s kind of like saying that whatever restaurant lets people eat for free will get the most visitors. Social networks will make money on the strength of their members’ social graphs.

Facebook gets this and won‘t let you take yours away without a fight. At Facebook Camp Toronto in October, Facebook’s Ami Vora boasted about the nework’s social graph and how it made Facebook so important and powerful for developers.

Besides, it doesn’t look like Facebook has banned Scoble permanently, just “disabled” his account. It looks like he’s getting a chance to promise he won’t break the rules again. I think the chances of him agreeing to that are about as likely as the chances that Facebook will let him teleport his social graph to another network.

(Thanks to Tyler Reed for this image of Scoble on Facebook).