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Facebook should buy Plaxo

Scoble's banning from Facebook is provoking a lot of discussion in the blogosphere amongst Americans. The discussion centers around whether Scoble should be allowed to export his social graph elsewhere, and whether Facebook owns the data he put in there.  The fact that the US is one of the weakest privacy and identity regimes in the world colors the debate.

The principles which should be guiding this discussion are simple:

  1. You own your own personal data.  You have the right to ask any business to surrender your data to you.
  2. You have the right to ask any business what data they're storing about you, and again, to ask them to surrender that data to you.
  3. Businesses which collect data from you must describe what they intend to do with that data, and do only those things for which they have your permission. Opt-out, which is the norm today, is insufficient.  Opt-in must become the norm.

Putting aside Facebook's policies, the technology they've built is almost ideal.  Each user opt's in and reveals as much or as little information about themselves as they feel appropriate.  When we "friend" an individual, we reveal some of that information to the other party.  Adding Plaxo to the mix — to allow me to keep my social graph synched with my address book would be a perfect solution.  As my friends reveal more or less of their data via the social network, my store of information about them would automatically update. The entanglement issue — who owns the data I gave you when I friended you — would be automatically avoided.

Even were Facebook and Plaxo not able to agree on this kind of arrangement, one could argue that by friending me, you've agreed to reveal information about yourself to me.  Provided I do the socially responsible thing, and don't sell your name to spammers, the trust relationship in friending someone could be argued to be sufficient.  It's at the very least worth experimenting with.

And if Plaxo really is for sale… perhaps Facebook should just pick them up and put the conversation to rest.  If Mark Zuckerburg is serious about being the utility which manages the social graph, Facebook is going to have to become more open than it already is. Plaxo seems like a great solution.

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