Late last week, a Google Chrome browser extension called Facebook Friend Exporter received a flood of new interest as Google+ users looked for a way to import their Facebook friends into Google’s social network, Circles. However, since the app collects contact information from Facebook, it violate’s the site’s terms of service, and Facebook implemented a throttling mechanism that prevents it from scraping email addresses.
LinkedIn also blocked two Facebook professional networking apps: BranchOut for trying to profit from pulling in LinkedIn profile data into an enterprise recruiting search tool,and Monster’s BeKnown for sending promotional messages through LinkedIn’s messages API. These are the latest examples of long-running issues with platform owners and developers both trying to provide the same value to users and customers.
The blocking of apps by Facebook and LinkedIn is a sign of the growing pains of social platforms that with time have built valuable collections of user data. There’s a fine balance between promoting innovation and giving away competitive advantage. Developers should expect the platforms to protect themselves, and should know that just because they aren’t shut down immediately doesn’t mean their data usage has been approved. While there are monetary and philosophical rewards for operating in the gray area, there’s also great potential for loss of development resources.