Facebook is pulling a "Twitter" and has started blocking third-party apps from accessing its friends data. Well, it started blocking them more often, Facebook has never been forthcoming about that data.But, up until recently at least, Facebook directed its ire towards the bigger players, Google, Twitter and so on.
Not anymore, it's more than happy to cut off access to an hours-old app if it believes it could be a threat. In what couldn't have been worse timing for Facebook, the site was forced to cut off both Twitter's new Vine app and Yandex's new Wonder app.
Both used the Facebook friend graph, Wonder more than Vine perhaps, and Facebook didn't like it. Now, trying to find Facebook friends in Vine will result in an error and so does in Wonder. Interestingly enough, Wonder can still access Instagram friends data.
But the message is clear, you can't use Facebook data to build competing social networks, or more generally a social graph. You also can't use it to build a search engine.
Facebook is taking a harder stanceThis is not new, both provisions were in the developer terms of service and, while there may be apps that violate them out there, Facebook is within its rights to cut off anyone it perceives as not following the terms.
The issue is an old one, a couple of years ago, Facebook and Google got into a loud argument over this. Facebook was able to import contact data from Gmail, but didn't allow its users to export it back.
This led Google to try and block Facebook's access as well. In the same year, Facebook cut off Twitter's Find Friends feature, leading to an even longer running back and forth between companies.
Earlier this year, Twitter cut off Instagram's access to the find friends feature, after it became clear Facebook was acquiring it. This, in turn, prompted Instagram to block photos from being displayed on the Twitter website and in the Twitter apps.
It's understandable perhaps that Facebook would do the same for Twitter's Vine app. Given the recent launch of the Graph Search, it's also understandable that Facebook is a lot more interested in blocking other search apps.
In fact, Wonder worked similarly to Graph Search, enabling you to find friends or places based on what they had in common, their activities and so on.
Facebook's bullying may backfireHowever, Facebook has gained a lot of value through its platform, Facebook logins are everywhere now, for example. Facebook is happy to spread its reach as wide as possible, just as long as it's getting the better end of the deal, i.e. it gets data from apps but doesn't provide much data in return.
Facebook's big enough to get things done its way, but it has to be careful not to overplay its hand. The fact is, Facebook is big but it's not "cool," people don't use Facebook because it's so great, they use it because they don't have a choice.
But if a new app comes along with some great functionality and a wonderful product, i.e. something like Instagram, people are going to use it with or without Facebook's "permission." Facebook trying to prevent this may only slow down the apps growth, but it won't stop it.