Just the other day I was digging into various Web 2.0 APIs to see what the possibilities where. You know, just kicking back and having fun geek style. I quickly gave up.
For some reason, both Facebook and LinkedIn protect certain information about your friends and contacts in the name of privacy. If you log into your Facebook account, you can see the e-mail address of your friends if they have provided one on their profile. You cannot retrieve that e-mail through the API and the same goes for the phone number. You can get pictures, gender, age etc. but not the e-mail address.
LinkedIn does expose the e-mail address, but not addresses, phone numbers or any other information except the name, title and organization. The reason why I wanted the e-mail address was that it is a great key that could pair up your Facebook friends to the LinkedIn contacts. Then I would be able to get all the information on the people from the two networks and make a more complete profile on them.
I know that people might be reluctant to share their e-mail address on Facebook, but apparently a lot of the same people have no issue sharing it on LinkedIn. It doesn’t make sense. And why does the LinkedIn vCards of your own contacts not contain information like country and zip code even though people have entered it? Why couldn’t they just let it be up to the individual user to allow this information being public? Privacy restriction, that’s why, and probably a law suit waiting to happen.
Now, there is some sense in keeping sensitive information private, but why are they just sensitive to the API’s on not if you’re logged in on the websites? In other words, people can get access but not machines. It might be that people build mash-ups, but machines have to execute them and that’s the problem.
It seems that the bigger the programmable web becomes, the bigger the issue becomes on keeping information private, thus limiting us from doing some really cool stuff easily. I guess we could always go back to screen scraping as long as it’s still possible, which by the way it is on both Facebook and LinkedIn – for now anyway – even thought it is a clear violation on their terms of service.
So, I gave up my little venture, looked longingly at the moon from my window and dreamed of a world where privacy restrictions and law suits don’t conflict with my geeky nature.