Last night TechCrunch broke the news that Plaxo seems to be for sale. I was struggling for an angle to cover the story. Generally I think about who would be the most likely targets. Last night on Twitter LinkedIn and Microsoft, and not Google, were the likely suitors. I have to agree with both of those choices. LinkedIn would be a great match, since their connectors to ones addressbook have always been less than ideal. Microsoft, of course, could really use a decent way to manage your Outlook address book (reminder I should install the Plaxo Outlook toolbar-or maybe not-have I really missed it?).
All these musings are well and good, but wow did something just fall into our collective laps this morning. With the Scoble-Facebook debacle still hot on our fingers (since we’re typing our thoughts generally-of course there are Seesmic and Utterz on the topic), turns out that Scoble was using an alpha script-tool from Plaxo to scrape Facebook for address book data to connect up with his address book:
OK, so I’ve been released from my NDA. I was alpha testing an upcoming feature of Plaxo Pulse — this feature has not yet been released and now that my account has gotten shut down it’s not clear whether it will be released. It is a Facebook importer that works just like any other address book importer.
What does it collect?
Names and email address and birthday.
Why those? Because it’s trying to connect Facebook names with names in its database.
For instance, it learned that of the 5,000 people in my Facebook account about 1,800 were already on Plaxo. Source: What I was using to hit Facebook — unreleased Plaxo Pulse « Scobleizer — Tech geek blogger
Mike Arrington feels Plaxo flubbed it, given that pulling email addresses (and Plaxo we gather was screenscraping and using OCR to pull the e-mail addresses out-since they are images) is a Bozo no, no for Facebook. I’m not sure if Plaxo flubbed it, but they should certainly help Scoble get back onto Facebook-assuming he wants to go back.
Certainly bad timing for Plaxo. When you’re trying to sell your company having one of your early look tools blow up like this is a black mark. It shouldn’t reflect on the whole service or management, but…
From the tweets I’m seeing there is a bit of a backlash saying that folks don’t want Plaxo to be able to skim through Facebook for e-mail addresses. Here’s an interesting point. I’d like to have that addresses of my Facebook friends (those who I don’t already have, of course). Sure I can just get them piecemeal, but that’s not terribly efficient. is it? The question is–if you’re my friend on Facebook, shouldn’t I be able to get your e-mail address easily if I need it?
Also covering the Plaxo Pulse-Scoble-Facebook news, Shel Israel points out that Facebook is still silent on the news. Typical, but you’d think they’d learn from the past, eh?
Update: Just caught Allen Stern’s follow up post on data privacy –And Nick Carr’s and Kara Swisher’s — and Mathew Ingram’s — and Dare’s. Central question we’re all asking-who’s data is it anyway? What privileges have we given Facebook friends to our data? What degree of trust are we willing to have with them? As Allen noted in the PacificIT chat–this is going to be the hot topic of the week.