The Internet, founded on the ideal that information should be free and readily available, has been in the process of becoming more and more proprietary over the last few years as Net giants do everything they can to lock users (and their data) into their interfaces. The business reasons are sound — ad revenue only comes when users go to the site where the ad shows — but closing off users from accessing their data in ways convenient to them flies in the face of what (in my humble opinion) the Internet should be. Several businesses have been busily closing off access to "bots," or automated scripts that "scrape" data from sites like Google, Craigslist, Facebook, or Myspace.
Facebook was roundly criticized recently for its behavior with regards to information that its users post online, particularly the "Beacon" program. Then, they suspended the account of a user who wrote a script to "scrape" his own data from the site, despite the fact that it was all data that the user entered himself. These and other privacy concerns are all too apparent in the calls from advocates who decry the fact that Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other search engines retain user search data for 13 to 18 months.
Is Facebook Beacon a Privacy Nightmare? (Gigaom)
Fears mount over internet privacy (Times Online)
I understand why the Internet giants don't want people to scrape their data. However, when someone comes up with a service that people like (as in the Listpic service discussed in the first article), I would think that the companies involved (Craigslist, in this case) would buy the technology for their own uses rather than sending a cease and desist letter. This reminds me of the MSN/AOL IM wars that went back and forth for months. In my opinion, companies should at least provide an API that allows users to access their content in a way that suits the user's needs. Do you think that the Web giants should allow access to data through bots, spiders, or APIs?
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