With FriendCSV, Data Sneaks Out Facebook's Back Door

As we’ve suggested before, there is an underlying problem with many proprietary systems – such as Facebook – because information inside of them tends to get trapped. Information flows in but not so easily back out.

This can be very frustrating for users who wish that the highly personal data stored in social networks could be transferred to other applications for other uses. Indeed, Google reportedly has plans to compete with Facebook by ending this frustration and providing a more open social networking platform.

However, it’s easy to overlook the ways in which Facebook does actually allow data to flow out of its system. An application sent to us yesterday evening called FriendCSV serves as a reminder in this regard. While it may be no surprise to Facebook application developers, FriendCSV can pull out a lot of information about your friends and store it in a comma-separated values (CSV) file that you can then load into a spreadsheet program like Excel.

The following information about your friends can be extracted, regardless of whether they’ve installed the program themselves: user ID, name, sex, birthday, about information, current location, hometown, profile URL, portrait URL, high school, education, work experience, and affiliations. The developers of FriendCSV says that they could pull out even more information than these 13 fields; contact information (such as email addresses) is apparently the only type of profile information that Facebook prevents users from extracting.

The developers are aware of only a few other Facebook applications that pull out information like this: Birthday Exporter, which dumps birthdays to Google calendar, Birthdays to iCal Exporter, which does the same for iCal. Another application purportedly exports all your friends’ photo albums to a ZIP file but doesn’t currently work.