Facebook out to topple Google

As the web becomes increasingly dominated by relationships, Facebook yesterday laid out its plans to topple Google.

Speaking at the social network’s F8 conference in San Francisco, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told developers: "We are building toward a web where the default is social."

Bounding on stage in jeans and a hoodie, Zuckerberg kicked off the conference in laid-back style. But his company’s plans were far from casual, spiralling out of Facebook itself to create a network between people and the things they like – all of that information, you’ll note, owned by Facebook.

Publishers will be able to tag their content by type, and partner sites can install Facebook’s new 'Like' button on their pages. This will allow any user who is logged into Facebook to indicate things they like on other web sites, from news stories to in-store products, images and music tracks. Sites including CNN, Time.com and IMDb are already signed up.

Although Facebook has batted away accusations that it plans to snoop on users’ browsing histories, the new tool differs crucially from Facebook’s existing 'Share' button, in that it can be used to build up a profile of a user’s surfing habits.

External web sites will also be able to use information on a user’s 'Likes' to individually tailor their content. The announcement comes just a month after we reported the social networking giant had knocked Google off its perch, snagging the most hits worldwide for an entire week.

The news wasn’t greeted with universal acclaim. The social network has already come under fire for mishandling users’ data – and fears look set to increase.

[Update: One enterprising US grad student's blog has already revealed how a simple cut'n'paste code trick turns the 'Like' button into a spammer's delight.]

Dubbing yesterday’s announcements "impressive, audacious and a bit scary", Om Malik, founder and editor of the technology blog GigaOM.com, told BBC news today: "I am very scared about the privacy issues around this initiative. They haven't really been very clear as to how consumers will have more control over the things they do on the web."