Google Halts Facebook Data Usage – So Facebook Pole Vaults

These wars between internet giants have a tendency to get pretty ugly sometimes …

Updated: The great internet war heats up, as Google slams Facebook for leaving users in a ‘data dead end’

The drumbeat of diplomatic tension between Facebook and Google, two internet heavyweights, is growing louder by the day.

In a rare public statement admonishing one of its rivals – or, soon-to-be rivals – Google last week banished Facebook from using its data feed for Gmail contacts, saying the social network isn’t pulling its weight in a “world of true data liberation”.

Singling out Facebook as a chief offender, Google said that services that do not allow users to export their contact data to other applications in a way that is “substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts” will no longer be able to use its Contacts API.

Facebook, the search giant said, leaves users in a “data dead end”, and their carefully-constructed network of contacts “effectively trapped”. As a result of the wrangle, new Facebook registrants were suddenly unable to import or invite contacts from Google services in an automated way.

But Facebook is nothing if not bolshy. According to TechCrunch, the site has quickly subverted Google’s blockade by hacking together its own solution. New registrants can now download – and then upload – a file of their Google contacts without having to leave Facebook. What’s more, this solution subverts Google by taking advantage of the search giant’s Data Liberation Front.

Yes, the DLF is A Real Thing. It’s a team of Google engineers, to be precise, whose “singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products”. (Here’s our interview with Brian Fitzpatrick, its chief, from September 2009.)

Sure enough, Google lets users export or import contact details at their leisure, in the format of their choice. Brilliant generosity, says Facebook, we’ll use that to hop over your hastily-constructed obstruction.

Update: Google has since issued us with this comment: “We’re disappointed that Facebook didn’t invest their time in making it possible for their users to get their contacts out of Facebook. As passionate believers that people should be able to control the data they create, we will continue to allow our users to export their Google contacts.” Feisty, huh?

Facebook continues to refuse comment on the issue, preferring instead to cater to the needs of its users. Google’s original statement, issued last Thursday, merits a greater read:

“Google is committed to making it easy for users to get their data into and out of Google products. That is why we have a data liberation engineering team dedicated to building import and export tools for users. We are not alone. Many other sites allow users to import and export their information, including contacts, quickly and easily. But sites that do not, such as Facebook, leave users in a data dead end.

“So we have decided to change our approach slightly to reflect the fact that users often aren’t aware that once they have imported their contacts into sites like Facebook they are effectively trapped. Google users will still be free to export their contacts from our products to their computers in an open, machine-readable format – and once they have done that they can then import those contacts into any service they choose. However, we will no longer allow websites to automate the import of users’ Google Contacts (via our API) unless they allow similar export to other sites.

“It’s important that when we automate the transfer of contacts to another service, users have some certainty that the new service meets a baseline standard of data portability. We hope that reciprocity will be an important step towards creating a world of true data liberation – and that this move will encourage other websites to allow users to automate the export of their contacts as well.”

Google wants fellow internet companies to play fair with user data. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Facebook is quick on the reflex if it feels another company is stepping on its toes, but altogether slower when it comes to allowing users out of its social silo.

The question is now whether Google will take further measures – difficult, given that the DLF exists – or whether it will find some way to jemmy open Facebook’s systems to help setting up the much-rumoured Google Me. The latter looks unlikely; contacts are Facebook’s secret sauce just as much as Google’s precise search algorithms are its. Where is the undeclared war going to break out next? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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