Google draws line in the sand on Facebook

November 5, 2010, 4:36 PM UTC

..will no longer share social data directly with Facebook unless Facebook shares back.

As posted by Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch, Google (GOOG) has changed its Contacts API terms of service for developers who want to access your Google Contacts information.  The changes affect data portability and specifically reciprocity between sites…and it is aimed directly at Facebook.

5.8. Google supports data portability. By accessing Content through the Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API for use in your service or application, you are agreeing to enable your users to export their contacts data to other services or applications of their choice in a way that’s substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts, subject to applicable laws.

Facebook can’t agree to those terms because they don’t allow their users to export their social graph, let alone let Google do it automatically.  Recently, Facebook agreed to allow its users to download everything that they’ve ever uploaded to Facebook in a Zip format.  But this doesn’t include contact information.

That being said, there are ways for users to view their contacts from external applications.  Interestingly, on Android, users can download and sync Facebook contacts into the address book and make them part of the contact list.  As Facebook contacts change phone numbers or addresses, they change in your address book.

It will be interesting to see if Facebook continues to let Android users do this now that Google has taken action on the Contacts API.

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg called Google obnoxious for hiring the developer who was working on the Android Facebook app, thus slowing down the development of Facebook on Android.

So is this the technology equivalent to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?  Probably not.

Facebook hasn’t commented yet,  Google’s statement on the matter is below:

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.