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Will Facebook Lose Google's Contacts Integration?

TechCrunch reports Google has made a small but significant change to their Google Contacts API terms of service that technically prevents Facebook from using it to improve their friends database.

When users sign up to Facebook, they are prompted to add friends. They can do so manually or by uploading their contacts or email lists. To make this process easier, Facebook, like other sites, integrate with the various APIs to allow users to enter their username and passwords on third party sites so Facebook can get the data for them. Google is one of those main data sources for Facebook, but Google’s policy change no longer allows companies like Facebook to grab the data.

The new policy requires Facebook or anyone else who uses this API, to allow their users to export the data from their system – as easily as you can export the data from Google. Here is the clause from the terms of service:

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.

As of right now, the Facebook Invites screen still has the Google import option. But it may go away.

A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch:

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.

In short, Facebook has data that Google wants. Facebook made a deal with Microsoft, so Bing uses that data. But Facebook has no plans for a Google deal. Google is basically telling Facebook, if you want our data, play fair – we will trade. But in this case, who has more to lose?

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