Facebook, Google Spar over Open vs. Closed Data

Facebook Nov. 9 accused Google of being open where it is convenient. Google warned users who try to pull Gmail data into Facebook that they won't be able to get it out.

It sure has gotten ugly between Google and Facebook with regard to data portability, an industry catch-phrase used to describe the ability for users to import and export data from Web services such as social networks.

Breaking its code of silence regarding Google's allegations that it is a closed network, a Facebook engineer Nov. 9 lashed out at the search engine, accusing it of being open where it is convenient.

Google responded by warning users who try to pull Gmail data into Facebook that they won't be able to get it out.

This is the latest in a scrum over data that goes back three years when Facebook declined to join Google's OpenSocial effort or endorse Google Friend Connect. Here's how it started.

Google Nov. 4 changed its Contacts Data API (section 5.8) that prevents companies from letting users import Gmail data where the companies don't offer comparable import and export tools.

Interestingly, Google said it would only enforce this new policy on a case-by-case basis, so as not harm fledgling companies looking to leverage the vast Gmail network.

Google made its change to apply data portability pressure to Facebook, which let users automatically populate their accounts with their Google Gmail contacts but does not let users take their contacts information outside the network.

Interestingly, while Google ceased to let Facebook users automatically harvest Gmail contacts, it provided them an olive branch. Users could leverage Google's "data liberation" tool to download their Gmail contacts to their computers in a ZIP file, then upload those contacts into Facebook.

Facebook declined to speak publicly about the matter but within a few days of Google's API change, the company installed an easy download button that deep links to Google's own data liberation tool. The workaround effectively let users continue to automatically import Gmail contacts to Facebook.