Google Pressures Facebook over Data Portability

Google prods Facebook to allow users to export their contact data by preventing the social network's users from automatically uploading their contact data from Gmail.

Google Nov. 5 moved to strong-arm Facebook into making its data more portable, barring the social network from automatically importing Gmail contacts.

Google allows its users to transfer data generated in its Web services to other Websites, part of the company's Data Liberation Front program.

Google with its Contacts Data API has also allowed companies such as Facebook to pull Gmail users' contacts from the service, helping users of the social network instantly populate contacts when they set up their accounts.

This practice, which allows users to type in their Gmail user name and password as part of the Facebook signup process, saves users the hassle of manually importing contacts.

However, Facebook is more protective of its contact information. The company, citing end-user privacy concerns, does not freely grant users the freedom to export their contact data to other Websites. Instead, it has cut private deals to let users of Microsoft Live Hotmail and Yahoo Mail import Facebook contact data.

To that end, Google Nov. 4 altered its Google Contacts Data API terms of service to prevent Facebook and other companies from automatically pulling Gmail contacts into their service.

Google will allow companies that leverage its API to let users export their data from Google as long as these companies enable the same practice of exporting data, including contacts. Enforcement is on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, Google is calling for a quid pro quo on contact data. Websites such as Facebook that don't allow users to import and export contact info easily leave users in a "data dead end," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK:

"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."