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Facebook’s Data Tactics: Disrupting or Disturbing?




Many people like to talk about the disruption that Facebook is creating in the business landscape. Most prominent of those is Mark Zuckerberg himself.

Funny thing is that when he talks about the new world order that is being brought about by Facebook (and I suppose there are others but that’s not his job to say anyone is as smart as he is now, is it?), he usually leaves out the dark spots.

One of those has been revealed by Google as the search giant is pulling Facebook’s ability to import contact data from Google properties (Gmail) for the simple reason that Facebook doesn’t offer reciprocity on the deal like most other sites.

Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch reports on Google’s reasoning for why they are pulling the plug on Facebook with this response from Google themselves

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.

Of course, the goal of this action and the statement that follows it is to paint Google as riding on the white horse of openness while Facebook rides the black horse of closed, unsharing and uncooperative data monger. They actually pull it off in this case.

Kincaid continues

Facebook has claimed in the past that there are sensitive issues around exporting contact information. But that hasn’t stopped it from pulling in whatever data it can. And it has also forged deals with both Hotmail and Yahoo that will let those services access its contact data. Google didn’t do a partnership with Facebook, so it doesn’t get the goods.

In other words, the battle lines are being drawn and there is enough of a window for a company like Google to paint Zuckerberg and Facebook into the corner of their disruptive business being more of a disturbing business. A business where openness is a political front facing ideal that doesn’t quite depict the behind the scenes reality of “If you don’t play with us we won’t recognize you”.

It looks like this gamesmanship is all part of the growing process of the future of the Internet as we know it. Google is now the granddaddy of the space while Facebook is the young whipper snapper coming up with little respect for anyone and doing what it deems necessary to succeed (Which is make as much money as possible not change the world like a sweaty Zuckerberg proclaims. Mark and your minions, please stop thinking that the rest of us are morons like your college ‘friends’).

This won’t necessarily impact the actual users of these services (other than those who are silly enough to just import everything from one place to another without thinking about whether all of those folks even belong there). What it will impact is just how much of the social graph Facebook will have ultimately.

You see, despite their aggressive tactics they are working hard to piss off a rather larger part of the online world by treating Google as the enemy and not a ‘frienemy’. If Google decides to take their ball and go home that will sting even the mighty Facebook and it could disrupt the disruptor even more.

Your thoughts?

  • http://www.barbaraling.com Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    Using Facebook is as fraught with non-privacy as using Google. IE, anyone who thinks privacy is available on either side is living in quite the fantasy world.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Actually this one isn’t about privacy it’s just about creating an open flow of data between these major entities. Privacy has sadly gone by the wayside long ago and the claims of privacy like those made by Facebook are thin at best. Our data is their gold mine. Oh well, the price we all pay I suppose.