Google might rule the roost today, but five years on the scenario might be very different. Facebook is amassing a treasure trove of data on users around the globe that might give it the competitive advantage it needs to take on Google, and Google is obviously aware of this.
Earlier this week, Google updated its ToS (Terms of Service) to stop Facebook from importing contact data from Google (Gmail). Within a couple of days, Facebook found a way around this by encouraging users to manually download and then upload their contact information. This trick ensured that users could still import information from Gmail, without Facebook needing to directly access Google’s Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API.
As you might have guessed, Google isn’t too happy about this. After terming Facebook’s trickery as “disappointing”, Google is now resorting to a more direct approach to discourage users from importing data into Facebook.
Google is automatically displaying the following warning to all users who land on the contacts export page via Facebook:
Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out?
Here’s the not-so-fine print. You have been directed to this page from a site that doesn’t allow you to re-export your data to other services, essentially locking up your contact data about your friends. So once you import your data there, you won’t be able to get it out. We think this is an important thing for you to know before you import your data there. Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data.
Google’s motto has always been “Do No Evil”. Of late, critics have questioned Google’s dedication to that motto. However, Google obviously knows the value of being counted amongst the good guys. Even though it doesn’t want to provide Facebook free access to its social graph, it isn’t explicitly blocking its users from exporting their own data.
It will be interesting to see if this actually works. Casual users are notorious for not paying attention to messages like this. However, Google has definitely succeeded in highlighting the closed nature of Facebook, which has been criticized heavily in the past by privacy and data portability advocates. Well played Google.