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Google v Facebook: this means passive-aggressive war

Posted by arnon_k On November - 13 - 2010 1 COMMENT

Wait just one minute before you export your data to Facebook, says Google: are you sure you want to hand it over to some New Evil Empire^W^W^W other site?
“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? ”

This is Google’s new passive-aggressive front in its war against Facebook: a “trap my contacts now” page that you get redirected to if you try to export your Gmail contacts out, using the system that Facebook has implemented now that Google has removed the easy way of doing that (see Google halts Facebook data usage – so Facebook polevaults).

In the history of passive-aggressive notes, this is quite a doozy from Google:

“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 [emphasis added], 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 [emphasis added]. 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.”

You then get two checkbox options: “I want to be able to export my data from Facebook. Please register a complaint on my behalf over data protectionism. (Google will not pass on your name or email address.)” or “I still want to proceed with exporting this data. I recognize that I won’t be able to export it back out.”

We’ll be interested to see how this one plays out – and whether Google gets a large number of people going with its protest.

Facebook won’t ‘share’ contacts with Gmail

Posted by arnon_k On November - 11 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about “sharing” info and “connecting” people to each other more than Kanye West talks about himself. And the site’s mission statement hits those themes hard, saying Facebook’s goal is to give people “the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

So it might come as a surprise to Facebook users that the site takes a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach to letting people share their own information with one of its biggest competitors.

In what’s been called “data hoarding,” Facebook will not let users export their Facebook contacts lists — which include pictures and e-mails — to Google’s e-mail system.

That’s not new, but Facebook’s anti-sharing policy has come under scrutiny recently since Google last week retaliated by blocking users from uploading their Gmail contacts to Facebook, according to TechCrunch.

Facebook, in turn, found a work-around that let it pull in contact lists from Google anyway — a sort of technical slap in the face to Google.

“We’re disappointed that Facebook didn’t invest their time in making it possible for their users to get their contacts out of Facebook,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “As passionate believers that people should be able to control the data they create, we will continue to allow our users to export their Google contacts.”

Facebook did not respond to a CNN request for comment.

At first read, this may sound kind of silly or irrelevant — two multibillion-dollar tech companies bickering with each other. But these companies hold the keys to millions of peoples’ online identities. They control whether you can download or export lists of your contacts, where on the internet you can use those lists, and which data companies they’ll sell this information to.

The new lockdowns on user data could signal a change in how the Web works, writes Michael Arrington from TechCrunch.

The big tech companies are now in a “data war,” and it may be hard to stop this escalation now that it has started, writes Arrington, who sees Facebook as the aggressor in this situation.

Facebook “just pretty much refused to let users export social graph data, even though they import it like crazy from every source they can get their hands on,” he says.

The Wall Street Journal compared the situation to “what happens when a 6-year-old and a 12-year-old get in a fight.” (Facebook is the 6-year-old, apparently.)

“Expect neither side to let go easily,” Geoffrey A. Fowler writes.

Despite this fight, it’s still possible to share your contacts among plenty of websites, which makes it easier to find friends on social networks and to synchronize the digital contacts you’ve accumulated from various sources.

Below is a list of four of the big players in the online contacts space, and who shares with whom, compiled from each of these sites’ contacts pages. This should give you an idea of how “trapped” your data is in any one of these services. (Note that companies who are “friends” — i.e. Facebook and Microsoft, since that company owns a stake in Facebook — tend to be fans of sharing data. Rivals like Google and Facebook — not so much):

Who holds onto your data?

Google: Exports contacts to Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo

Facebook: Exports contacts to Microsoft, Yahoo (not Google)

Microsoft: Exports contacts to Google, Facebook and Yahoo

Yahoo: Exports contacts to Google and Facebook (not Microsoft)

Facebook lets users form groups and download data

Posted by arnon_k On October - 7 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Facebook is letting users form cozy cliques as part of a move to give people more control of their information at the world’s most popular online social network.

A “Groups” feature that lets Facebook members set up private online havens for clusters of family, co-workers, teammates, or others was unveiled Wednesday at the firm’s headquarters in the Californian city of Palo Alto.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the “biggest problem” in online social networking is that people tend to divide their friends into separate circles that they interact with differently, such as co-workers or former school chums.

“Now, people can map out all the real world groups they have in a graph,” Zuckerberg said, referring to “Groups.”

“If we can do this, we can unlock a huge amount of sharing people want to do that they don’t do now because it’s too annoying or the privacy,” he said.

Groups are shared spaces in which people can communicate with tools including email lists and “group chat that is pretty killer,” he added.

“We think that what we have out of the box, version one, blows away everything else,” Zuckerberg said, referring to “groups” services offered by Internet stalwarts such as Yahoo! and Google.

Facebook also began rolling out a feature that will let people download all pictures, video, comments and other digital information they have uploaded to the social networking service.

“Download is really so you can have a copy of all your information,” Zuckerberg said. “You own your information. You should have control over it. You should be able to do whatever you want with it.”

A new “dashboard” feature to be rolled out in the coming days will let Facebook users see and manage what information in their accounts is accessed by third-party applications.

Explaining the new features, Forrester social computing analyst Augie Ray said “the dialogue during the past year that popped up over privacy issues may have caused people in Facebook to get nervous.

“What we are seeing today is a genuine desire to stop those concerns while at the same time really give people better control,” Ray said.

The new features are part of a drive to build Facebook into a “social platform” where people share and connect across the gamut of applications used to swap pictures, messages, videos and more online, according to Zuckerberg.

“We think social can be like the PC (personal computer) platform, giving people control of their information in different contexts,” he said.

“Groups” was built with the help of Hot Potato, a young New York City Internet firm that Facebook bought in August.

Hot Potato about nine months ago launched a social networking service that lets smartphone users “check-in” to let friends know what they are thinking, watching, playing, attending, listening to, or otherwise doing.

“Groups are about how we are living our lives today,” said Hot Potato founder and Facebook Groups leader Justin Shaffer. “We think this is going to change, fundamentally, how you use Facebook today.”

People forming Facebook Groups can make them open, closed, or secret.

Membership and content of open groups is public, while the content of closed groups can only be seen by members. Secret groups hide their membership and contents.

Analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley doubted that features Facebook started rolling out Wednesday would do much to ameliorate concerns about how safe personal data is in the online community.

“They are approaching a trust issue like you would a technology problem and patching the product,” Enderle said.

“They are turning people into mini data managers,” he continued. “But, if you don’t trust Facebook in the first place, why would you believe your Group is a contained area that Facebook won’t mine?”