Google vs Facebook: Adult supervision desperately needed

Facebook and Google are squaring off to determine which company can act more like a three-year-old.

You'd think the drinking water in Silicon Valley has been replaced with baby formula, given how childish some of the biggest companies in tech have acted this year. First on the Romper Room roll call is Steve Jobs, who has thrown tantrums over Adobe Flash, Android, lost prototypes, the tendency of his uberphone to lose its signal when held the wrong way, and various other prickles that have lodged in his big boy pants.

Now Google and Facebook are squabbling like four-year-olds over who can access whose data and what they can do with it.

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Google wants Facebook to release its headlock on its members' data -- specifically, phone numbers and email addresses. Being able to export contacts from Facebook would make it easier for people to, say, move all their stuff to a newer/spiffier social network. Facebook has so far steadily refused to let Google or anyone else play with its email toys, and will hold its breath until either Google stops asking or it turns blue, whatever comes first.

In retaliation, last week Google banned Facebook from accessing its Gmail Contacts API, making it harder to import Gmail contacts directly into your Facebook account. Take that, Lamebook.

This is not exactly consistent with the high-minded principles espoused on Google's own Data Liberation Front website, which states (in big red letters):

Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.

Except, apparently, for data in and out of Facebook. Turns out Orwell was right: Some data pigs really are more equal than others.

(Also: Data Liberation Front? Seriously? I see a bunch of geeky engineers sitting in a tree house wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and calling each other "comrade.")

Facebook responded by exploiting a Google feature that allows Gmail users to download their own contact data to their hard drives, then upload it into Facebook. Neener neener, G-Luzers.

In a response to a TechCrunch story about Google's API block, Facebook geek/blogger Mike Vernal lobbed a few water balloons in the general direction of the Googleplex:

Openness doesn't mean being open when its convenient for you. [Oh snap!] ... Facebook Platform and the Graph API enable everyone to bring their own information to millions of sites and applications, including even Google's YouTube....We strongly hope that Google turns back on their API and doesn't come up with yet another excuse to prevent their users from leaving Google products to use ones they like better instead.

Also: Eric Schmidt is a doo-doo head. Pass it on.

Various TechCrunch readers took turns spanking Vernal for various fibs in his diatribe, including "every Facebook user controls his or her own information" (except for the info Facebook controls), "Facebook doesn't let users export their email address books to third parties" (except for Yahoo and Hotmail, with whom Facebook has negotiated special business deals), and "Facebook lets its users bring their info to millions of sites and applications" (except for Twitter, whose API Facebook blocked earlier this year).

And then there was this howler: "Our policy has been consistent." By "consistent," he apparently means "has not changed over the previous 24 hours."

I'd say it's time for the adults to step in and settle this fight before somebody puts an eye out, but I'm not sure there are any adults in this fight. Schmidt is busy talking about how Google would be happy to make all your decisions for you (using his creepy Uncle Eric voice), while Zuckerberg is out trying to master the "Ollie" on his skateboard.

When you come right down to it, it's not Google's data or Facebook's data. It's our data. And we should be able to do whatever we want with it.

Google needs to be less snotty. Facebook needs to learn how to play nicely with others and share its toys. And they both could benefit from a good walloping.

Is it time to take Google and Facebook out to the woodshed? E-mail me:

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Robert X. Cringely

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