Google, Facebook duke it out over user data

Reciprocity seems to be at the heart of burgeoning war of words between Internet giants

Things are getting a bit heated between two of the largest Internet companies as they spar over users' data.

Google and Facebook, which increasingly seem to be rivals, have been engaged in a war of words this week over data portability. The issue boils down to the ability to move user data back and forth between Web services, such as Google's Gmail and Facebook.

"We're reaching the point where the giants are going to bump up against each other more, [which is] sure to cause some nasty skirmishes," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Even though a casual user might not see it, Google and Facebook are definitely rivals at the edges. The big picture is that both companies are looking for the same thing: lots of users who stick around for longer times."

The spat started simmering late last week when Google stepped in to bar Facebook from automatically importing users' Gmail contacts. The move, according to analysts, stemmed from the fact that Facebook lets users import data into the social network but doesn't make it nearly as easy to export data to other sites and services.

Google's response was to change its API so that users can share their information only with companies that reciprocate on a quid pro quo basis.

Facebook responded Monday by giving users a link to a download feature that skirts around Google's roadblock. Users simply say they're downloading the information for their own use and then upload it to Facebook.

Mike Vernal, a member of the Facebook engineering team, explained Facebook's position in a response to an article on TechCrunch.

"Openness doesn't mean being open when it's convenient for you," Vernal wrote. "We strongly hope that Google turns back its 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."

And now Google is warning users who are trying to import Gmail data into Facebook that their information could get "trapped."

In a pop-up notice titled "Trap my contacts now," Google issues this warning: "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," Google's warning continues. "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."

Olds noted that there probably won't be a clear winner in this back-and-forth, but it will draw attention to the way Facebook covets users' data.

"Both Facebook and Google espouse openness at every turn, but both also have their blind spots as well," he added. "Facebook has not made sharing a priority. More accurately, Facebook likes sharing when content flows into Facebook, but not so much when it concerns content flowing out of Facebook."

Olds noted that holding on to users and their data is a practice done in every industry, but Facebook may have to eventually bend a bit on this.

"At the end of the day, I think Facebook will have to become more open to allowing users to export their data out," he added. "If they don't, some smart kid somewhere will figure out a way to do it."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacyinternetGoogleFacebooke-commerceWeb 2.0 and Web Apps

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?