Plaxo, the contact manager service, has been testing a way to 1) collect all of your Facebook friends’ names, email addresses and birthdays from their Facebook profiles, using optical character recognition technology, then 2) export this information to your Plaxo address book.
I was about to test the service out this morning.
The company had already been testing it with blogger Robert Scoble. As a result, he just got banned from Facebook. Now I’m trying to figure out whether or not I should run the service — do I want to have all of my friends’ contact information in one place, or do I want to keep using Facebook?
Here’s how Plaxo gets your email. Facebook currently displays your email address on your Facebook account as an image. Screenshot, above, taken from my Facebook profile. As McCrea described the exporter to me: “So, We cooked up some adaptive optical character recognition foo….”
In other words, Plaxo takes the image of your friends’ email addresses and figures out the text of your email address that the image represented. It does this for every friend you have on Facebook, then exports and syncs all of this information with the other contact information contained in your Plaxo account.
Here’s how Scoble got busted. Facebook detected Plaxo running a script that processed these images for all of Scoble’s 5,000 friends — this action violates Facebook’s terms of service, so the company banned him.
But, before he was banned, Scoble was able to use Plaxo to match up more than 1,800 of his Facebook friends with his existing contacts in Plaxo.
While Plaxo wasn’t planning on releasing this service for a couple of weeks, the company has let Scoble explain what he was up to, here.
Facebook really is the main place that I socialize online, because that’s where most of my friends are. Apparently, I now have to choose between having all of my contacts in one place, or continuing to use Facebook.
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