Google executives have said before that they’re not happy with Facebook — specifically, they’re not happy with the social network’s position on sharing data. Today they finally took action.
Google has changed the terms of service for online applications trying to access data from Google Contacts. The terms now say that if you want Google to share Contacts with you, you’ve got to share your data in return. And that, effectively, rules out Facebook.
This doesn’t seem like a huge blow to Facebook. It’ll just be a little less convenient for Google users to find their friends on the social network. But it does pressure Facebook to change its policy about not sharing Facebook contacts with other services. (Facebook recently announced the ability to download your profile to your desktop, but that doesn’t include your contacts.)
TechCrunch first spotted the policy change and published a statement from Google (which Google also sent to me when I asked) that leaves no doubt about who the change is directed at:
Google is committed to making it easy for users to get their data into and out of Google products. That is why we have a data liberation engineering team dedicated to building import and export tools for users. We are not alone. Many other sites allow users to import and export their information, including contacts, quickly and easily. But sites that do not, such as Facebook, leave users in a data dead end.
So we have decided to change our approach slightly to reflect the fact that users often aren’t aware that once they have imported their contacts into sites like Facebook they are effectively trapped. Google users will still be free to export their contacts from our products to their computers in an open, machine-readable format–and once they have done that they can then import those contacts into any service they choose. However, we will no longer allow websites to automate the import of users’ Google Contacts (via our API) unless they allow similar export to other sites.
The tone is similar to other statements made by Google, for example Marissa Mayer’s complaint that so much data is being “locked in” Facebook and hidden from search engines. The company likes to position itself as the open alternative to the competition, especially Apple.
Meanwhile, Google is developing its own social networking tools. The exact nature of those products is still unclear, but the company will likely be competing more directly with Facebook soon.
I’ve also emailed Facebook for comment and will update if I hear back.
[image via Flickr/Benny Lin]