UPDATED 15:40 EDT / NOVEMBER 05 2010

Google, Facebook and the Meaning of Reciprocity (and Privacy, too)

Google is shutting off Facebook’s access to its contact data; unless the latter will opt for reciprocity.

Just recently, Google made a slight yet momentous modification to their Google Contacts API terms of service. It technically prevents Facebook, and other similar parties, from using it to improve their friends’ database.

Up to the present, Facebook prevents a user from retrieving the data you have imported from your email accounts making it a one-way valve where you put data in so you can connect with friends but then you can’t get it out and use it the way you would like to. Google’s revised policy requires Facebook or anyone else who uses this API, to allow their users to export the data from their system as easily as you can export the data from Google with this clause:

5.8. Google supports data portability. By accessing Content through the Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API for use in your service or application, you are agreeing to enable your users to export their contacts data to other services or applications of their choice in a way that’s substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts, subject to applicable laws.

“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,” Google said in a statement. “[W]e 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 move might not really affect Facebook hugely as it can still access other email provider like Yahoo and Microsoft, unless the two would follow in Google’s lead. And with Facebook’s half a billion data already stored, it would not be so bad for them. Besides, Google still allows its users to download a spreadsheet of contacts; Facebook can always let the user upload it to their system.

On the other hand, Facebook might be having an answer to this reciprocity call and for that, the whole social network world is all awaiting.  “Data is the new asset and the new IP is how companies use that data,” John Furrier reminds us.  “Just look at this move by Google verses Facebook or look at Apple and Facebook.  Twitter has already changed their data strategy to starve the developers which is killing off their ecosystem.  Similarly, I’m expecting more of the same from the big players as a competitive strategy to go head to head in a game of “data chicken”.

Collateral Damage or Innovation?

Google could slow Facebook down with a data starvation like policy or worse we’ll see silos form.  We all know what silo’s have done to the enterprise infrastructure.  Once silo’s get rolling it’s hard to eradicate them.  Data is the lifeblood of the connected, smart, highly fluid Internet.  The stakes are high and the big boys will “war it out”  to defend their businesses.  Advice to startups: stay out of the way.  Advice to new companies forming new relationships and business models: take advantage of the upcoming uncertainty.

[graphic credit: KarmaPolice]

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