Google just launched an enormous volley in the war of the data kings. Facebook and Google have been gearing up for war for a long time now, and Facebook’s alliance with Microsoft and Bing was practically an act of war. Now, Google is fighting back, albeit subtly. They changed their terms of service ever so slightly, but in a way that hurts Facebook in a big way.
According to TechCrunch, the ToS now requires reciprocity for anyone using the Google Contacts API to grab contact information from Google users. This means that whenever Facebook uses a Google API call to get contact data from a Google account, which is exactly what happens when new users are asked if they want to import their contact data from Google, Facebook will be required to give the user’s Facebook contact information back to Google. Facebook has never given their contact information out, and it’s highly unlikely that they will all of a sudden change this practice. It also affects the entire Google portion of their vaunted Open Graph, restricting a lot of information from Facebook’s data mining operation.
The only other option for Facebook at this point is to take away the Google importing functionality and hope for the best. Somehow, though, the idea of the biggest social network in the world backing off so easily doesn’t seem likely. It will be interesting to see what happens if they lawyer up and argue the legality of the new reciprocity clause.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson highlighted that this isn’t a greedy push for data.
It’s important that when we automate the transfer of contacts to another service, users have some certainty that the new service meets a baseline standard of data portability. We hope that reciprocity will be an important step towards creating a world of true data liberation–and that this move will encourage other websites to allow users to automate the export of their contacts as well.
It sounds less like a greedy grab for data, and more like an attempt to enforce an open data portability standard on the web, but neither one will sit well with many companies using the Contacts API. Facebook would rather have control over potentially sensitive information, and release it to select contractual partners, than start adopting Google’s open data portability standard. Google is sacrificing a level of openness to enforce open standards on other companies, but this is first and foremost a move on Facebook, and you can bet Facebook won’t take it lightly.