Facebook/Google Slap Fight: "Openness Doesn't Mean Being Open When It's Convenient"

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Get your popcorn. I lost track of who’s turn it is, but Facebook just slapped Google right back.

Background:

  1. Google To Facebook: You Can’t Import Our User Data Without Reciprocity
  2. Data Protectionism Begins In Earnest
  3. Facebook Finds A New Way To Liberate Your Gmail Contact Data
  4. Google’s Response To Facebook’s Response To Google’s Facebook API Ban

Or, if you don’t want to read all that: Google blocked Facebook API access to download Google contacts. Facebook hacked around it, and Google issed a statement that they were “disappointed.” Facebook has been silent the whole time.

Until now.

Facebook platform engineer Mike Vernal left a comment on our last post, and it’s a doozy:

This is Mike Vernal — I work on engineering team for Facebook Platform.

Less than a year ago, Google issued this statement when they blocked their own users’ ability to export their contacts from Orkut to Facebook: “Mass exportation of email is not standard on most social networks — when a user friends someone they don’t then expect that person to be easily able to send that contact information to a third party along with hundreds of other addresses with just one click.”

This functionality was not a problem when Orkut was winning in Brazil and India but, as soon as people starting preferring Facebook to Google products, Google changed its stance. First, Google simply broke their export feature and hoped people wouldn’t notice. People did notice (http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/01/google-has-a-plan-to-stop-the-mass-exodus-from-orkut-no-friend-exports-for-you). Then, when they got called out on
it, they changed their policy completely. Today, the same thing is happening with Gmail.

Openness doesn’t mean being open when its convenient for you. On Google’s website, dataliberation.org, Eric Schmidt says, “How do you be big without being evil? We don’t trap end users. So if you don’t like Google, if for whatever reason we do a bad job for you, we make it easy for you to move to our competitor.” How does limiting user choice honor this commitment?

Our policy has been consistent. The most important principle for Facebook is that every person owns and controls her information. Each person owns her friends list, but not her friends’ information. A person has no more right to mass export all of her friends’ private email addresses than she does to mass export all of her friends’ private photo albums.

Email is different from social networking because in an email application, each person maintains and owns their own address book, whereas in a social network your friends maintain their information and you just maintain a list of friends. Because of this, we think it makes sense for email applications to export email addresses and for social networks to export friend lists.

Facebook Platform and the Graph API enable everyone to bring their own information to millions of sites and applications, including even Google’s YouTube. It’s still a work in progress and there’s more to do, but in practice Facebook Platform is the largest scale initiative to help you move your information between services that exists today.

We strongly hope that Google turns back on their 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.

Vernal says Facebook’s policy “has been consistent,” which is exactly the opposite of the truth. And playing the Orkut card? That’s just low. But more on this later. Until then:

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