At the end of yesterday’s Google earnings call, CEO Larry Page made a very interesting comment about data portability, Google+, and competitors (aka Facebook). In the call, an analyst asked Page what the most compelling reasons are to switch from existing social platforms to Google+ or if the company sees a future where people can be a part of multiple social networks and platforms (paraphrased, at the 57 minute mark in the call).
Page responded with this statement on Google+ and switch costs: We are really excited about about Google+ improving the overall social experience and making it more like how you would share in real life. That’s different than what’s out there now. We are getting rave reviews for that. People really like being able to share with more discreet groups in an easy more intuitive way. There’s a lot of magic built into the product that causes that…Google as a company believes in users owning their own data and being able to easily move it out of Google. Some of our competitors don’t believe in that. We think users will eventually move to services that are in their best interests and that work really well for them.
Clearly, Page is referring to Facebook in his statement above, which has notoriously been uber-protective (bordering on restrictive) around exporting data from its network into clients like Gmail. And for some time now, data portability has been a heated battle between Google and Facebook.
Facebook recently blocked a number of contact-exporting tools that aimed to take data out of the social network to import into other services (i.e. Google+). And how could we forget the infamous Facebook-Google back and forth over sharing contacts.
Last year, Google began blocking Facebook API access to download Google contacts. Facebook hacked its way around that, and Google subsequently issued a statement that they were “disappointed”. Facebook Platform engineer Mike Vernal then responded in the comments of one of our blog posts about the slap fight, defending Facebook’s policy and calling it “consistent”. Shortly afterwards, a new chrome extension that allowed you to scrape your Facebook contact information into Gmail was blocked Google.
The key part of all this is reciprocity—Google feels that since they are providing the ability to export Gmail contact data to Facebook, Facebook should allow Gmail users to do the same. And they don’t.
With Google+, the search giant is offering a data liberation product called Google Takeout, which gives you the option to download all of your profile data, stream data, photos from Picassa, Buzz data, Circles and Contacts. You can download it and do what you want with your data.
Facebook also allows you to download a zip file of your photos, friend lists, messages, and wall posts, but it is not in a format third party sites can use, which is why Page made the passive aggressive remark. There’s no doubt that he was referring to Facebook when talking about competitors not having the same open data portability position.
There’s no doubt that Google+ is growing fast in terms of usage, and its hard for Facebook to ignore this. In fact, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg made his own Google+ dig at a recent press event.
Fast growth and engagement aside, data portability between Google and Facebook will continue to be an issue until both companies settle this and call a truce. The question is whether the battle has gone too far for a reasonable peace treaty to be made.