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Google-Facebook Relationship Sours

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Looks as if everyone's favorite search engine and social network are in need of a counselor.

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbeg addressed the crowd at a mobile event in Palo Alto, he revealed an interesting story behind the lackluster Facebook app for Android devices. As it turns out, after Zuckerberg's crew hired a developer to design the Android app, Google acquired him -- leaving the unfinished code in Facebook's hands and setting the project back a while.

According to TechCrunch, Zuckerberg remarked, "Yeah, I thought that was obnoxious."

The Android app has since been updated -- along with the iPhone's -- and it's much more on par with its Apple cousin.

But a new argument has surfaced.

For years, Google has allowed Facebook users to import their Gmail contacts, permitting them to befriend their Gmail friends on Facebook. Those who wish to import Facebook contacts into Gmail, however, are out of luck -- the Zuckerbergians won't allow it. Similar functionality exists with Hotmail and Yahoo, but oddly enough, not Google.

Google hasn't taken kindly to Facebook's lack of reciprocity and has updated their Terms of Service to prevent such a relationship to reoccur. Under the new terms, Google's Contacts Data API will not be accessible from any website or service which does not offer up its own user API. As such, if Facebook doesn't do likewise, the contact ties have been severed.

A Google spokesperson elaborated the company's position to TechCrunch:

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.

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.

TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid notes that Facebook's acquisition of a data-scraping company Octazen may render a Google deal completely unnecessary. Also, Google users are able to download their contacts' information via a spreadsheet. A few simple tweaks would allow them to import it into Facebook.

At any rate, hopefully matters will be resolved and tensions are eased. A lack of service integration is problematic for the companies running the sites, but it's a nightmare for the users.
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