Google and Facebook clash over data sharing

Search company, which faces accusations of sharing user information for profit, claims moral high ground

The relationship status between Google and Facebook has become, well, complicated. At the center of the conflict is a struggle between the companies in the two-way sharing of data. Still, it's tough to overlook the fact that Facebook is unquestionably -- and perhaps surprisingly -- a significant competitor to Google: The social networking site is now the most popular platform for online display ads.

The data-sharing dispute between Google and Facebook began last week when Google cut off Facebook users' ability to import their Gmail contacts via a provided API. Notably, Facebook wasn't the only victim of this new Google decree.

Google's rationale for this change in its data-sharing policy had nothing to do with protecting user privacy; rather, the company was peeved that Facebook and other Web services weren't returning the favor when siphoning away Google-provided data. "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," Google told Reuters.

Evidently, Facebook wasn't entirely dependent on the Google-provided API. In response to Google's move, Facebook introduced a new means of adding Gmail contacts with a new Download Your Contacts button.

Facebook's countermaneuver clearly didn't sit well with the search giant. When a user clicks the aforementioned button, he or she is taken to a new page on Google's server that challenges his or her decision in an arguably alarmist and confusing manner. The text reads as follows:

Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won't let you get it out?

Here's the not-so-fine print. You have been directed to this page from a site that doesn't allow you to re-export your data to other services, essentially locking up your contact data about your friends. So once you import your data there, you won't be able to get it out. We think this is an important thing for you to know before you import your data there. Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data.

Conveniently, Google also offers users a way to "register a complaint over data protectionism" by checking a box, though it's not at all clear how that complaint-registration is being used. Is Google counting the votes in-house to send to the FCC?

There's an unavoidable irony in this whole dispute, and that's Google's self-righteous stance about data protectionism. The company arguably has more in its data stores than any other Internet company on the planet, including passwords and other sensitive data it scooped up while collecting Street View images. It also faces accusations of divulging user search terms "which often contain highly-sensitive and personally-identifiable information" to third parties to bolster its advertising business.

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