Does Facebook Own Your Friends?
With the introduction of Google+ last week, the search/ad giant is finally in direct competition with Facebook. Or it will be, once Google gets over the opening week willies and reopens the service to allow the teeming hordes inside.
The biggest barrier to Google+'s success? All the time and effort we've already put into building our Facebook posses. Personally I am too old and cranky to start over from scratch. I just want to be able to click a button and automatically add everyone from Facebook to Google+.
That is, of course, exactly what Facebook does not want you to do, as an open source developer named Mohamed Mansour just discovered.
Late last year, Mansour created a Chrome extension called Facebook Friend Exporter. It was delightfully simple. Install the extension, navigate to your Facebook friends page, and it would export their contact information into a file you could use to import into some other program like, say, Google+.
Of course, Mansour did not develop his software with something like Google+ in mind. He developed it because he thought the data your friends shared with you belongs to you, not Facebook. But the popularity of Facebook Friend Exporter spiked after Google+ appeared, prompting Facebook to thwart the exporting program by automatically blocking access to your friends' e-mail addresses. Mansour is now an unofficial enemy of the Zuckerberg State.
Mansour published a workaround using Facebook's mobile site, which operates under slightly different rules than its main site. Facebook blocked that too.
As Mansour noted (on his Google+ page, naturally):
"This is what happens when your extension becomes famous :sigh: Facebook just removed the emails from their mobile site. They implemented a throttling mechanism that if you visit your ~5 friends in a short period of time, it will remove the email field.
"No worries, a new version is on the making ... I am bloody annoyed now, because this proves Facebook owns every users data on Facebook. You don't own anything! If I were you, I would riot this to the media outlets again."
It turns out that scouring your own Facebook profile for information your friends shared with you is in violation of Facebook's terms of service. Nice, eh?
Mansour's extension isn't the one-click-and-done solution I'd want, even if it were still working. It only exports Facebook data into a CSV file or Gmail folder, and you'd still have to painfully add them one by one to Google+ (or any other network you decided to use).
ZDNet's The Web Life blogger Andrew Mager offers another workaround for the Facebook-to-Google+ problem, which involves exporting Facebook info to Yahoo Mail and then sending all your Facebook peeps invitations. Since G+ is still closed to the general public at this point in time, I can't tell you how well that one works, either.
The problem here: Facebook and Google are in the middle of spitting match, but we're the ones getting wet. It's ridiculous that we have to stoop to such trickery to gain access to our own stuff.
If Facebook is as good as its creators believe it is, then a little competition from the folks down the road in Mountain View won't harm it. Google+ will stand or fail on its own merits - and I think a large part of its success will depend on how much control it offers users over their data.
They're my Facebook friends, and I should be able to move their data to a new social network just as easily as I can import contact info into a new email client or personal organizer. Period. Facebook needs to stop this foolishness now.