Facebook blocks Google Chrome extension for exporting friends

Summary:Facebook is throttling a Chrome extension that lets you export your Facebook friends so you can import them elsewhere, like to Google+.

Facebook Friend Exporter is a Chrome extension developed by Mohamed Mansour, an open source software engineer, that lets you grab all the information about your Facebook friends so you can import them elsewhere. Because it got popular recently, Facebook noticed and began to block the extension. Mansour noticed, and posted the following message on the extension's page:

CRITICAL UPDATE:

Facebook is trying so hard to not allow you to export your friends. They started to remove emails of your friends from your profile by today July 5th 2011. It will no longer work for many people.

New version with a different design is currently deploying. You might have to do exports daily. It uses a different approach, and I will maintain this version. Just bear with me.

Facebook Friend Exporter wasn't designed with Google+ in mind (version 1 was in fact released in November 2010), but it has exploded in the past week as Google+ beta users look for ways to port over all their Facebook friends to Google+. Facebook clearly noticed a spike in usage (the extension now has more than 17,000 users), and decided to block it. Mansour says that Facebook removed emails from their mobile site, which were critical to the original design of his extension. He told me that the company had implemented a throttling mechanism: if you visit any friend page five times in a short period of time, the email field is removed. "Facebook is actually hiding data (email) from you to see when your friends explicitly shared that to you," Mansour told me in an e-mail. "Making it really hard to scrape because the only missing data is your emails, and that is your friends identity. Nothing else is." As CNET points out, Facebook Friend Exporter technically violates Facebook's Terms of Service. Section 3.2 states the following:
You will not collect users' content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission.
Mansour doesn't care about this, as he says in the extension's description:
Get *your* data contact out of Facebook, whether they want you to or not. You gave them your friends and allowed them to store that data, and you have right to take it back out! Facebook doesn't own my friends.
After he found out that Facebook was throttling the email field once his extension got popular, he wrote the following on his Google+ profile:
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. Seriously ... more motivation to figure out a different approach.
The extension, which only works when Facebook is set to the English language, essentially extracts data for each of your Facebook friends that they have shared with you (name, emails, phone numbers, screen names, websites, address, and birthday). This process is rather time-consuming, especially if you have a slow connection and/or a large number of Facebook friends. Even though Facebook is messing around with Facebook Friend Exporter's functionality, here are the steps to using the extension (it may still work for you):
  1. Make sure you are logged into m.facebook.com. After you log in, go back to facebook.com.
  2. You must have the English version of Facebook (switch to it if you don't have it on by default)
  3. Do not enable SSL for Facebook: use HTTP not HTTPS.
  4. Disable all other Facebook extensions that you may have downloaded, as many of them affect the page and the extension will not be able to grab your friends' data properly.
  5. Install the extension, and hit refresh. An Export button should appear on Facebook's toolbar: click it.
Because it wasn't specifically developed for Google+, the extension only makes your Facebook friends available as a spreadsheet (.CSV file) or imports them directly into your Gmail address book (will appear in a folder named Imported from Facebook). Even if you choose the latter, you still have to move them into Circles on Google+, which is a painful process if you have lots of Facebook friends. Facebook does allow you to download all your information (Account => Account Settings => Download Your Information => Learn More => Download), including Wall posts, photos, and friend data. Unfortunately, it is all in one big chunk that is not exactly user-friendly. Google+ users who want to import their Facebook friends should check out this alternative solution: Invite your entire Facebook graph into Google Plus. Facebook users who want to organize their friends the Google+ way should check out this substitute: Facebook engineers bring Google+ Circles to Facebook.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser, Google

About

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years, he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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