Facebook now lets you export your Facebook friends' email addresses, which it has never done before, but with a catch: your friends have to let you first. Previously, Facebook only let you export an archive of your status updates, photos, as well as a list of friends' names. Facebook has added the email address option very quietly (the company told me it actually went live earlier this week), and has cleverly made opt-in.
It's very easy to export your data on Facebook (Account => Account Settings => Download Your Information => Learn More => Download). That being said, you'll only get the email addresses of your friends that have enabled this new feature that Facebook has added (Account => Account Settings => Email => Edit => Allow friends to include my email address in Download Your Information).
That's right, as TechCrunch notes, the new feature is unchecked by default, so in order to get all of your friends email addresses, all your friends have to opt-in to this new feature. It would be faster to go to all of their profiles and just copy their email addresses manually, which is exactly what everyone who wants to export their Facebook contacts is trying to avoid.
Facebook has been heavily criticized for not permitting its users export their social graph. Now, with this new feature, Facebook will be able to deflect this criticism and simply argue it offers the feature, but its users aren't giving each other permission to take advantage of it.
Email addresses are the key to exporting your contacts and importing them elsewhere. Facebook has been so insistent on not letting anyone near them because it knows its social graph is very valuable. If Palo Alto made it possible to quickly export your Facebook friends, the company would essentially be making it easier for you to move to another service, such as Google+.
Facebook says it first launched the Download Your Information tool so that users could back up the social content they own, in case they lost their local copy of data such as their photos. It was never meant to be used for moving your contacts to other services, and frankly I still don't think that's what Facebook wants you to use it for.
The move is a very clever strategy, since the average Facebook user who wants to export their contacts will not realize what Facebook has done. In essence, Facebook has moved the blame from itself to your friends.
If you'll recall, Facebook and Google had a huge battle back in November 2010 (before Google+ existed) over this exact issue. It all started when Google banned Facebook from accessing Gmail contact data by tweaking the Terms of Service for its Google Contacts Data API so that websites which access Google Contacts had to offer access to their data too.
Facebook still wanted its new users to find out whether their Gmail contacts also have Facebook accounts, so it implemented a workaround: the company told its users to use a Google feature that helped them download their own data, and then instructed them to upload the file back to Facebook. In an attempt to convince you not to take your contacts to the social network, Google then fought back by showing a big warning message when Facebook users came to export their contact data from Gmail. Facebook probably thought this would hurt its image, so not only did it removed the instructions and direct download links to Gmail contacts, but the company decided to remove support for Gmail contact importing completely.
Facebook essentially finished the war that Google started, but there really wasn't a clear winner. Google's goal was to get access to Facebook's data, but it did not achieve this. Facebook, on the other hand, made it very difficult for Gmail users to add their friends (read: they have to do it manually). When two tech giants compete, normally the user wins, but in this case, the slew of bickering led to a loss for everyone, including the consumer.
More recently, third-parties have attempted to offer ways to export your Facebook friends, but Facebook has blocked them all (see the links below). In the meantime, the seed that Google planted has started to grow, and users kept telling Facebook they wanted a proper export feature.
Facebook appears to have relented now, but it hasn't really changed its stance. In addition to making the feature opt-in, the social networking giant has buried it under the "Email" section of Account Settings. Few users are aware of the section, and even fewer know that a new option has been added recently. When asked, Facebook will be able to say it exists, but don't expect the company to go out of its way to advertise that fact.
Users have little to lose by enabling the option, unless they have friends who would share their email address with unwanted parties such as spammers. Still, it comes down to the fact that the feature will barely be used unless some kind of site-wide announcement is made or someone automates turning it on via some sort of third-party software (or a virus).
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