On Sunday July 10, 2011, Facebook blocked Open-Xchange's tool that lets Facebook users export their friends so that they can be imported into other products and services. As I reported last week, the tool used approved Facebook APIs and was not in violation of Facebook's Terms and Conditions, or at least that's what Open-Xchange's management thought.
Facebook sent the following email to Open-Xchange:
We're writing to inform you that your app Connector for ox.io has been disabled for the following violations:
You cannot use a user's friend list outside of your application, even if a user consents to such use, but you can use connections between users who have both connected to your application. (FPP II.11)
Our expectation is that developers do not provide users with poor experiences, such as those resulting from inappropriate or misleading content, privacy and security vulnerabilities, and general spam in the Stream, Requests, and elsewhere. We appreciate your commitment to improving the application ecosystem on Platform.
Unsurprisingly, Open-Xchange was not amused. The company strongly believes that Facebook's data should be accessible to the users that have access to it on the site.
"If you want to see what a future looks like where a single company controls YOUR personal data for its own profit, this is a glimpse," Open-Xchange CEO Rafael Laguna said in a statement. "Clearly, Facebook management does not want you to have the ability to take your personal information outside their walls to, say, Google+ and will do everything in their power to stop you, including violating their own terms and conditions. From a technical standpoint, Facebook's claim of violation of terms is preposterous. All we are doing is using the Facebook API to extract the last name and first name fields. We are not parsing or scraping the email address. That same data is available on Facebook under Account->Account Settings->Download Your Information in the resulting friends.html file. This is not about user experience. It is about Facebook NOT wanting anyone to control their personal information - except Facebook."
The tool in question uses a demo Open-Xchange user account, the official APIs from social and business networks, and emails you have sent from your email account, to match all your contact information. It works by merging all your networks, address books, and contacts from your emails into one big address book. This newly merged address book can then be exported as a vCard and imported into whatever service you like.
For each email account, Open-Xchange goes through every folder and uses the first 6,000 emails to look for contacts. At the end of the process, you're allowed to download the merged address book and then import it into Apple iCal, Gmail, Google+, Facebook, Outlook, and/or whatever other product or service you like. In my previous post describing the product's launch, I outlined the steps you needed to follow to use the tool, but they are unfortunately now useless.
Last week, Facebook blocked a Google Chrome extension for exporting Facebook contacts. Mohamed Mansour developed Facebook Friend Exporter to let you grab all the information about your Facebook friends so you can import them elsewhere. Because it got popular after the launch of Google+, Facebook noticed an increase in its usage and began to hide emails on its mobile site, which the extension requires. Mansour is working hard to make the tool work again.
Seeing Mansour's efforts thwarted, Open-Xchange wanted to offer some help. The company's approach was not as thorough or efficient as Facebook Friend Exporter, as it only focused on emails. Still, that's really all the information you need to import your contacts elsewhere. The process took a while because of the indirect route it takes to build a merged address book, but the advantage was that didn't appear to break Facebook's Terms of Service (while Facebook Friend Exporter does). In the end, this didn't matter, as Facebook found that the tool was in violation after all.
I asked Open-Xchange if the company plans to keep trying to make the tool work or if will simply accept Facebook's rules. "Stay tuned – this story is not over with by a long shot," an Open-Xchange spokesperson said in a statement.