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Is Google making a mistake blocking Facebook from importing contacts?

The stakes get higher and higher as Google and Facebook fight for users and, more importantly, their data.
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Written by Christopher Dawson on

Google's recent move to block sites like Facebook from using its contact API when they don't provide reciprocal data flows is clearly posturing between what are arguably the two most important web properties on the Internet. However, by shutting down even one-way communication, one has to wonder if Google may not have cut off its nose to spite its face.

For young people, this may only have a minimal impact. Only 11% of kids use email to communication with their friends regularly anyway, begging the question how many young people have extensive contacts in their Gmail accounts that they care to import into Facebook? Older people, though, will often have lots of contacts in Gmail (or Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail). The hope from Google's perspective, obviously, would be that these folks would simply stick with Gmail for their communications instead of moving to Facebook-centric communications like most of the under-25 set has. But will it really work that way?

It might...but it might also just be a source of confusion and negative impact on the Google and Gmail brands when users see that they can still import their Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail into Facebook. The average new Facebook user doesn't sit around reading analysis on ZDNet and most likely doesn't understand how an alteration in Google's Terms of Service for a particular API might affect him or her. In the same way, that average Facebook user probably doesn't worry too much about the way in which their data are "trapped", as Google puts it, once they begin building contacts in Facebook.

It's a reasonable business decision for Google to demand the sort of reciprocity from Facebook that the social networking giant provides to Yahoo! and Microsoft. It isn't too hard to imagine, though, could simply perceive this as an inconvenience created by Google, particularly depending upon how Facebook spins this turn of events in the verbiage on its contact import page. For now, it looks as though most people can still import Gmail contacts into Facebook, but it isn't clear how this will change by Monday.

Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps Facebook will begin spewing data into Google's servers when they realize the error of their ways Monday morning. I think, though, that Google actually has more to lose here than Facebook. Many users, regardless of age, are turning to Facebook as their de facto means of personal communication. A link to their Gmail contacts is hardly a deal-breaker.

While this eats into Google's email and communications business, it doesn't have to eat into their search business. Facebook search is still not terribly useful for the things that Google search does very well. On the other hand, negative press, user confusion, and damage to their brand, whatever the source, could have a backlash that Google certainly doesn't need as it explores its own social media strategies.

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