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Facebook Goes Wile E. Coyote on Google

By Richard Adhikari
Nov 9, 2010 12:06 PM PT

Facebook has found a way around a Google blockade originally set up to prevent users from uploading their Gmail contact data to the social networking site.

Facebook Goes Wile E. Coyote on Google

The latest development in the playground spat between the online behemoths reportedly has Facebook exploiting a Google feature that lets users download their contacts' data for their own use. Facebook apparently has provided members a direct deep link to the download feature that lets them upload the data directly to the social networking site, effectively restoring the feature for users despite Google's efforts.

The rift between Facebook and Google is likely to get deeper as both companies battle for online ad revenue.

Neither Facebook nor Google responded to requests for comment by press time.

Doing Business Means Not Having to Play Nice

The disagreement between the two companies surged into the limelight last week when Google blocked Facebook's access to its APIs and blocked the export of Gmail contacts to users' Facebook pages.

However, the roots of the conflict may stretch back to October, when Google engineer Brian Kennish developed Facebook Disconnect, a Google Chrome browser extension that blocked the transmission of data back to Facebook servers through Facebook Connect on third-party websites. This extension let users continue to access those-third party sites.

Facebook Connect is a service that lets third-party websites leverage Facebook data by letting users connect their Facebook profile with those third-party websites. This gives those websites a better chance of retaining the users as customers or subscribers, a trait known in the trade as "stickiness."

Google has always let users export data to other sites, but Facebook only does so on a reciprocating basis with partners such as Yahoo Mail, Flickr and Microsoft Hotmail.

With 500 million users worldwide at last count, Facebook is one of the few companies that could seriously challenge Google's online advertising efforts, from which it generates much of its revenue.

Competition between the two intensified when Facebook unveiled its location-sharing Places feature in August, following Google's introduction of location-aware mobile display ads in July.

Location, Location, Location

Location awareness is crucial in targeting advertisements.

"If I can advertise to you online and link you to the store or outlet closest to you, you're probably going to buy more from me," Marie Alexander, CEO of Quova, told TechNewsWorld. "There's a high correlation between getting inventory to people who want it and geography, so people are pulling more of the location data into their marketing efforts."

Indeed they are. Microsoft, GoWalla and Twitter are among the companies that have introduced location-aware capabilities in their products.

Google's attempt to lock Facebook out from its user data "probably represents a growing concern that Facebook represents an increasing threat because it's vastly stickier than Google," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Follow the Money

"Facebook is cutting into Google's online ad revenue, and it's believed that, if consumers were asked to give up one of them, they would likely give up Google," Enderle said.

"Users have invested more in Facebook than in Google, which makes Facebook the more sticky of the two, and this concerns Google a great deal," he added.

There are reports that Google is planning its own social networking site in an attempt to rectify this situation.

This site, reportedly to be called "Google Me," is likely to be launched early next year, Enderle said.

Google's Dilemma

In the meantime, Google is faced with having to deal with Facebook's workaround of its block. There may be little Google can do to clamp down on the workaround, however.

"Google would have difficulty blocking people from downloading their own information," Enderle said.

Google might be able to strike a deal with Facebook as Yahoo Mail, Microsoft and other companies have, but that's questionable, Enderle noted. "Whether or not Google can work out something with Facebook is up to it, but it's demonstrating a lot of arrogance at the moment, and that can make it difficult to reach an agreement," he explained.

Further, both Google and Facebook have had issues with protecting user information, and this may make it difficult for both companies to trust each other, Enderle pointed out.

Expect more battles among vendors, especially in the online advertising market.

"We'll see more of this fighting among vendors as time goes on," Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told TechNewsWorld. "Vendors are going to be increasingly aggressive in their expansionist goals. This is high-tech manifest destiny for the high-tech industry."


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