A change to its API terms of service is evidence that Google is seriously worried about Facebook's increasing dominance over the Internet. Last Thursday the search-engine giant blocked the sharing of its Gmail data to any firms who didn't reciprocate by sharing their own users' information—and highest-profile of the sinners is Facebook. Despite attempts by Eric Schmidt to persuade Mark Zuckerberg to allow access to Facebook users' data, the search-engine giant has been unsuccessful, hence its readjustment on position.
Google's official statement was terse. "We have a data liberation team dedicated to building import and export tools for users. We are not alone. Many other sites allow users to import and export their information, including contacts, quickly and easily. But sites that do not, such as Facebook, leave users in a data dead end. We will no longer allow websites to automate the import of users' Google Contacts (via our API) unless they allow similar export to other sites."
Not every Internet presence will be privy to this new rule, however. Google is only going after the biggest fish in the Internet pond, meaning most startups accessing the firm's Contacts API will not have to provide an export API. And any user happy to share its data with the World Wide Web and its wife can still do it, albeit manually.
So, is this the kick off of a new era of Data Protectionism on the web? Possibly—after all, user data is the single most important currency on the web. Google is also on the cusp of launching its very own social network, a rival to Facebook. Why should it hand out its own data to a rival if that rival isn't going to reciprocate? Why indeed.
The unfolding of the latest bitch fight in the Nerd Wars, where Apple, Google, Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft, does, however, show one slightly hypocritical element in the whole scheme. (As well as the unedifying spectacle of Facebook adopting a lofty attitude to sharing its own users' data and citing privacy as its reason, its bullyboy attitude toward its rivals just looks nasty.) While all of these firms are perfectly happy to bandy users' data around to all and sundry, they are less-than-forthcoming when contacted by online publications and asked to comment on the situation.