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Facebook 'next-gen' comms (sorta) answer Google beef

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Facebook's "next–generation" messaging system won't end Google's beef with the social site's data-export policies. But it does make a small step in that direction.

Facebook director of engineering Andrew Bosworth has indicated that with the roll-out of the new messaging system, users will be able to export the email addresses of their Facebook friends to third-party apps — but only for friends who have signed-up for an @facebook.com email address.

Google has long complained that Facebook did not allow third-party apps to automatically grab contacts and addresses from the social networking service — a complaint that came to a head this month when Google cut off Facebook's access to Gmail's Contacts API.

More than a week ago, Google changed the terms of service for its Contacts API, preventing Facebook and other third-party apps from tapping the programming interface unless they offer something similar. Using the Google API, Facebook had long offered its users the option of importing contact names and email addresses from Gmail, but it prevented them from automatically exporting such data to other sites, including Google services.

Facebook did offer a tool for downloading your "friends list". But you couldn't download email addresses or phone numbers.

Google argues that a user should be able to freely move their data between services. But Facebook responded by saying that whereas moving such data from Gmail made sense, it didn't make sense for Facebook. "

"Email is different from social networking because in an email application, each person maintains and owns their own address book, whereas in a social network your friends maintain their information and you just maintain a list of friends," Facebook engineer Mike Vernel wrote. "Because of this, we think it makes sense for email applications to export email addresses and for social networks to export friend lists."

But now Facebook is offering email. Sort of.

Asked if this would change now that Facebook has rolled out a "next-generation" messaging platform that includes the option of an @facebook.com email address, Andrew Bosworth told The Register that third-party applications would be able to grab friends' email addresses via the Facebook Graph API — but only if those friends had signed up for that @facebook.com address.

"Because the email address is the public username of the user — for those who choose to get it — a single call to the Graph API to get my friends list will also get the list of user names. So, for users who have chosen to get email, that will work," he said this morning at the press event unveiling the new Facebook messaging system.

"This is a really big play...Because we put control in the right place."

Asked to clarify, Bosworth said: "[A third party application] can look at a friends list through the Facebook Graph API, and for friends who have set up a facebook.com email address, the friends list will give you their email addresses. It is their user name. For users who have not set that up, we don't share [their address]."

Asked if this is likely to satisfy Google is some small way, Bosworth said: "I can't say one way or another." Presumably, the new messaging system will not change the ability of third-party apps to export phone numbers and other contact data.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But it is unlikely that the web giant will be completely pleased with the change. Google is calling on Facebook to let users export any contact data they put into the service, and today's change applies to only a small portion of contact data.

Facebookers also have the option of using the new messaging system with third-party email addresses. The system is not a new email client per se. It's a means of consolidating communication across IM, SMS, and on-Facebook messages as well as email. ®

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