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Facebook snuffs Chrome extension for uncaging 'friends' data

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Facebook has blocked a Google Chrome extension that let you export information about your Facebook "friends" so that data can be shuttled into competing services.

Known as Facebook Friends Exporter, the extension had become particularly popular of late as a means of moving "friends data" into Google's latest Facebook challenger – Google+ – and it was profiled in a recent Cnet story as a handy tool for Google+ converts.

Apparently, this caught the eye of the data police at Facebook. On Tuesday – according to Mohamed Mansour, the independent developer of Facebook Friends Exporter – Zuckerberg and company began blocking the extension. "Facebook is trying so hard to not allow you to export your friends," he said on the extension's homepage. "It will no longer work for many people."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the extension would seem to violate its terms of service. "You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission," the terms read.

Like many others, Mansour believes that Facebookers have an inherent right to data involving their friends. "Get *your* data contact out of Facebook, whether they want you to or not. You gave them your friends and allowed them to store that data, and you have right to take it back out! Facebook doesn't own my friends," reads the description of his extension.

Clearly, Facebook is determined to protect its most valuable asset: your so-called "social graph". The social networking outfit has long refused to provide a simple means of exporting friends-related data. Last November, Google launched a protest, preventing Facebook from accessing the Google Contacts API, which had allowed new Facebookers to import contact info from Gmail. Google said it would not allow access to the API until Facebook offered a similar API.

Which only shows you how valuable that data is. Information about your friends and acquaintances can be used to target ads – both at Facebook and at Google. And Facebook knows that people come to its site primarily because that's where their friends are.

Facebook does allow you to export a list of your friends, but this is no more than a series of names. It does not include email addresses or other contact information. According to Mark Zuckerberg, users don't really "own" the email addresses of their Facebook friends.

"Email is a little bit different from social networks," he has said. "In an email program, if you have an address book, you put all the addresses in there, so that's very much your information. In a social network ... if you upload a photo album or a blog post, that's yours. But there's information that's clearly not yours, [such as] someone else's photo album. But then there's information that's somewhere in the middle – maybe a photo you took but I tagged.

"What are my rights to that? What should I be able to do with your email address if we're friends and I can see your email address?"

It should be noted, however, that Facebook lets you export addresses to email services run by partners such as Microsoft and Yahoo!. And it lets you import email addresses from various third-party email services. Surely, you "own" those addresses.

Facebook Friends Exporter is designed to collect data about your Facebook friends that they have shared with you, including emails, phone numbers, and birthdays. You can export this data into a .CSV file or you can move it directly into Gmail. From there, it's a relatively easy leap to Google+. The extension can only be used with the English language version of Facebook.

On the extension's homepage, Mansour vowed to work around Facebook's block. "New version with a different design is currently deploying. You might have to do exports daily. It uses a different approach, and I will maintain this version," he said. "Just bear with me." ®

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