Google vs. Facebook: The Titans of Hypocrisy Faceoff Over Privacy

by Jeff Wiener on November 11, 2010

In what seems more like a petty schoolyard argument—rivalling the ongoing row between Apple and Adobe—than sound business practices, it looks like Internet giants Google and Facebook are at odds over privacy and security, with the former taking steps to cut off the social networking site from its popular Gmail service. The issues at the crux of this dispute are, ironically enough, which company is the better steward of your personal information on the Web and which company truly has your best interests at heart.

What really makes this story interesting, however, is the fact that it has more hypocrisy than you can cut with a knife, as out of all the companies in the world the two that probably should be the last ones arguing about safety, privacy, and security would be Google and Facebook; both of whom have a long and well documented history of playing fast and loose with your personal information. But how did this childish feud start, and where is it heading?

It’s been no secret that Google has had Facebook in its sights for quite some time now. Both companies are now key competitors in the online advertising market, and it was really just a matter of time before one of them stepped on the others’ toes.

The real beginnings of this row can be traced back to October, when Google engineer Brian Kennish developed Facebook Disconnect, an extension of Google’s Chrome browser that effectively blocked the transmission of data back to Facebook servers through Facebook Connect. As the extension summary explains, “Facebook is notified whenever you visit one of the more than one million sites on the web that use Facebook Connect and has a history of leaking personally identifiable information to third parties. Turn off the flow of your data to them!”

But everything came to a head last week when Google altered its Gmail terms of service that governed third-party use of its user’s Gmail information. Simply put, Google put restrictions on anybody—like Facebook—who automatically imports Gmail contact data, saying that users had to be able to export their data just as easily as it was imported.

Facebook has since responded by offering users a way to circumvent Google’s technological blockade, essentially restoring users’ ability to grant Facebook access to their Gmail contacts by exploiting a weakness in Google’s own system. With this technological trickery Facebook was able to restore the direct data upload feature.

But hold on folks, today Google has fired back in the form of a technological warning label of sorts, an annoying and condescending pop up that begins, “Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out?

It doesn’t take long digging through the rhetoric to realize that this argument has nothing to do with how your private information is handled. Instead, this dispute is about one thing, money, more specifically, advertising money. If Facebook is able to access Gmail contact lists, and 3rdparty companies are able to buy that information from Facebook for advertising purposes, that’s money out of Google’s pocket; and that folks, is what this is all about.

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Written by: Jeff Wiener. Follow by: RSS, Twitter,, or Friendfeed

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