Google, don't take away my Facebook friends

Earlier today, Google started sending out Android 2.3.3 to Nexus One and Nexus S smartphones. I haven't received the over-the-air update, and frankly don't want it. I'm pissed as hell that Google will take away something I have and use: Facebook contact sync. I bought Nexus S to get the newest Android version, always, not to have functionality most other smartphones have taken away. As available before the update installs, the Android Facebook app syncs friends information and profile photos to the Android address book. Google's OS update removes the functionality from Nexus S smartphones.

Google gives good reasons for nixing Facebook contact sync, and I agree with them in principle. Facebook is a one-way street for data; it easily goes in but is difficult to extract. But that's a problem between Facebook and Google. I and other Nexus S owners shouldn't be battleground between them.

Facebook contact sync is one of the few benefits I get from the service. I signed up for Facebook right after it opened to the public in 2006, but haven't really used it heavily because of the data portability issue. I can't see putting photos and other content into a repository where withdrawals are largely prohibited. I want to be able to move my data around on my terms, not those set by Facebook.

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So, again, I agree with Google in principle. "We believe it is very important that users are able to control their data. So in the over-the-air update for Nexus S, we have a small change to how Facebook contacts appear on the device," according to a statement provided by a Google spokesperson. "For Nexus S users who downloaded the Facebook app from Android Market, Facebook contacts will no longer appear to be integrated with the Android Contacts app."

That's a "small change?" What is Google's definition of a big one? Is the update going to strip out contact data I rely on? Yes or no doesn't much matter. Sync keeps the Contacts app up to date from friends' Facebook profiles. It's a great utility. But what kind of user benefit is there to taking away functionality? More significantly, if Google truly believes that it "is very important that users are able to control their data," then don't take away my control. Right now I can decide to sync or not. The new Gingerbread update will remove my control by taking away sync. No thank you.

"Since Facebook contacts cannot be exported from the device, the appearance of integration created a false sense of data portability," the spokesperson statement continues. "Facebook contact data will continue to appear within the Facebook app." Yeah, but that's not where the contact data is most beneficial to me the Nexus S user.

Still, I concede there is forward-thinking behind Google's Facebook friend zapping. The future social hub -- the identity that matters to you and everyone else -- will likely be the smartphone, not a big cloud service like Facebook. Why do you think there are persistant rumors about a Facebook phone? Facebook is in position to leverage its service to the future hub -- already is through one-way sync. Strategically, Google should want to control that smartphone identity hub, too. Already, a Google account is the important ID for activating an Android phone and using additional cloud services. Facebook sync treads on Google turf.

Perhaps because the Nexus S is targeted to developers and enthusiasts, Google hoped to generate outrage at Facebook's lack of data portability. I dunno about you, but the contact information on my phone is the most important. As long as the information is all there and I can resync it later on, I don't much care whose cloud provides the contact info. So my anger is directed at Google, even though Facebook's limiting data portability is the underlying problem.

"Like all developers on Android, Facebook is free to use the Android contacts API to truly integrate contacts on the device, which would allow users to have more control over their data," according to the spokesperson statement. "We are removing the special-case handling of Facebook contacts on Nexus S and future lead devices." Future devices? I thought Nexus S got "special-case handling" to receive the newest and greatest Google has to give -- not to take away features.

The zinger from Google is a statement of principle that, again, I would normally embrace: "We continue to believe that reciprocity (the expectation that if information can be imported into a service it should be able to be exported) is an important step toward creating a world of true data liberation -- and encourage other websites and app developers to allow users to export their contacts as well."

Google's decision to make me and other Nexus S owners casualties of its "open principles" war with Facebook is simply unacceptable. I will seriously consider switching smartphones because of this action. If Google takes away Facebook contact sync, what next? My Nexus S love affair may be short lived because of Android 2.3.3. Perhaps it's time I try Windows Phone. Any manufacturer want to send one for review?

Say, Google, if you want to fall on your principles, fine. Just don't impale me with you.

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