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Facebook has been blocking a tool to let people extract contact information their friends have shared with them, the tool’s developer said today–but he’s working on a way to evade Facebook’s restrictions.
“Facebook is trying so hard to not allow you to export your friends. They started to remove e-mails of your friends from your profile by today July 5th 2011. It will no longer work for many people,” warned Mohamed Mansour, developer of the Facebook Friend Exporter, a Chrome extension that automates the data-extraction process.
The tool lets people save their contacts’ e-mail addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, and other information into a text file or to directly import them into Gmail. That makes it much easier for Google account holders to rebuild their contact network at Google+, Google’s brand-new social network site.
The activities surrounding the export tool spotlights the value of the data contained in social networks. Google believes people should be able to extract information about their contacts and provides tools to let people do so. Facebook, the incumbent power in social networking, provides only a tool to let people extract what they themselves have put into the network.
Facebook’s actions to block the extension apparently were effective. Many users of the Facebook Friend Exporter tool reported that it didn’t work, producing only names and the address of their Facebook pages, but not the e-mail addresss. In addition, Facebook earlier had begun showing addresses as graphics, not text that was easily detected, processed, and copied; Mansour got around this obstacle by extracting the information through the mobile version of Facebook’s site.
In a comment on his Google+ page, Mansour had this to say:
This is what happens when your extension becomes famous :sigh: Facebook just removed the emails from their mobile site. They implemented a throttling mechanism that if you visit your ~5 friends in a short period of time, it will remove the email field.
No worries, a new version is on the making … I am bloody annoyed now, because this proves Facebook owns every users data on Facebook. You don’t own anything! If I were you, I would riot this to the media outlets again.
Seriously … more motivation to figure out a different approach.
It’s become a cat-and-mouse game. Mansour is working to sidestep Facebook’s obstacles.
“New version with a different design is currently deploying,” Mansour said. “You might have to do exports daily. It uses a different approach, and I will maintain this version. Just bear with me.”
One update he just added earlier today is designed to “Implement fail-safe mode when e-mails do not exist.”
Facebook didn’t respond to request for comment yesterday and didn’t immediately respond today.
The tool, though, doesn’t look like a good fit with Section 3.2 of Facebook’s terms of service, which states, “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.”