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Extension slurps Facebook contacts into Google+

A Chrome extension lets people extract information their Facebook contacts have shared with them then import it into Google+. But does it break Facebook's rules?

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
There are caveats that doesn't make the data export process as a single click, but that's how it begins.
There are caveats that doesn't make the Facebook-to-Gmail data export process as a single click, but that's how it begins for those who want to bring their Facebook contacts to Google+. Mohamed Mansour

The biggest challenge to making Google+ a viable competitor to Facebook is that people must reproduce their social graph--their collection of connections--at the new service. But a Chrome extension makes that process a lot easier by automating the extraction of contact information that your Facebook contacts have shared.

The extension, from open-source programmer Mohamed Mansour, is called Facebook Friend Exporter. It's not a simple one-click process, but it's close.

The tool, though, likely won't sit well at the dominant social-networking site. Section 3.2 of Facebook's terms of service 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."

The arrival of Google+ has brought new concrete reality to the previously somewhat academic spat in 2010 between Facebook and Google about who owns information about your social-network connections.

Google, which often has championed openness, believes you should be able to extract information about your contacts from the online services you use, and with Google Takeout, you can. Facebook, which sees no particular reason why it should give a powerful rival the keys to its kingdom, disagrees.

Mansour, who by the way also wrote a Chrome extension that lets you cross-post Google+ messages to Twitter and Facebook, said he agrees with Google.

"I am scraping my own data that my Facebook friends allowed me to use and view," Mansour said in a Google+ conversation about the extension. "Facebook doesn't own my friends. I want my friends to be in a place that is easily accessible, extractable, and shareable. And if that results a ban/expulsion/termination, so be it."

The extension cautions users even as it tries to persuade them Facebook's data-export policies are misguided.
The extension cautions users even as it tries to persuade them Facebook's data-export policies are misguided. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

He offers this note of caution, though: "Use at your own risks! From the 30K+ users who used it, no one got a ban notice from Facebook, but I don't guarantee that."

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mansour's extension jumps straight into the fracas by copying the information your contacts have shared with you already on Facebook--name, e-mail address, phone number, birthday, Web site, address--then letting you save it as a spreadsheet file or import it directly into your Gmail address book.

And of course your Gmail address book is the foundation for your social ties on Google+. The service lets you sift through your Google contacts and add them to "circles" such as "friends" or "following," making it easy to send a message to a specific group.

Even though the Chrome extension lets you extract the Facebook contact information, it still can be a lot of work to sort it properly in Google+. If you have 20 friends on Facebook, it's not too big a deal. I have 437, and it's a pain.

The extension doesn't solve the biggest problem with Google+, though: getting people to actually use it. Even when an easy sign-up replaces Google+ beta's hobbled invitation process, you'll still have to convince your Facebook pals to tune into another conversation channel. And people might not necessarily list Gmail addresses at Facebook, making it harder to get in touch over Google+, which of course requires a Google account.

You'll be missing history, too: the photos you've seen and the scads of earlier conversations you've had won't be on Google+ unless people put them there.

But that's going to be a problem with any new Facebook challenger. With more than 15,000 downloads, Mansour's extension apparently already has helped many clear the basic address-book hurdle.