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Nexus S Android 2.3.3 update disables Facebook contact syncing

Users of the Nexus S smart phone have a nasty surprise in store when they download the latest Android update: it will remove Facebook contacts from their device's contacts list.

One of the most useful social features on Android handsets is the ability to sync your Facebook friends with your device contacts, so they all appear in one place. Nexus S users have a shock in store when they download this week's Android 2.3.3 software update though: it disables the feature.

What this means is you'll only be able to see your Facebook chums within the Facebook Android app itself, but not in the device's separate contacts list. In a statement spotted by TechCrunch, Google describes this as "a small change".

"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. Since Facebook contacts cannot be exported from the device, the appearance of integration created a false sense of data portability."

Engadget explains Google has not made a new rule here: it has merely stopped exempting Facebook from its existing rules on how apps can handle contacts in the Android OS. Currently, other apps have to use the Android contacts API, but Facebook was allowed to keep its data separate.

"We are removing the special-case handling of Facebook contacts on Nexus S and future lead devices," continues Google's statement. That mention of 'future lead devices' is important -- it looks as though users of existing Android handsets such as the Nexus One will still be able to use the feature (as shown on a Nexus One in the picture above).

"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."

Issues of privacy and data portability are undeniably important -- and will become more so in the future. Current Android users, however, are likely to be peeved at the removal of a useful feature because of a disagreement between Google and Facebook.

What do you think? Is Google right to make this stand, and will it be a big problem for Nexus S users? Let us know your thoughts in a comment.