Google Strips Facebook Contact Merging From Nexus S

Google’s recent Gingerbread update to its Nexus S smartphone has left the device without the ability to merge the user’s Facebook phone directory with their Contacts application.

Earlier this week, Google announced via Twitter that a Gingerbread update (Android 2.3.3) was rolling out to Nexus S and Nexus One smartphones. The news follows months of delays for Nexus One owners, and will finally bring it onto the same platform as the Nexus S.

The Gingerbread update brings a number of new features to Android smartphones, including better app management, a redesigned keyboard, one-handed text-editing features, and a new app to keep tabs on downloads. It also includes support for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, but this will only work on handsets with appropriate hardware.

No Facebook Contact Merging

However, Google’s decision to remove Facebook contact merging from the Nexus S’s operating system is being seen as an aggressive move against the social networking company, with which it has a long-standing rivalry.

Users will still be able to access the Facebook directory through the Facebook for Android application, but this information will no longer appear in their list of contacts. The search engine giant said in a statement that the decision was part of an effort by Google to give Android users greater control of their data.

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

Google invites Facebook to use the Android contacts API to integrate contacts on the device, in the same way that other developers do, but said that Facebook would no longer be treated as a “special case”.

The Nexus One will continue to offer a contacts app that dovetails with Facebook because, according to Google, the Nexus One came with Facebook pre-installed, creating “an expectation for users of how the device would function”.

The Google-Facebook war

Facebook and Google have long been at loggerheads in areas such as search, social and advertising. In November 2010, Google altered its Contacts Data API terms of service in an attempt to strong-arm Facebook into making its data more portable, preventing the social network from automatically importing Gmail contacts.

Google recently began mixing its Social Search results throughout its results pages based on their relevance, in an effort to gain a foothold in the social software market that is dominated by Facebook. Google tried a more serious effort to socialise Gmail last year with Google Buzz, but that service has languished.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s behavioural advertising is growing more powerful of late, thanks to its “Like” button and other social tools. While Google has been vilified in the past for even suggesting it would do behavioural tracking, Facebook users opt in by “liking” web pages, providing the company with a vast resource to deliver targeted advertising.

Most recently, however, the real battle ground has been on mobile. Despite this latest attempt by Google to create some distance between itself and the social network, smartphone makers such as HTC and INQ have been creating Android devices with deep Facebook integration, which is bound to get Google riled.

Sophie Curtis

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