Due to an update in Google’s Contacts API terms of service, Facebook is going to lose access to a significant part of its contact import process.

The relevant part of the API enables Facebook and other sites to add contacts to a user’s social network simply by signing into their Gmail account on the control panel - all Facebook members that the user has emailed will be shown. The rewrite requires that this cross-platform contact access go both ways - Facebook can bring up the users that are in a Gmail account, but Google will have the Facebook information also. Since Facebook does not make its contact information available, they will now be precluded from that process.

Facebook has other contact APIs on its import interface, but with the huge number of people using Gmail and Google services, this powerful entry tool will be missed by all of them. Facebook is aware of this, and TechCrunch predicts a Google backlash where the process of getting Google data onto Facebook will be more complicated, and Facebook will be easier to use by Yahoo, Hotmail and other supported email account holders.

Facebook treats its social graph data as a valuable resource, and has only recently made it possible for users to download their account information. This measure in itself is incomplete - the download does not include e-mail information or phone numbers. This limitation has spawned the view that Facebook is a data hoarder, and led to the Diaspora project, touted as an “open-source Facebook replacement.”

This data sharing impasse has prompted Michael Arrington to label this trend “data protectionism.” But if one side protects data, the other side will inevitably change its policy to match the first side. With a move from “free data trade” to protectionism, he expects the formation of a data “trade war.”  These terms seem abstract, but Arrington believes that if big companies practice business this way, it will spread to smaller ones.

By Ivory King