Saturday, February 19, 2011

Facebook Friend Exporter

A friend of mine is shutting down his Facebook account.* But before he turns out the lights, he's exporting his friends' contact data to .csv using the open source Facebook Friends Exporter [since defunct -N.] Chrome extension (source available via GitHub).

If you believe that your data belongs to you, and that you should be able to extract it for your own use, this extension might come in handy for you. It's pretty cool - check it out! (obviously you'll need to be a Chrome user)

I tried it myself, and it seems to work quite well. The process does take a bit of time -- naturally Facebook tries to prevent users from performing exactly this kind of operation, so you can only export about 60 contacts every hour or so. The extension allows you to export specific information shared by your friends with you, including
  • name
  • e-mails 
  • phone numbers 
  • screen names
  • websites.

Once plus is that it doesn't require your Facebook login credentials -- you merely have to be logged in to Facebook in a Chrome window. And then when you're done, you can just disable the extension, or uninstall it altogether. Nice and clean.

Philosophically it does raise the question, to whom does the data really belong? Most people would agree that my friends' data isn't owned by Facebook (though clearly they have possession of it; I mean owned in the sense of having moral rights to its use.). But is it mine to extract? You could argue that my friends' data belongs to them, and not me, and that I shouldn't be able to export the data for who knows what purposes.

If I remove my own contact data from Facebook, it's not unreasonable to expect Facebook to no longer store that information. Having someone extract that info means I no longer have control over the data.

But that quibble isn't stopping me. My perspective is, if you're friends with me on Facebook and you've shared contact info, you've chosen to do so. It's no different than if you told me your phone number and I wrote it down. This scenario is a simple repetition of that, over the set of all my friends.

In summary -- I think this extension has utility and is worth considering. Enjoy!

* My friend has philosophical issues with Facebook. Fundamentally he disagrees with "the trend to digested, centralized, online connectivity and Facebook's pushy 'life outloud' development path", and believes we "shouldn't willfully be strengthening our dependence on a single product (especially one that creates such a superficial illusion of connectivity)". I share to a lesser degree some of these concerns, but lack the courage of my convictions.