Facebook knows who you are, who your friends are, and just about everything you and your friends “like” – to read, to buy, to look at – on the Internet.
This scares the pants off Google.
To Valley and tech types, Facebook’s collection of data is known as the “social graph.”
The reason it worries Google is that increasingly, Facebook is using that data to show users things to read, buy, and do on the Internet before those users get the chance to Google search for those things.
The social graph turns the Internet into Facebook’s platform, not Google’s.
Again – that worries Google silly. As it should.
So, what is Google doing about it? Many things, including launching new social products, like +1, in hopes of gathering “social graph” information through its own products. Larry Page also recently told all Google employees that their bonuses will depend on Google succeeding in social.
But Google also seems to be pulling another, more clever trick. It’s putting together its own “social graph” by scraping together data from others.
Google takes what it knows about its own users, and searches the Internet to find matches on other social networks.Then it asks those users if they want to “improve your Google experience by connecting your accounts from other services.”
A Google spokesperson explained how this manoeuvre works:
For people who have Google accounts and are signed-in, we currently look at two primary signals to make an educated guess about which accounts may be owned by the same person: similarities between names/account names (e.g. your Gmail name is almost identical to a Twitter account name) and similarities between connections (e.g. your Google Contacts are very similar to a set of names being followed by a public Twitter account).
For example, if your Gmail account is [email protected] and there’s a Twitter account out there for @gregoryanderson32, we’ll make a guess that’s you and offer you the option to connect these accounts to improve your search results. As always, personalised results are only visible to you when you’re signed-in, and no one else is able to see them.
Check out the screengrab below. Note where, at the bottom, it says “Use my Google contact information to suggest accounts from other sites.”
An industry source who competes with Google says, “They are doing this to assemble another copy of the graph by scraping other sources rather than making their own.”
“Why make your own when you can steal someone else’s?”
Why not, indeed? This seems like a clever move, and, given that checkbox, not particularly “evil” – which we know is something Google is sensitive about.
Update: An earlier version of this post supposed that Google might be scanning its users’ inboxes to figure out which social networks they use. That’s not what’s going on, as we now explain above.
Anyway, here’s the screengrab: