Who Really Owns Your Address Book?

There’s a lot of talk these days about cloud services and rules of ownership. When you put a photo onto Instagram, does it belong to Instagram? How about when you upload songs to a storage locker like Google Music? Generally speaking, companies have found it best to abide by the “what’s yours is yours” mentality when it comes to intellectual property, but that doesn’t solve all of the problems.

Redefining Ownership

If you take a look at Google’s Terms of Service, you’ll find some very plain-spoken terminology when it comes to ownership:

Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

While the text does continue, giving Google the right to host and distribute that content (which it needs to have in order to hold it and send it back to you), Google has done a good job of making sure that the important question is answered up front – You own your content.

But how deep does that ownership go? Should we look at changing the definition of ownership? If you own your car, for instance, you can do with it whatever you choose, within the confines of the law. Want to paint your house purple with orange polka dots? That’s your right as an owner.

Why then should your online content be any different?

Let’s look at the other side of this equation, using LinkedIn as an example. You are freely able to export your LinkedIn connections using tools that the company provides. But if you want to use a third-party service to do the export, you’re largely out of luck. Though LinkedIn does have partners (such as Rapportive), most every other service is limited to only a few queries per day, a hard limit that is far too restrictive for almost anyone’s use.

One of the beautiful parts of a free and open Internet is the flow of information. When you use our Address Book with Google, for instance, a simple click is all that it takes to import your Google Contacts into FullContact. The same is true with Twitter, iCloud and many other services…but not LinkedIn.

Ownership is only ownership to the point where the user is prevented from doing what they want.

So then the question remains – Who owns your address book?

If we put this into a metaphor, it might make more sense. Let’s say that your address book is a physical piece of property. When you walk up to Google, they hand it to you and they tell you that you can add to it, remove from it or otherwise use it how you please. All that they ask is that you give it back to them and let them read you the information when you need it. In the case of LinkedIn, you can add to the book, but if you want to take the content of the book and move it elsewhere you have to do it in the way that they have prescribed. Otherwise you can only move a few items each day, no matter how long that might take you.

The end result is that we need a better option. That’s part of the reason that we’re building the FullContact Address Book. You’ll be able to import your contacts from everywhere (that will let you), you can enrich them with social data, remove duplicates and keep them constantly up to date, and then you can move them to wherever you choose. When we say that it’s your content, and you should be able to do with it whatever you please, we really mean it. Have you signed up for the beta yet?