Microsoft on Tuesday announced a new partnership with five of the six most popular social networking sites that will allow users to more safely and easily share contacts with various Windows Live services. Previous to this agreement, this kind of sharing between services typically required an inelegant and potentially insecure process called "screen scraping."

Microsoft's new partnership includes Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, LinkedIn, and Tagged. Notably absent is the world's most popular social networking site, MySpace, though that service is utilizing an older version of Microsoft's Windows Live Contacts interoperability and will presumably be on board with the new version in the future. Sites that are using this version will see better performance and security, Microsoft told me during a recent briefing.

"We're moving well beyond screen scraping and offering consumers something that is safe and secure," John Richards the Director of the Windows Live Platform at Microsoft told me. "Screen scraping exposes users to unnecessary privacy risks."

Microsoft's agreement with these social networking sites is two-way and will be rolled out over time. Starting today, Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger-using customers can visit a new Web site, Invite2Messenger (http://www.invite2messenger.net/), where they can invites contacts from Facebook to join Windows Live Messenger (support for Hotmail, Bebo, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Tagged will be added in the coming weeks). Meanwhile, customers of Facebook and Bebo should be able to invite Windows Live Messenger contacts to those services beginning immediately. The other social networking sites will provide similar capabilities in the weeks ahead, Richards told me.

In a broader sense, Richards noted that this week's announcement is a concrete example of Microsoft's previously communicated commitments to data portability, security, and keeping the consumer at the center of their online experiences, regardless of which services they choose to utilize. It's also a step down the road of exposing Windows Live as an extensible platform. Richards said that further announcements and additions can be expected as the year progresses.