Facebook has released a new white paper on the challenges of data portability as it looks to establish a better way forward to provide choice for consumers who wish to take their information to another platform.
Data portability has become a more significant consideration of late, with Facebook coming under more scrutiny over how it operates, and keeps users locked into its network. Prominent TechCrunch writer Josh Constine has been advocating for improved data portability for years - in fact, back in May, Constine called on US regulators to build data portability initiatives into any penalty imposed on Facebook for data breaches, arguing that such a measure would increase user freedom, as well as competition within the market.
"The government should pass regulation forcing Facebook to let you export your friend list to other social networks in a privacy-safe way. This would allow you to connect with or follow those people elsewhere so you could leave Facebook without losing touch with your friends. The increased threat of people ditching Facebook for competitors would create a much stronger incentive to protect users and society."
Facebook is now looking to take the lead on this, likely to avoid regulators taking up such a call - but as Facebook notes, there are some significant challenges to enabling data portability in a safe, considered way.
"To build portability tools people can trust and use effectively, online services need clear rules about what kinds of data should be portable, and who is responsible for protecting that data as it moves to different services. Although some laws, such as the GDPR and CCPA, already guarantee the right to portability, we believe companies and people would benefit from additional guidance about what it means to put those rules into practice."
In alignment with these existing regulations, and the shift towards portability, Facebook's white paper outlines the various challenges in detail, seeking to prompt discussion from related groups.
As noted above, the key questions Facebook sets out are:
- What is data portability? Even though “data portability” is already written into laws in some places, the concept still means different things to different people. We try to set out a taxonomy for distinguishing between different types of data transfers with the aim of identifying what is - and isn’t - “data portability.”
- Which data should be portable? We discuss different takes on what it means for a person to port the data they have “provided” to a service and what factors stakeholders should consider in defining the scope of portable data.
- Whose data should be portable? Data is often associated with more than one person in digital services, like photos, videos and contact lists. Should transferring companies limit data portability in those cases? How can providers ensure that each individual’s rights are accounted for?
- How should we protect privacy while enabling portability? What responsibilities, if any, should transferring companies have with respect to people requesting or receiving data transfers and people whose interests may be implicated by a transfer?
- After people’s data is transferred, who is responsible if the data is misused or improperly protected? Should transferring or recipient companies be accountable? Should users themselves be responsible for issues that affect their (or their friends’) data?
These are some important questions, and it makes sense for Facebook to be setting the table for such discussion - though the complexity of some elements will likely mean that the debate over any such regulations will carry on for some time yet.
Definitely, right now, data security, and concerns over potential misuse, are at an all-time high in terms of awareness, so these are questions that need to be addressed. But as you can see, there's a lot to consider. It's hard to imagine there being a solution that will address all of these concerns.
Data portability is an important element, and one that will only become more pressing moving forward, so it's good to see Facebook looking to advance the discussion. Now we need to wait and see what other industry groups put forward in response to Facebook's white paper, and where the focus turns to from here.
You can check out Facebook's full 'Charting a Way Forward: Data Portability and Privacy" white paper here.