Facebook “Download Your Info” is NOT Data Portability

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Many of you perhaps just watched the live Facebook announcement, and may be wondering what it all means. To tell you the truth, I am still trying to figure that out— there are three main things to think about:

1) The ability to download your Facebook data

2) The ability to monitoring your data usage through an apps dashboard

3) The creation of Facebook groups.

For now, I wanted to issue a quick response about item #1.

Already I have seen across the Twittersphere references to Facebook now allowing “data portability.” Data portability is the idea that users are, and should be, in control of their data, how its used, and have access to it at any time. Beyond this, data portability inherently implies data interoperability— the ability for your identity and social graph data to be used across any site or service, as controlled by the end user, and therefore requires the use of open web standards. Facebook’s “Download Your Info” is NOT data portability. It is data accessibility.

Why is this important?

It is important to first understand that true data portability puts the ultimate power of data control in the hands of the user, not the web application using that data. Facebook has long fallen under scrutiny for having immense control over end user data. The development of Facebook Connect and the Open Graph API have been steps in the direction of data portability, but ultimately, Facebook continues to maintain, under their TOS, the last word on your data usage through an all-encompassing license to do what they wish with your data (including sub-license it to other entities).

What matters is that while they now allow more access to your data through the download feature, the Facebook TOS has not changed— meaning your data is still on their server and while you can download, you cannot remove your data entirely (if you wished to do so). This is data accessibility, not data portability.

I would love to see Facebook adopt the DataPortability Project’s Portability Policy. This proposed policy is a twist on the familiar web standard of a Privacy Policy, which has historically articulated what a site can and can’t do with your data. The Portability Policy aims to create transparency between applications/sites and end users when it comes to how end user data can be used, and how users may be able to access and ultimately “port” their data across any site or service. Adoption of a Portability Policy is the first true step towards data portability, transparency and end user control.

Please note Alisa Leonard is Chair of Communications for the DataPortability Project