Facebook’s Non-Portable Data Portability

A few thoughts about Zuckerberg’s revelations about changes in Facebook privacy, how it relates to data portability, and why this matters.

Facebook is officially part of the Data Portability project. Neither does Facebook allow you to backup or archive your data, nor does it permit any third-party applications to do so. If Facebook was so far using user privacy as an excuse for not allowing data portability, that excuse no longer exists. If Zuckerberg worried about his credibility at all, we should soon see legitimate ways of exporting your Facebook social graph. But obviously, we won’t.

When you own the world’s largest social network with over 350m people, credibility is not an issue.

Facebook supports Data Portability. Surprised? Facebook’s implementation of data portability is called Facebook Connect (italics mine):

These are just a few steps Facebook is taking to make the vision of data portability a reality for users worldwide. We believe the next evolution of data portability is about much more than data. It’s about giving users the ability to take their identity and friends with them around the Web, while being able to trust that their information is always up to date and always protected by their privacy settings.

We look forward to working with other leading identity providers to develop the best policies and standards for enabling the portability and protection of users’ information.

In contrast, the Data Portability Project’s vision is: “Data portability enables a borderless experience, where people can move easily between network services, reusing data they provide while controlling their privacy and respecting the privacy of others.”

By allowing Facebook to claim that it’s part of the data portability project while preventing any data from being ported anywhere outside it’s walled garden, Facebook is making a mockery of open standards. Should groups like the Data Portability Project expel Facebook from its ranks?

Louis Gray has highlighted the issues we have faced for two decades because we did not have OS and Application-neutral data, but were locked-in to the Apple/Microsoft/Google ‘big-three’ silos. In the coming decades, the data that holds the greatest wealth is your social graph data. And instead of big-three, just one company is well on its way to owning it, controlling it, and making money off it.

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  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Strong post Mahendra, and I heartily agree. Open data, means to be free to choose where and when to move our information. I suspect we'll see a shift in social graph ownership, and information rights in the coming decade.

    Many businesses which prosper from the data it mines from it's users will be expected to give back to the communities which support them.

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  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Mark, such a shift will need a strong backlash against a monopoly owning the social graph. The most significant challenge I see is the lack of an alternative. We will have to wait and see if Google succeeds in taking up the social challenge in the coming years. Without serious competition, Facebook is unlikely to change. How I hope what you say becomes true! :)

    Once again, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts!

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