Data Portability Wars : Google and Facebook vs. YOU

Well, here we go again.

The big companies love to embrace data portability and the freedom it provides its users, not to mention the press and goodwill that comes with it, as long as it doesn’t conflict with their corporate agenda.

Let’s call it what it is: Facebook and Google both support “convenient” data portability — at all times convenient for them, *sometimes* convenient for you.

Google and Facebook have both flirted with data portability and it was generally taken as a good sign when both hired leading open source/data portability advocates (Chris Messina and David Recordon respectively). Facebook’s APIs and social graph integration, as well as Google’s Takeout initiative, have been shining examples of the net result of this effort.

Still, despite these advances, both companies continue to “play” with your data – to your detriment. Back in February, Google removed an existing feature from its Android mobile phone operating system specifically to make it more difficult for users to integrate their Facebook contacts (Nexus S losing Facebook contacts sync as Google tightens data policy).

The latest salvo in this escalating war occurred while the US celebrated its Independence day holiday weekend: Facebook disabled a critical feature used to export your friends data (Facebook blocks Google Chrome extension for exporting friends). This appears to be a direct response to Google’s recent moves further into social networking: Google+ (Facebook blocks friend export tool in Google+ snub ).

The reality is that we gave both companies the right to monkey with our data. We accepted their terms of service when we joined their services and we continually agree when they make changes – for better or worse. And, while a few have left in protest, it is not practical to expect much more.

Let’s call it what it is: Facebook and Google both support “convenient” data portability — at all times convenient for them, *sometimes* convenient for you. And maybe that’s ok. After all, they are commercial enterprises answerable to boards and shareholders and subject to their leadership within.

I get it. Information is an asset, and why would anyone fiscally responsible intentionally dilute or give away an asset?

And therein is the conflict. Us versus them, my data versus their monetization of it.

I hereby challenge Google, Facebook, and all other interested parties to sit down at a DATA PORTABILITY SUMMIT and figure it out together.

This is complicated stuff. If Google and Facebook truly want to be the global purveyors of information that they purport to be, they’ll figure it out – or leave opportunity for the next company to come along and get it right. But the first thing they need to understand is that they cannot do it alone. When crafting global policy regarding user’s data they must include the user, otherwise they are simply more walled-gardens of varying heights.

So, before this thing spirals any further, let’s talk about it.

As Chairman of the International non-profit Data Portability organization, I hereby challenge Google, Facebook, and all other interested parties to sit down at a DATA PORTABILITY SUMMIT and figure it out together. Name the place, name the time – or your users will. Now is your chance to truly show leadership on a global scale. But know this: that coveted asset of information you possess exists solely because of your users. It’s ok to be capitalistic, and its good not to be evil, but it’s time to make data portability convenient for us all.

Interested in the DATA PORTABILITY SUMMIT? Let me know: steve@radwebtech.com

Steve Repetti
Chairman, DataPortability.org

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