Home Facebook Data Download: Don’t Call it Data Portability

Facebook Data Download: Don’t Call it Data Portability

Facebook announced a number of features yesterday, not the least of which being the ability for its users to download their information – their wall posts, photos, status updates and other content all in one neat package.

While the move is a significant step in the right direction for the social network and its users, a few significant players in the data portability discussion are here to remind us that we aren’t there quite yet.

There are some who are calling the move “data portability”, but Alisa Leonard, the communications chair for the Data Portability Project, says not so fast. Leonard argues that the new feature “is NOT Data Portability”, calling it instead “data accessibility”.

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 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).

Leonard goes on to point out that, while you may now be able to more easily download your data to manipulate separately, it will still remain on Facebook’s servers. You cannot remove it.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation similarly lauded and chastised Facebook’s efforts this morning, saying that the feature brought Facebook closer in line with its Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Networking. The EFF offered a series of recommendations for Facebook to make it easier for its users to switch services if they so desired. Part of those recommendations included the ability to export more of your social connections and contact information, the ability for users to opt-out of allowing their contact information to be exported, and even the possibility of contact information available as a separate file.

Both the EFF and Leonard seem to agree that Facebook has made a big step to data accessibility, but have yet another step (or two, or 10) to get to “data portability”. Leonard urged the site to adopt the DataPortability Project’s Portability Policy, which she calls “the first true step towards data portability, transparency and end user control.”

So, for the new feature, we have a resounding “here, here!”, but we’re reserving the real applause for the day when users can actually download their data and delete it off of Facebook’s servers.

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