Technology giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter have jointly announced an open-source Data Transfer Project (DTP) designed to allow individuals to directly transfer their files and data between online service providers.
Currently if users wanted to transfer their data from one online service provider to another, they have to download and then re-upload it. But the DTP will build a common framework with open-source code to connect any two participating online service providers to allow users to move their data between the two platforms.
In a published white paper, the companies explained that data portability will not only provide users with a peace of mind in knowing where there data is, but it’s also “central to innovation”.
“If a user wants to switch to another product or service because they think it is better, they should be able to do so as easily as possible. This concept of allowing users to choose products and services based on choice, rather than being locked in, helps drive innovation and facilitates competition,” the DTP white paper said.
One instance where users could take advantage of the framework is when they are leaving a service, such as their music service, but don’t want to lose the playlists they’ve created.
Using the open-source software, they could use the export functionality of the original provider to save a copy of their playlists to the cloud or import the playlist to a new provider.
One feature the DTP will not have is an automated deletion architecture, which means users will have to delete their own data from the original service using the service’s deletion tool once they have verified that all the desired data has been moved.
Electronic Frontiers Australia chair Lyndsey Jackson said the decision is a step in the right direction and an indication that companies recognise that individuals want control and transparency over their data that’s collected.
“We’re learning that people care about privacy, and are more and more tech and data aware. The conversation about data is getting better and more informed,” she said.
“While there isn’t a whole lot of details that has been released about the DTP, the open sourcing the tool set is a really great step forward.
“I think the next step is that companies would be able to build applications to use the data from these systems and wanting to do that with profit in mind, so further discussion around privacy, how people protect their own data privacy, and how they manage consent needs to be had.”
Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy director of Facebook, which most recently was under fire for the misuse of users’ data as part of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, said the aim is to give people more control of their data.
“Moving your data between any two services can be complicated because every service is built differently and uses different types of data that may require unique privacy controls and settings,” he said.
“For example, you might use an app where you share photos publicly, a social networking app where you share updates with friends, and a fitness app for tracking your workouts. People increasingly want to be able to move their data among different kinds of services like these, but they expect that the companies that help them do that will also protect their data.”
Despite the announcement, the DTP is still currently in development and not yet available to the general public. The four companies hope to eventually recruit more organisations to join the initiative.
“This will take time but we are very excited to work with innovators and passionate people from other companies to ensure we are putting you first,” said Damien Kieran, Twitter data protection officer.
“Fundamentally this is about pushing towards a more open and dynamic internet.”
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