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Facebook Profile Download Is Not Data Portability

I was one of the ones who quickly and without much thought applied the label of portable to one of the new features Facebook announced yesterday, specifically the ability for users to download their own profile data. Alisa Leonards, communications chairperson of the DataPortability project clarifies what portability should really entail and how Facebook misses the mark.

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.

That is more than just a definitional point. First, she is speaking to a much more functional notion of portability. You should be able to move about to different messaging, identity and other social service providers seamlessly, without an interruption in your connection of friends and acquaintances. That is what she means by interoperability.

Second, as she goes on to make clear, Facebook’s TOS are unchanged. You are at most making a copy of the data they will retain on their servers. You cannot execute a hard delete after you’ve downloaded your data.

There are other, more nuanced concerns about how this all works in practice, too. EFF has an excellent post amplifying Leonard’s points. While they give Facebook some credit, EFF also holds their feet to the fire on similar gaps in true portability and the privacy implications that arise from those omissions.

Why downloading your data is not data portability, DataPortability Blog

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The Command Line by Thomas Gideon
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