Data Portability Policy

I remember the data portability blog spinning up when concerns around privacy and autonomy started drawing attention as today’s heavyweight services and networks first started experimenting with their terms of use and policies, often to the detriment of users. Today, they announced the culmination of some of that thought and discussion, the Portability Policy.

Inspired by the Creative Commons, the Portability Policy work began as a way to improve the confusing Terms of Service and EULA model – one which we believe has become outdated and ineffective. To quote the new site:

In the same way that your Privacy Policy tells visitors what you can do with information they provide, your product’s Portability Policy tells visitors what they can do with it.

I expect it is going to take some serious campaigning to get existing sites to seriously consider this policy framework but the promise seems right. Build a policy along clear, easy to understand lines and increase user confidence. Google, at least, is on the same page with the Data Liberation Front. I expect a lot of new projects fermenting now will be inspired and see this as a strong part of building an offering that stands apart from many of the closed, black-hole like offerings currently available.

Data portability applies to a much broader set of software products than just social networks. The promise of data portability is that everyone benefits when work can be repurposed – by yourself with other tools or by other people. Any tool that lets people enter or organize their digital “stuff” should control how that stuff can be reused. Text documents, music play lists, pictures, and research data are just as valuable to share as “friend lists” and address books.

Deep thinkers on matters of software freedom and open collaboration have been struggling with the best approaches to dealing with the shift to the so-called cloud. I think data portability is a practical near term step regardless of how the broader philosophical issues are resolved.

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