Microsoft, Facebook and Friends Looking to Drive Data Portability

Most companies don't make it easy to move data over to competitors' offerings. Unless you're willing to move things manually or completely abandon your existing data, you're discouraged from switching between services. Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Twitter want to change that with the Data Transfer Project announced today.

According to the project's website, the companies started working on it in 2017. They've shared their progress to GitHub and have published a whitepaper about their motivations and methodologies. Even today's announcement highlights the group's collaboration--Microsoft wants to buy GitHub, Google manages the repository and both Twitter and Facebook published blog posts.

Here's why Facebook's privacy and public policy director, Steve Satterfield, thinks the Data Transfer Project is necessary:

"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. 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."

The Data Transfer Project is essentially digital alchemy. It gathers information via these companies' existing APIs, converts it to a common data format and then sends the result over to the destination service. (It'd be preferable for the services to use common data formats at the start, which would let people manage their data instead of just sharing it between services, but that would require changes to the services themselves.)

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Twitter are looking for additional partners in the Data Transfer Project, including companies that want to devote entire teams to the project or individuals who can contribute on their own. The companies said the Data Transfer Project is "still in very active development," and because it's still in the early stages, their efforts to improve the project might accidentally break something as well.

The Data Transfer Project is clearly limited in scope. As ubiquitous as these companies' services are, they aren't the only ones people use, and it will still be hard to move between other companies' offerings. But hopefully watching some of the biggest companies in the industry work to improve data portability--and therefore consumer choice--will inspire other developers to offer the same freedom to their users.

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