Jessica Goodfellow
Feb 21, 2020

Facebook rolls out data portability tool

Data portability forms a cornerstone of GDPR, and is expected to be more widely regulated this year.

Facebook rolls out data portability tool

Facebook is rolling out its data portability tool—which allows users to easily transfer photos and videos to one of its biggest competitors—to key markets across APAC, Latin America and Africa.

The tool allows users to download all photos and videos they have posted on Facebook, and then transfer them directly into Google Photos. The data will be encrypted and users will be required to re-enter their password on both sides of the transfer, to ensure the transfer is secure. Facebook plans to allow users to transfer to other services beyond Google "in the near future", software engineer William Morland wrote in a blog. The tool is also currently limited to photos and videos shared on the main Facebook app—it is not available for Instagram and Whatsapp.

Following a pilot in Ireland late last year, the tool is today (February 21) rolling out to APAC markets Singapore, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Brazil, Mexico, Egypt and South Africa.

The tool forms part of the Data Transfer Project, an open-source initiative involving the world's biggest tech companies to create a common data portability platform. Developing an open source library that any service can use to run and manage direct transfers on behalf of users prevents the need for every company to build its own system from scratch, and makes the process of transferring easier. Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter are all involved in the project.

The Data Transfer Project was not launched out of nowhere. It was created in response to regulator calls for greater data portability among the internet's controlling companies. Regulations such as GDPR have been designed to give users greater oversight and control of their data online, and being able to easily transfer data from one provider to another forms a key part of this.

While GDPR was the first regulation to include a 'right to portability', tech companies are braced for a wider uptake. California introduced a data portability provision under its Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) rules this year, and governments including Singapore, Australia, India, Hong Kong are all reviewing laws supporting portability.

Today's rollout is just the beginning of this journey. While Facebook's data portability tool is currently limited to photos and videos, it is looking at ways to allow users export their "social graph", that is, the map of the connections between a user and other users and entities on that service. But it is a complex challenge that Facebook posed many questions and concerns about in a white paper published in September last year. Among the challenges is figuring out who owns what data, what data should and should not be portable, and how to transfer it in a way that protects user privacy.

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