Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter launch the Data Transfer Project | Tech Biz

Here’s something of a curve ball for your brain to digest: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have teamed up for a new open source project that strives to make it easier to transfer your data between online services.

The aptly-named Data Transfer Project (DTP) was officially founded last year, and there have been whisperings about it on the likes of GitHub, but the initiative was officially unveiled today with its first four members on board.

Though there are only four companies on board just now, the DTP is actively seeking other members.

The ultimate aim of the Data Transfer Project is to improve data portability, allowing users to not only download their data but transfer it directly to any other service.

Facebook, for example, announced a new data export tool earlier this year enabling its users to receive a copy of all the data that Facebook holds on them — this was unveiled soon after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal unfolded. But the average user wouldn’t be able to do all that much with that data other than look at it and perhaps make some amendments to their online Facebook profile. With the DTP, Facebook and the other trio of tech firms are trying to create channels to make moving data from platform to platform easier.

Its stated purpose is as follows:

DTP will enhance the data portability ecosystem by reducing the infrastructure burden on both service providers and users which should in turn increase the number of services offering portability. The protocols and methodology of DTP enable direct, service-to-service data transfer with streamlined engineering work.

The launch comes amid a series of data scandals involving the big technology firms. The U.S. is currently expanding its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing debacle, while the U.K. fined Facebook over the episode and Australia is mulling lawsuits. Elsewhere, Google entered the firing line over claims that third-party developers read its users Gmail messages. So to launch a project that basically involves building APIs to connect data between services is an interesting one, given the recent scandals involving “leaky” APIs.

But the DTP may also serve to help these companies distance themselves from notions that they are walled gardens that lock their users into silos.

“Data portability and interoperability are central to innovation,” a DTP white paper reads. “The DTP Partners believe that peoplevshould use products because they provide unique value and features. 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.”

In reality, few people will likely transfer their data from Facebook to an alternative social network, because people tend to use platforms that their friends use. But it does mean that an emerging Facebook competitor could build a tool to make it easier for people to transfer all their data over from Facebook. And Facebook can dismiss accusations that it runs a walled-off data silo.

There are potentially numerous useful scenarios where the DTP could help out in the long run. For example, if the DTP gained sufficient traction, companies such as Spotify may be pressured into signing up. And that could mean it would have to offer its subscribers an option to export all their playlists and listening history to a rival service. The same applies to other digital services such as fitness-tracking apps, which are notoriously difficult to move away from without losing all your data.

For now, the DTP is still an early-stage project and it appears there aren’t any existing integrations that demonstrate the DTP beyond some early works-in-progress. But it has the potential to gain steam if enough developers and companies join the mix.

“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,” noted Facebook’s privacy and public policy director Steve Satterfield. “These are the kinds of issues the Data Transfer Project will tackle. The Project is in its early stages, and we hope more organizations and experts will get involved.”

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