Why Facebook will allow you to transfer user data to other services


In March 2019, the Washington Post published an article by Mark Zuckerberg, where he called on the state to regulate the technology industry and mentioned a detail that took some by surprise:

Regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability. If you provide information to one service, you should be able to entrust it to others. It gives people a choice and allows developers to innovate and compete.
It is important for the Internet to create the services that users want. That's why we created our development platform. True data portability should not represent downloading archives with your files (as is happening now), but more like how people use our platform to enter the application. This requires clear rules about who is responsible for protecting information when moving between services.

These were not just words: Facebook recently announced a new photo transfer utility. We quote the company blog:

“Today we are releasing a tool that will allow Facebook users to transfer their photos and videos from our social network directly to other services, starting with Google Photos …

For almost a decade, we have been giving people the ability to upload their information from Facebook. The photo transfer tool that we are starting to implement today is based on code developed through our team’s participation in the Data Transfer Project. At first it will be available only to users from Ireland. In other countries, they plan to launch the tool in the first half of 2020. You can access it in the Facebook settings in the "Information" section – in the same place where you upload your data.

Confidentiality and security are the main priorities of Facebook, so all transmitted information will be encrypted, and before starting the transfer, you will need to enter an account password. ”

This initiative also helps Facebook meet the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation. Quote from article 20:

“The data subject has the right to receive personal data concerning him or her that he or she has provided to the controller in a structured, widely used and machine-readable format. "He has the right to transfer this data to another controller without any obstacles on the part of the controller, who has already been provided with personal data."

So, is everyone okay? Facebook follows the laws of Europe and introduces new standards in the United States, which will certainly lead to innovation and competition. But, you guessed it, not so simple.

What data is really important

Let's start with the obvious: why Facebook and other companies from the Data TransferProject project (including Apple and Google) want to give an advantage to potential competitors? It is reasonable to assume that they do not need it. This means that data that is made portable (images and videos) should be in addition to the main Facebook service. In the end, simplifying the transfer of this information depreciates it, which will negatively affect the company.

The next question that comes to mind is: in addition to what is user data? For Facebook, the answer is simple: to traffic. Information about your friends is much more valuable than photos and videos, and this information the social network will not dare to transmit.

There are many arguments in favor of this theory. Back in the days of the Facebook OpenGraph initiative, the company provided developers with any data they might need. However, when it came to sharing with other social networks, Facebook drew a line.

  1. In 2010, Twitter updated its Facebook app (yes, it used to exist) to make it easier to find friends on a social network using Twitter. Facebook blocked the application for several minutes.
  2. In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram (which itself appeared thanks to Twitter) and turned off the display of all photos on Twitter.
  3. In 2013, Facebook turned off several applications that accessed the library of the social network Social Graph, including Vine, Yandex Wonder, Voxer, and others.

After an extreme case, Facebook clarified its position on the blog:

“The vast majority of developers creating social applications and games will be able to continue to do what they do. Our goal is to provide a platform that will allow people to easily enter your applications, create a personalized and social experience and easily share what they do in your products on their Facebook page. That's why our platform is used in the most popular categories of applications, such as games, music, fitness and news. ”

The new policy is directed against applications that use Facebook to provide similar functionality or increase the product’s popularity without much benefit to users of the social network (for example, programs that do not allow users to share achievements on Facebook).

In other words, the company only supports data portability when it’s profitable. If you make Facebook better, you can access them. Otherwise, you will be blocked.

Privacy issue

For obvious reasons, Facebook regrets the consequences of the Open Graph 1.0 era, mainly because of its increased focus on privacy issues. The company began to limit the data it shares with the release of Graph 2.0 in 2014. After that, third-party application developers could see the user's friends only if these friends also used it (just like the old Twitter application for Facebook worked).

GDPR restrictions are even more stringent. The last part of Section 20, on data portability, reads:

The right referred to in paragraph 1 [выдержка выше]should not adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others.

In other words, you can get your personal data, but not data about your friends, because they did not give permission for this. In the context of confidentiality, this makes sense. At the same time, regulation of confidentiality can often conflict with the promotion of competition. Getting all the old photos and videos is, of course, good, but they (in most cases) will be used to store photos in applications that are not competitors to Facebook. To increase competition to other applications, access to the user's friends list would be more useful.

Compatibility Contrast

A much more impressive result in terms of competition, which Zuckerberg stands for in words, would be if data on Facebook friends became portable. Suppose you have created a new application that, after authorization, would allow you to chat with friends who also use this application (similar to the old Facebook application from Twitter).

It turns out that Facebook allows this using the User Friends API, as representatives of the social network assure. Following a policy change last year, Twitter, Snapchat or any other social network is free to use this API. Of course, this entails the use of a Facebook login and all subsequent data exchange. And of course, this is far from being as useful as the ability to directly attract the user's friends.

In this case, the third-party developer does not actually receive data from Facebook. The company provides them in such a way that the user can use social network tools to improve their experience. This greatly increases the potential for competition, and also gives the user the opportunity to manage not only their own data, but also information about the friends list.

The problem with this approach is obvious: Facebook could implement it, but doesn’t want it, both because of competition and because the pretense of zeal for privacy issues gives the social network a cover that allows it to not give out any data about friends at all .

How compatible are technology giants with other services?

By comparing and contrasting mobility with interoperability, you can understand what data is most important to tech giants.

Consider Google, another constant target for regulators. The company has no problems providing users with their data and it allows you to delete them. However, Google will never make search result page (SERP) data compatible. Interoperability would allow third parties to fill out some of the results or use them to provide their own ads. Neither one nor the other will happen in the near future.

In the case of Apple, compatibility is possible on two levels. On the one hand, it would allow installing applications on the iPhone independently of the App Store. On the other hand, the App Store would have to allow applications that use their own payment systems (or just a link to a web page to complete the purchase).

This does not mean that all of the above should change. However, in the case of Apple, this would be especially good if only because developers and buyers do not have an alternative to the App Store (there are other ways to sell or reach end users besides Amazon or Google, and other ways to find friends besides Facebook) .

It is noteworthy that the interoperability of all these companies is the basis of how they profit from their value chains.

Portability and Compatibility

Of course, updating the Facebook policy is good news. Data portability is good for consumers. Now the social network will allow you to easily migrate forgotten photos and videos into special applications that are better suited for long-term storage.

At the same time, one does not need to believe that this step has any effect on competition. Portability of photos and videos is not part of the basic functions of Facebook and its competitors. If regulators seek to increase competition, it is first necessary to force companies to provide interoperability.

Translation of the article.

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