Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have announced a new standards initiative called the Data Transfer Project, which will let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. In a blog post, Google described the project as letting users “transfer data directly from one service to another, without needing to download and re-upload it.” The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.
Although many companies already let you download your information, you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere. You cannot port your digital identity with a new application. The current version of the system supports data transfer for photos, mail, contacts, calendars, and tasks, drawing from publicly available APIs from Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram. The existing code for the project is available open-source on GitHub. Europe’s new GDPR legislation requires tools to provide all available data on a given user, which means it’s far more comprehensive than what you’d get from an API.
The contributors to the Data Transfer Project believe portability and interoperability are central to innovation. Making it easier for individuals to choose among services facilitates competition, empowers individuals to try new services and enables them to choose the offering that best suits their needs.
The tool can be a gamechanger for upcoming startups who can simply pick up existing user data from traditionally and historically data-loaded app such as Facebook, rather than starting from scratch.. However for this to happen, support for data transfer has to reach critical mass: only then could it lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Tech giants may be able to sell to regulators their alliance by arguing that DTP gives users freedom to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.
The data transfer project does not come at an optimistic time. The pall of Cambridge Analytica still hangs over Facebook, as users and companies remain wary of how data is traveling. In fact, Facebook today suspended another analytics firm for potentially misusing user data. Google was just slapped with a $5 billion fine by the EU for violating its anti-trust laws.