Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington on October 23, 2019.
Erin Scott | Reuters
Facebook again urges Congress to create guidelines on how online services should make user data available for transfer to other platforms, as it expands its own function to achieve just that.
Facebook announced on Monday that it is expanding a tool that allows users to transfer their data to other services. Facebook now allows users to transfer a copy of their posts and notes to Blogger, Google Docs and WordPress. The company is already offering users the option to transfer their photos and videos to other services as well.
The legislator has spoken out in favor of so-called data portability functions in order to improve the competitive conditions for newer market participants in the technology sector. Facebook has undergone antitrust scrutiny and is currently facing legal challenges from the Federal Trade Commission and a broad coalition of states that allegedly illegally maintain monopoly power. Some lawmakers believe that if users could more easily remove their data from Facebook’s services, they could be incentivized to leave the company. This would then open the way for new innovators to grow in social media.
Facebook itself has spoken out in favor of laws on data portability and, with the launch on Monday, shows how stricter guidelines for the process can enable a larger and safer flow of data between services.
For example, if users transfer their posts and notes using the new feature, those transfers will not include comments from Facebook friends or posts that friends have left on a user page. This is due to the legal uncertainty as to who owns this data, especially in the absence of a federal law on digital data protection. Facebook was already in trouble for granting a third-party developer access to friends’ user data without their express permission during the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In a whitepaper published in 2019, Facebook asked whether a platform’s “social graph” – or the network of friends a user maintains on the platform – should be portable to other services. While the idea of portability is aimed at allowing users to take ownership of their data and allowing for more competition, it can create privacy concerns when it is unclear who owns the data or whether they have chosen to transfer it.
There is also uncertainty about which services should be responsible if data is compromised in transit. Facebook believes this is another place where Congress could create confusion.
Congress could also set standards for the types of data that services should provide for transmission. You could also set up guard rails to prevent certain types of data from having to be transferred.
Some data that Facebook collects is passively recorded or contains inferences that the service draws about users, including protecting the integrity of the service. For example, Facebook public policy manager Bijan Madhani said the company will use account activity to draw conclusions to see if bots are running them. He suggested that it might be beneficial for users to keep this data out of portability requirements in order to maintain the integrity of this feature.
Madhani said Facebook plans to keep working on the tool, adding destinations for users to post their data to. He said consumers could look at the types of data already available for download to get a feel for what might be next for the transfer tool.
Although Facebook has previously worked with other industry players to create an open source platform that can be used to transfer data between services, this is an area where governance must support industry standards, according to Madhani.
“The lack of a possible partnership with the government there can make people feel, ‘Well OK, whatever we do here, when it comes down to it, may not have actual legal force if actual litigation is on Lying on the table. ” ” he said. “Self-regulation is nice, but self-regulation without government support is less nice.”
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