Why forced data portability is a mistake

“Let people export their Facebook data into competing social media services” — what could sound better?  It would seem to make the market more contestable and give consumers more choice — what could be wrong with that?

Alex already has pointed out that it is not “your data.”  And here is Alex on the mirage of data portability.  I would like to add a few points:

1. Presumably data portability would be imposed on Facebook’s competitors and potential competitors as well.  That would mean all future competing firms would have to slot their products into a Facebook-compatible template.  Let’s say that 17 years from now someone has a virtual reality social network innovation: does it have to be “exportable” into Facebook and other competitors?  It’s hard to think of any better way to stifle innovation.

2. Which are the eligible firms/services to which exportability is going to be required?  Do you really want government to be certifying the “legitimate players” in the market?  And branding other competitors and potential competitors as not worthy enough to deserve this legal protection?

3. How about when you tag other people?  If I’m only on Facebook, and only wish to be on Facebook, and you wish to export your tags of me and other me-related content to some other service, how much am I losing control?  Or do the regulators somehow mandate a “only data about you and you alone” standard?  Is that really going to be possible to enforce?

4. Didn’t we just go nuts on Mark Zuckerberg and call him before the commissars for exporting too much data to external services?  And in many and probably most of these cases with user consent?

5. Does a mandate for exportability also imply a mandate for importability?  Does Facebook have to swallow and digest your photos from Pinterest?  From Russian and Chinese services?  From very difficult to make compatible systems?  We might end up with walled gardens in any case.  I find it striking that many critics of the tech companies hold two directly incompatible views: a) you have to make them post everything, and b) you need to make them liable for what they put up.


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