Tales from the Net

a work in progress

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New members for DataPortability.org

In the aftermath of the Scoble/Facebook scraping brouhaha, DataPortability.org (“sharing is caring”) has announced that individuals from Google, Facebook, and Plaxo have joined their workgroup. There are big names involved: Brad Fitzpatrick is the inventor of LiveJournal and runs Google’s OpenSocial platform, and Benjamin Ling (who recently left Google) now runs Facebook’s platform group. Marshall Kirkpatrick describes as “a bombshell” on ReadWriteWeb and Duncan Riley is even more effusive (“this changes everything”) on TechCrunch; Dennis Howlett has a more skeptical view in his DataPortability.org workgroup is stillborn. It seems to me that while it’s hard to know what if anything the consortium will produce, it seems like at the least a pretty strong signal.

Of what? Well, in a blog post yesterday, workgroup chair Chris Saad said “The question is not if Robert Scoble had a right to get the data and the data of his friends – the question is why Facebook won’t let him.” I’m in the camp with a lot of others who think this takes the real trust issues off the table: Scoble didn’t have the right to the secondary uses of my data he took either according to his TOU or to the permissions I thought I had given him. So hopefully it’s not support of that.

And given how much heat the various companies are taking over privacy issues recently, Saad’s comments in the same post that the top privacy issue in social networks is that “Privacy Concerns are somewhat over-exaggerated” is a sign either of some major upcoming evolution in the group as more responsible businesses get involved — or more fiascos to come under the guise of “helping the user”, with increasing political and legal pressure to follow. Let’s keep fingers crossed for the former. Saad’s comment on Alec Saunders’ Privacy Manifesto for the Web 2.0 Era today is encouraging: Saunders manifesto is based on fair information practices, and characterizes Facebook has having done the right thing in the Scoble scrape-up and describe’s Plaxo’s behavior as “disappointing”; Saad descries the post as fantastic, and asks him to join the standards discussion.

Howlett brings up a very good point about the apparent US-centricity of the effort:

In all the discussions around this topic, I have yet to see cogent description about how this is going to work given the data privacy laws that exist around the world. Once again, we have a US centric view of the so-called flat earth that fails to recognize there are real laws with real force that will almost certainly kill this initiative stone dead.

As to how real the commitment by the various companies is, hard to know; we’ll have to see whether they make meaningful strides towards true openness, try to use it as a mechanism to lock users into their individual sites … or just continue to say the right things while not doing very much.

Update on January 15: an spiffy video by Michael Pick of Smashcut Media describes the problems DataPortability is trying to help with. Unfortunately the code they provide to embed the video on the page messes up the formatting; so please check it out on Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post on ReadWriteWeb, where a commenter usefully points out that despite the calls for participation, there isn’t any kind of “join” button on the DataPortability.org site.

posted by Jon at 5:16 pm  


  1. Saunders has a post up summarizing the reaction to his manifesto:

    On the one hand, groups of people already familiar with it’s principles (primarily Chief Privacy Officers at various corporations, and Europeans and Canadians) came out in support of it. At the other end of the spectrum, those who still view individuals personal information as a corporate asset argued that it would be complex and difficult to implement. And in the middle of it all, Robert Scoble, the agent provocateur who set the stage for the whole discussion with his attempts to scrape data from Facebook, continued to challenge the various viewpoints.

    Comment by Jon — January 9, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  2. A few followups:

    1. LinkedIn gives their view of the importance of data portability
    2. folks from LinkedIn, SixApart, Twitter, and Flickr are in as well
    3. Jeremiah Owyang describes some expectations on his Web Strategy blog, and Chris Saad responds

    Comment by Jon — January 14, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

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