Hard Questions: How Should Facebook and Other Companies Protect Privacy While Letting People Share Their Information Between Apps and Services?

Hard Questions is a series from Facebook that addresses the impact of our products on society.

By Matt Perault, Director, Public Policy 

Being able to take our information from one app or service and move it to another makes our lives more convenient and promotes innovation. But, as we’ve seen with Cambridge Analytica, when third parties are able to access people’s information, even with their consent, that can also raise privacy concerns. That’s why we’re working with organizations and experts across the industry to develop approaches that make sure people can move their data between services in ways that protect their privacy.

Earlier this month we teamed up with Google, Microsoft and Twitter on the Data Transfer Project to develop best practices and industry standards around data portability and interoperability. And we recently published a Hard Questions post that explores the topic further.

We’ve asked four experts in this field to share their perspectives on how best to spur innovation while protecting privacy. We hope their insights can help companies like ours find approaches to this challenge that work across the industry.



Kevin Bankston, Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute

In the wake of the recent privacy controversy over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, internet users and policymakers are asking a lot of questions on the topic of “data portability:” Is my social network data really mine? Can I take it with me to another platform if I’m unhappy with Facebook? What does the new European privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), say about exporting data? What even counts as my data as opposed to my friends’?

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Mark Jamison, Director and Gunter Professor, Public Utility Research Center

Last month, lawmakers demanded answers from Google about its practice of letting outside developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email services using other apps. That same day UK regulators said they intend to hit Facebook with a maximum fine of 500,000 pounds for allowing the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest information from millions of people without their consent. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission at various points has taken action against both Google and Facebook, along with Twitter and Microsoft for allegedly violating privacy rules. Around the world, Congress and parliaments have held hearings on the topic, with more coming.

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Terrell McSweeny, Former Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission 

Data has been likened to the blood, oil, water – even the gold – of our Internet economy. Its value has increased alongside the migration of our lives to digital. Paradoxically, we are sharing more data than ever before, even as we struggle to understand the implications of doing so. Most Americans believe they have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used. Our once blithe confidence in new technology is now complicated by questions about how to protect privacy, autonomy, and healthy competition in the age of connected everything.

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Nico van Eijk, Professor of Information Law at the Institute for Information Law 

Data portability will help users move to other service providers with more ease. It will promote the consumers’ interest when they want to switch from one digital platform to another. And it will contribute to more competition between companies. These, at least, were the most important arguments for the creation of a consumers’ right to take their data with them, now a key element of the new European privacy law, GDPR, that recently took effect.

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