Data Portability Wars – Facebook vs Google

A war is on to control your personal data. Cookies all over the net are learning as much about you as possible – for better and for worse –  but an even bigger war is looming as companies like Facebook place strict limitations on your ability to control what you do with your own personal data. Facebook claims that this is for your protection; however, is this claim disingenuous, merely allowing them to continue to have sole proprietorship on your personal data?

So it’s not surprise that Google and Facebook are taking this war public in a major way.

When I was at Viacom, one of the major sticking points in negotiating a deal with Facebook was over this very issue. A major problem for any business is (or at least should be) how effective they can be with CRM. And whether you’re looking to improve recommendations, incorporate behavioral targeting, or simply learn more about your visitors to make your site better and more relevant, once a user decides that they want to be a part of your community, they are making an explicit statement of interest. At that point, there should be no reason why the site, with the permission of the user, shouldn’t be able to develop and store their own user profile without forcing the user to re-input all their data, especially in a case when a third-party system is working in concert with a first-party system, as is the case with most implementations of Facebook Connect. It’s as simple as asking the user, “do you give us permission to import your data from Facebook?”

Facebook objects to this, while at the same time declaring that they’re on the side of the user. But, if the user owns their own data, should it be their choice to determine whether or not they can export data from Facebook into any site of their choosing? Google made this mistake when they shut down Orkut and have now down a total about-face on the subject.

I’m a believer in data portability. I think we, as businesses, will have plenty of opportunities and ways to convince consumers to provide us with personal data so we can improve their experience, make offers more relevant, and generally remove the clutter. The burden is on us to keep giving them great reasons to come back. I’m convinced that as long as we – as content owners, creators, programmers, product developers, and business owners – continue creating great experiences, users will continue to share their personal info with us, and no single company should have the ability to take ownership of your identity without your choice.

I hope someday we’ll see that “export your data” function in Facebook.