Tech titans join forces for the Data Transfer Project – so how will it work?

20 Jul 2018

This new data project could change how we deal with our data. Image: Yarygin/Shutterstock

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter are launching a new way to move data between platforms.

Between them, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft boast billions of users around the globe, and with these users comes vast swathes of data. Digital privacy and data protection are key issues in the public sphere at present, particularly following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the enforcement of GDPR on 25 May.

The Data Transfer Project (DTP) is an initiative from these major tech firms to make data portability a lot simpler for users.

Designed as a way to move data between platforms, it is described as letting users “transfer data directly from one service to another, without needing to download and re-upload it”.

At present, the system supports data transfer for mail, contacts, calendars, photos and tasks. It draws from publicly available APIs from the four companies already mentioned as well as Flickr, Instagram, Remember The Milk and SmugMug.

Data Transfer Project could shake things up

A large amount of these platforms already offer some form of tool for users to download their data, but it is not common for these features to be linked to other services. The usefulness of these services is questionable if users can’t easily upload and use their information on other platforms. While the DTP is not ready for general use yet, a whitepaper details the vision for the future of the project.

It was first envisioned as an open-source standard and will likely require a change in governance if it takes off.

The group said: “The DTP partners believe that people should use products because they provide unique value and features. If a user wants to switch to another product or service because they think it is better, they should be able to do so as easily as possible.

“This concept of allowing users to choose products and services based on choice, rather than being locked in, helps drive innovation and facilitates competition.”

Curious timing

The timing of the release is also notable. Many large technology companies have been weathering consistent PR storms over the past few months. From Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the upset caused by revelations around third-party developers reading Gmail messages. The advent of the DTP, an initiative that involves the creation of APIs to share data amid these developments, is curious.

Although GDPR is not mentioned in the whitepaper in any respect, the ruling was likely a key element of the DTP’s creation – it was formed in 2017.

If the DTP is a success, it could see new experimentation on developers’ parts, while the companies involved could possibly shed their reputation for data hoarding.

The openness offered by this model could be a relatively low-hassle way for massive tech firms to reduce regulatory scrutiny and accusations of monopolistic business practices. The group is asking for individuals, companies and developers to provide expertise and technical skills as improvements are sought.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects