Data Portability is Not a Right

Posted on January 4, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

The tech blogosphere frequently likes to get its panties in a knot over nothing. And so it was that advertising expert and tech blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble sparked a fury when . It turns out that he was violating Facebook’s terms of service by testing a Plaxo application designed to export data from Facebook into Plaxo. Facebook reinstated Scoble’s account after he promised to be a good boy, but the incident has caused a debate over data portability in Web 2.0. Unsurprisingly, the same people that are telling us content wants to be free (i.e. it’s okay to steal music and movies) are telling us that data wants to be free. According to these purists, companies like Facebook should allow users to take their data and do with it whatever they want.

It’s a hot button topic. Scoble even and some, like my favorite blogger Duncan Riley, have to some extent. After all, Duncan stated, “to be fair there is some substance in the comparison, because ultimately supporting open access to data is a positive thing, and passive resistance is an ideal way to go about bringing change.” Brilliant. Personally, because Scoble probably weighs at least 75 pounds more than Gandhi did during even his non-fasting years, I think it’s a bad comparison. Scoble probably recognizes this and that’s why he his “fight” to the Boston Tea Party. Such a modest man.

Bud I digress. There seems to be an opinion that data portability is some sort of human right and that companies not supportive of it are guilty of an atrocious violation. I disagree and here’s why:

Facebook to participate in a DataPortability Work Group. Maybe the company will accept the invitation, but I think Web 2.0 hippies need to get realistic: companies have no “cultural and ethical imperative” to make their data free. I’m always amused that in a world where billions of people live in abject poverty, holier-than-thou geeks with no real-world perspective somehow think that the fate of a just society resides with the outcome of bullshit debates like those over data portability.

The bottom line is that if a company thinks that data portability can be beneficial, it should implement it. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t. I’m not going to predict which approach is better because I think it can vary from company-to-company and will depend on how data portability is implemented.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting commentary on this entire subject was made by Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins, who exclaimed “Forget Kenya, Let’s Talk Scoble-gate!” Yes, while Kenya is burning, the blogosphere has been ablaze with talk about Scoble. Perhaps Mark needs to re-evaluate just how well citizen journalism works. The mainstream blogosphere’s coverage of Scoble at the expense of coverage on important topics like Kenya is no different that the mainstream media’s coverage of celebrity gossip at the expense of substantive issues. To the mainstream media’s credit however, when I logged on to, and Yahoo! News this morning, there was at least one story about Kenya on the front page. No stories about Scoble. Thank god for little things.

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7 Responses to “Data Portability is Not a Right”

  1. Chris Saad on January 5th, 2008 5:53 am

    The issue is not if DataPortability is good for Facebook, but rather if it is good for end-users. Because in a user-centric world users need to come first.

    The point is that it is time for web-based apps to compete on service, not on data.

  2. Drama 2.0 on January 5th, 2008 11:31 am

    “The point is that it is time for web-based apps to compete on service, not on data.”

    No offense Chris, but I think, at best, you’re being overly idealistic, and at worst, downright naive. We’re talking about businesses here, not charities. Businesses compete in lots of ways and expecting that all of them will decide to throw away certain competitive advantages because they have some sort of imperative to compete on “service” instead is ridiculous. This is the real world, not a utopia. And while being user-centric can sometimes be good for business, the real world is first and foremost money-centric.

    I also stand by my assertion that most users probably care a whole lot less about data portability than Silicon Valley geeks. That is, if they even know what “data portability” is.

  3. Alex Linhares on January 5th, 2008 12:23 pm

    What is Kenya? More importantly, can I get my data out from it? Do you know of any tool to do it? If not, let’s build the darn thing!

  4. Drama 2.0 on January 5th, 2008 1:33 pm

    Kenya is the codename for Microsoft’s open social networking platform. It’s supposed to blow OpenSocial out of the water. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

  5. Drama’s Roundup - January 11, 2008 : The Drama 2.0 Show on January 11th, 2008 4:01 pm

    […] take solace in the fact that things are going great in the world of Web 2.0. That’s right, data portability is gaining steam with more and more great companies joining the DataPortability Work Group. Pay no […]

  6. What’s With All the Love? : The Drama 2.0 Show on January 29th, 2008 3:51 am

    […] I’m all about the sell. She’s obsessed with data portability, I think data portability is bullshit. She dreams about giant, pulsating tag clouds, I dream about upgrading from my 80-foot yacht to a […]

  7. Data Portability is Boring on March 2nd, 2008 4:14 pm

    […] portability is a hot topic in the Web 2.0 community. I’ve previously weighed in with my opinion: data portability is not a universal right and the value a company may […]

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.