Data To Go: An FTC Workshop on Data Portability

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On September 22, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission will host a public workshop to examine the potential benefits and challenges to consumers and competition raised by data portability. The workshop will include panel discussions on data portability initiatives, financial and health portability regimes, and the benefits and risks of portability. Speakers from the Federal Trade Commission, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and the European Commission will also be in attendance.

But what is data portability? As the name suggests, it refers to the ability of consumers to move data – such as, emails, contacts, calendars, and content posted on social media – from one service to another or to themselves. This means that, say, your friends list can be moved from instagram to facebook. In addition, data portability can benefit competition by allowing new users to access data they otherwise would not have so that they can grow competing platforms and services. This seamless transfer of data is something that modern society takes for granted.

However, portability also raises its own set of challenges and questions. For example, data that consumers want to move could include information about others, such as friends’ photos and comments. How should this data be treated? Moreover, in today’s world where cybercrime and hacking is a real and dangerous threat, how can data be transferred securely? Who has responsibility for ensuring that data portability is technically feasible? Does mandatory data access or data sharing affect companies’ incentives to invest in data-driven products and services?

Data portability is a timely topic. Data protection regulations in Europe and California’s Consumer Privacy Act both include data portability requirements, and companies serving customers in Europe and California have already begun providing consumers with the right to port their data. Major technology companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have created the Data Transfer Project with the goal of creating an open-source, service-to-service data portability platform.

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