Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.

Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services. The DTP could potentially offer a solution to a major problem with social networks I detailed in April: you can’t find your friends from one app on another. We’ve asked Facebook for details on if and how you’ll be able to transfer your social connections and friends’ contact info which it’s historically hoarded.

From porting playlists in music streaming services to health data from fitness trackers to our reams of photos and videos, the DTP could be a boon for startups. Incumbent tech giants maintain a huge advantage in popularizing new functionality because they instantly interoperate with a user’s existing data rather than making them start from scratch. Even if a social networking startup builds a better location sharing feature, personalized avatar, or payment system, it might be a lot easier to use Facebook’s clone of it because that’s where your profile, friends, and photos live.

If the DTP gains industry-wide momentum and its founding partners cooperate in good faith rather than at some bare minimum level of involvement, it could lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Meanwhile, the tech giants could argue that the government shouldn’t step in to regulate them or break them up because DTP means users are free to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram launches “Data Download” tool to let you leave

Instagram launches “Data Download” tool to let you leave

Two weeks ago TechCrunch called on Instagram to build an equivalent to Facebook’s “Download Your Information feature so if you wanted to leave for another photo sharing network, you could. The next day it announced this tool would be coming and now TechCrunch has spotted it rolling out to users. Instagram’s “Data Download” feature can be accessed here or through the app’s privacy settings. It lets users export their photos, videos, archived Stories, profile, info, comments, and non-ephemeral messages, though it can take a few hours to days for your download to be ready.

An Instagram spokesperson now confirms to TechCrunch that “the Data Download tool is currently accessible to everyone on the web, but access via iOS and Android is still rolling out.” The download contains you profile info, photos, videos, archived Stories (those posted after December 2017), your post and story captions, your uploaded contacts, the usernames of your followers and people you follow, Direct messages, non-ephemeral Direct message photos and videos, comments, Likes, searches, and settings.

The tool’s launch is necessary for Instagram to comply with the data portability rule in European Union’s GDPR privacy law that goes into effect on May 25th. But it’s also a reasonable concession. Instagram has become the dominant image sharing social network with over 800 million users. It shouldn’t need to lock up users’ data in order to keep them around.

[Update: WhatsApp announced today that it too will be rolling out a Data Download tool to all users globally with its next app update as part of its GDPR compliance. Users will be able to export their “account info” which includes their profile photo and group names, but not messages which can be exported or backed up by some phones. WhatsApp is increasing the minimum age to use its app from 13 to 16 in Europe (though it will stay 13 everywhere else). It’s also set up a business entity for operating in Europe, and clarified that it doesn’t share user data with Facebook though it hopes to if regulators let it in the future. However it does share security and anti-spam data to block bad actors on both apps.]

Instagram hasn’t been afraid to attack competitors and fight dirty. Most famously, it copied Snapchat’s Stories in August 2016, which now has over 300 million daily users — eclipsing the original. But it also cut off GIF-making app Phhhoto from its Find Friends feature, then swiftly cloned its core feature to launch Instagram Boomerang. Within a few years, Phhhoto had shut down its app.

If Instagram is going to ruthlessly clone and box out its competitors, it should also let users choose which they want to use. That’s tough if all your photos and videos are trapped inside another app. The tool could create a more level playing field for competition amongst photo apps.

It could also deter users from using sketchy third-party apps to scrape all their Instagram content. Since they typically require you to log in with your Instagram credentials, these put users at risk of being hacked or having their images used elsewhere without their consent. Considering Facebook launched its DYI tool in 2010, six years after the site launched, the fact that it took Instagram 8 years from launch to build this means it’s long overdue.

But with such strong network effect and its willingness to clone any popular potential rival, it may still take a miracle or a massive shift to a new computing platform for any app to dethrone Instagram.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook shouldn’t block you from finding friends on competitors

Facebook shouldn’t block you from finding friends on competitors

Twitter, Vine, Voxer, MessageMe. Facebook has repeatedly cut off competitors from its feature for finding your Facebook friends on their apps… after jumpstarting its own social graph by convincing people to upload their Gmail contacts. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Download Your Information tool merely exports a text list of friends’ names you can’t use elsewhere.

As Congress considers potential regulation following Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies, it should prioritize leveling the playing field for aspiring alternatives to Facebook and letting consumers choose where to social network. And as a show of good faith and argument against it abusing its monopoly, Facebook should make our friend list truly portable.

It’s time to free the social graph — to treat it as a fundamental digital possession, the way the Telecommunications Act of 1996 protects your right to bring your phone number with you to a new network.

The two most powerful ways to do this would be for Facebook to stop, or Congress to stop it from, blocking friend finding on competitors like it’s done in the past to Twitter and more. And Facebook should change its Download Your Information tool to export our friend list in a truly interoperable format. When you friend someone on Facebook, they’re not just a name. They’re someone specific amongst often many with the same name, and Facebook should be open to us getting connected with them elsewhere.

Facebook takes data it won’t give

While it continues til this day, back in 2010 Facebook goaded users to import their Gmail address books so they could add them as Facebook friends. But it refused to let users export the email addresses of their friends to use elsewhere. That led Google to change its policy and require data portability reciprocity from any app using its Contacts API.

So did Facebook back off? No. It built a workaround, giving users a deep link to download their Gmail contacts from Google’s honorable export tool. Facebook then painstakingly explained to users how to upload that file so it could suggest they friend all those contacts.

Google didn’t want to stop users from legitimately exporting their contacts, so it just put up a strongly worded warning to Gmail users: “Trap my contacts now: Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out? . . . Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data.” And Google offered to let you “Register a complaint over data protectionism.”

Eight years later, Facebook has grown from a scrappy upstart chasing Google to become one of the biggest, most powerful players on the internet. And it’s still teaching users how to snatch their Gmail contacts’ email addresses while only letting you export the names of your friends — unless they opt-in through an obscure setting, because it considers contact info they’ve shared as their data, not yours. Whether you should be allowed to upload other people’s contact info to a social network is a bigger question. But it is blatant data portability hypocrisy for Facebook to encourage users to import that data from other apps but not export it.

In some respects, it’s good that you can’t mass-export the email addresses of all your Facebook friends. That could enable spamming, which probably isn’t what someone had in mind when they added you as friend on Facebook. They could always block, unfriend or mute you, but they can’t get their email address back. Facebook is already enduring criticism about how it handled data privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yet the idea that you could find your Facebook friends on other apps is a legitimate reason for the platform to exist. It’s one of the things that’s made Facebook Login so useful and popular. Facebook’s API lets certain apps check to see if your Facebook friends have already signed up, so you can easily follow them or send them a connection request. But Facebook has rescinded that option when it senses true competition.

Data protectionism

Twitter is the biggest example. Facebook didn’t and still doesn’t let you see which of your Facebook friends are on Twitter, even though it has seven times as many users. Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, frustrated in 2010, said that “They see their social graph as their core asset, and they want to make sure there’s a win-win relationship with anybody who accesses it.”

Facebook went on to establish a formal policy that said that apps that wanted to use its Find Friends tool had to abide by these rules:

  •  If you use any Facebook APIs to build personalized or social experiences, you must also enable people to easily share their experiences back with people on Facebook.

  • You may not use Facebook Platform to promote, or to export user data to, a product or service that replicates a core Facebook product or service without our permission.

Essentially, apps that piggybacked on Facebook’s social graph had to let you share back to Facebook, and couldn’t compete with it. It’s a bit ironic, given Facebook’s overarching strategy for years has been “replicate core functionality.” From cloning Twitter’s asymmetrical follow and Trending Topics to Snapchat’s Stories and augmented reality filters, all the way back to cribbing FriendFeed’s News Feed and Facebook’s start as a rip-off of the Winklevii’s HarvardConnection.

Restrictions against replicating core functionality aren’t unheard of in tech. Apple’s iOS won’t let you run an App Store from inside an app, for example. But Facebook’s selective enforcement of the policy is troubling. It simply ignores competing apps that never get popular. Yet if they start to grow into potential rivals, Facebook has swiftly enforced this policy and removed their Find Friends access, often inhibiting further growth and engagement.

Here are few of examples of times Facebook has cut off competitors from its graph:

  • Voxer was one of the hottest messaging apps of 2012, climbing the charts and raising a $30 million round with its walkie-talkie-style functionality. In early January 2013, Facebook copied Voxer by adding voice messaging into Messenger. Two weeks later, Facebook cut off Voxer’s Find Friends access. Voxer CEO Tom Katis told me at the time that Facebook stated his app with tens of millions of users was a “competitive social network” and wasn’t sharing content back to Facebook. Katis told us he thought that was hypocritical. By June, Voxer had pivoted toward business communications, tumbling down the app charts and leaving Facebook Messenger to thrive.
  • MessageMe had a well-built chat app that was growing quickly after launching in 2013, posing a threat to Facebook Messenger. Shortly before reaching 1 million users, Facebook cut off MessageMe‘s Find Friends access. The app ended up selling for a paltry double-digit millions price tag to Yahoo before disintegrating.
  • Phhhoto and its fate show how Facebook’s data protectionism encompasses Instagram. Phhhoto’s app that let you shoot animated GIFs was growing popular. But soon after it hit 1 million users, it got cut off from Instagram’s social graph in April 2015. Six months later, Instagram launched Boomerang, a blatant clone of Phhhoto. Within two years, Phhhoto shut down its app, blaming Facebook and Instagram. “We watched [Instagram CEO Kevin] Systrom and his product team quietly using PHHHOTO almost a year before Boomerang was released. So it wasn’t a surprise at all . . . I’m not sure Instagram has a creative bone in their entire body.”
  • Vine had a real shot at being the future of short-form video. The day the Twitter-owned app launched, though, Facebook shut off Vine’s Find Friends access. Vine let you share back to Facebook, and its six-second loops you shot in the app were a far cry from Facebook’s heavyweight video file uploader. Still, Facebook cut it off, and by late 2016, Twitter announced it was shutting down Vine.

As I wrote in 2013, “Enforcement of these policies could create a moat around Facebook. It creates a barrier to engagement, retention, and growth for competing companies.” But in 2018, amongst whispers of anti-trust action, Facebook restricting access to its social graph to protect the dominance of its News Feed seems egregiously anti-competitive.

That’s why Facebook should pledge to stop banning competitors from using its Find Friends tool. If not, congress should tell Facebook that this kind of behavior could lead to more stringent regulation.

Friends aren’t just names

When Senator John Neely Kennedy asked Zuckerberg this week, “are you willing to give me the right to take my data on Facebook and move it to another social media platform?”, Zuckerberg claimed that “Senator, you can already do that. We have a Download Your Information tool where you can go get a file of all the content there, and then do whatever you want with it.”

But that’s not exactly true. You can export your photos that can be easily uploaded elsewhere. But your social graph — all those confirmed friend requests — gets reduced to a useless string of text. Download Your Information spits out merely a list of your friends’ names and the dates on which you got connected. There’s no unique username. No link to their Facebook profile. Nothing you can use to find them on another social network beyond manually typing in their names.

That’s especially problematic if your friends have common names. There are tons of John Smiths on Facebook, so finding him on another social network with just a name will require a lot of sleuthing, or guess-work. Depending on where you live, locating a particular Garcia, Smirnov or Lee could be quite difficult. Facebook even built a short-lived feature called Friendshake to help you friend someone nearby amongst everyone in their overlapping name space.

When I asked about this, Facebook told me that users can opt-in to having their email or phone number included in the Download Your Information export. But this privacy setting is buried and little-known. Just 4 percent of my friends, centered around tech savvy San Francisco, had enabled it.

As I criticized way back in 2010 when Download Your Information launched, “The data can be used as a diary, or to replace other information from a hard drive crash or stolen computer — but not necessarily to switch to a different social network.”

Given Facebook’s iron grip on the Find Friends API, users deserve decentralized data portability — a way to take their friends with them that Facebook can’t take back. That’s what Download Your Information should offer, but doesn’t.

Social graph portability

This is why I’m calling on Facebook to improve the data portability of your friend connections. Give us the same consumer protections that make phone numbers portable.

At the very least Facebook should include your friends’ unique Facebook username and URL. But true portability would mean you could upload the list to another social network to find your friends there.

One option would be for Facebook’s export to include a privacy-safe, hashed version of your friends’ email address that they signed up with and share with you. Facebook could build a hashed email lookup tool so that if you uploaded these nonsensical strings of characters to another app, they could cross-reference them against Facebook’s database of your friends. If there’s a match, the app could surface that person as someone with whom you might want to reconnect. Effectively, this would let you find friends elsewhere via email address without Facebook ever giving you or other apps a human-readable list of their contact info.

If you can’t take your social graph with you, there’s little chance for a viable alternative to Facebook to arise. It doesn’t matter if a better social network emerges, or if Facebook disrespects your privacy, because there’s nowhere to go. Opening up the social graph would require Facebook to compete on the merit of its product and policies. Trying to force the company’s hand with a variety of privacy regulations won’t solve the core issue. But the prospect of users actually being able to leave would let the market compel Facebook to treat us better.

For more on Facebook’s challenges with data privacy, check out TechCrunch’s feature stories:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram will let you download your content after criticism about portability

Instagram will let you download your content after criticism about portability

Yesterday we reported that Instagram lacked data portability, knocking the app for the absence of an equivalent to Facebook’s Download Your Information too. Now an Instagram spokesperson tells me “We are building a new data portability tool. You’ll soon be able to download a copy of what you’ve shared on Instagram, including your photos, videos and messages.”

This tool could make it much easier for users to leave Instagram and go to a competing image social network. And as long as it launches before May 25th, it will help Instagram to comply with upcoming European GDPR privacy law that requires data portability.

Instagram has historically made it very difficult to export your data. You can’t drag, or tap and hold on images to save them. And you can’t download images you’ve already posted. That’s despite Instagram now being almost 8 years old and having over 800 million users. For comparison, Facebook launched its Download Your Information tool in 2010, just six years after launch.

We’re awaiting more info on whether you’ll only be able to download your photos, videos, and messages; or if you’ll also be able to export your following and follower lists, Likes, comments, Stories, and the captions you share with posts. It’s also unclear whether photos and videos will export in the full fidelity that they’re uploaded or displayed in, or whether they’ll be compressed. Instagram told me “we’ll share more details very soon when we actually launch the tool. But at a high level it allows you to download and export what you have shared on Instagram” so we’ll have to wait for more clarity.

If Instagram does offer uncompressed downloads of the same image quality as it shows on its app, the Download Your Information tool could make unofficial third-party export apps like InstaPort obsolete. That would be a win for users since these apps are sometimes run by unscrupulous developers who could misuse your content or the Instagram login credentials you need to use them.

Portability could facilitate the rise of legitimate competitors to Instagram, or at least let users back up their content on an image storage app or their own computer. But still, it’s Instagram’s social graph and the data it’s gathered about your interests that help it tune its algorithm to show you the most relevant posts. This personalization moat can leave rivals with similar features unable to provide a similar level of service.

If Instagram wanted to truly level the playing field, it would let you export your social graph in a privacy-safe format that would let users find and follow those same people on a different app. But the announcement of this data portability tool is a much-needed first step to unlocking Instagram’s content vault.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the “8 social apps” he cites as competition

Mark Zuckerberg’s flimsy defense when congress asked about a lack of competition to Facebook has been to cite that the average American uses eight social apps. But that conveniently glosses over the fact that Facebook owns three of the top 10 U.S. iOS apps: #4 Instagram, #6 Messenger, and #8 Facebook according to App Annie. The top 3 apps are games. Facebook is building its Watch video hub to challenge #5 YouTube, and has relentlessly cloned Stories to beat #7 Snapchat. And Facebook also owns #19 WhatsApp. Zoom in to just “social networking apps”, and Facebook owns the entire top 3.

“The average American I think uses eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of different choice and a lot of innovation and activity going on in this space” Zuckerberg said when asked about whether Facebook is a monopoly by Senator Graham during yesterday’s Senate hearing, and he’s trotted out that same talking point that was on his note sheet during today’s House testimony.

But Facebook has relentlessly sought to acquire or co-opt the features of its competitors. That’s why any valuable regulation will require congress to prioritize competition. That means either breaking up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; avoiding rules that are easy for Facebook to comply with but prohibitively expensive for potential rivals to manage; or ensuring data portability that allows users to choose where to take their content and personal information.

Breaking up Facebook, or at least preventing it from acquiring established social networks in the future, would be the most powerful way to promote competition in the space. Facebook’s multi-app structure creates economies of scale in data that allow it to share ad targeting and sales teams, backend engineering, and relevancy-sorting algorithms. That makes it tough for smaller competitors without as much money or data to provide the public with more choice.

Regulation done wrong could create a moat for Facebook, locking in its lead. Complex transparency laws might be just a paperwork speed bump for Facebook and its army of lawyers, but could be too onerous for upstart companies to follow. Meanwhile, data collection regulation could prevent competitors from ever building as large of a data war chest as Facebook has already generated.

Data portability gives users the option to choose the best social network for them, rather than being stuck where they already are. Facebook provides a Download Your Information tool for exporting your content. But photos come back compressed, and you don’t get the contact info of friends unless they opt in. The list of friends’ names you receive doesn’t allow you to find them on other apps the way contact info would. Facebook should at least offer a method for your exporting hashed version of that contact info that other apps could use to help you find your friends there without violating the privacy of those friends. Meanwhile, Instagram entirely lacks a Download Your Information tool.

Congress should push Zuckerberg to explain what apps compete with Facebook as a core identity provider, an omni-purpose social graph, or cross-platform messaging app. Without choice, users are at the mercy of Facebook’s policy and product examples. All of the congressional questions about data privacy and security don’t mean much to the public if they have no viable alternative to Facebook. The fact that Facebook owns or clones the majority of the 8 social apps used by the average American is nothing for Zuckerberg to boast about.

 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instagram traps data without a Download Your Information tool

Instagram traps data without a Download Your Information tool

It’s hard to #DeleteFacebook with no viable alternative, but at least you can export all your data. There’s no such option on Instagram . That lack of data portability puts users at the mercy of Instagram’s product and policy decisions. And it could even put users at risk, as those who seek to back up their accounts and content are forced to use unofficial third-party apps that require their password.

[Update 4/11/18: After criticizing its absence yesterday, Instagram announced today it plans to launch a data portability tool that will let you export your photos, videos, and messages. Read more about it here.]

Facebook launched its Download Your Information tool in 2010, six years after the social network launched. It lets you export a zip file of all your status updates, photos, profile info, messages, friend lists and a whole lot more. The idea is that if you wanted to ditch Facebook, you could take your data with you and get set up on some other social network. The fact that you only get a list of your friends’ names by default, not their email addresses or another way to easily find them on different apps, limits that power. But at least you get all the content you created.

Soon to be eight years old, Instagram still lacks its own version of Download Your Information. When asked about this, an Instagram spokesperson merely said, “Instagram does not currently have a data portability tool.”

Instagram doesn’t even offer a way to download your photos or videos after you share them to its feed. Unlike most apps and websites, you can’t just tap and hold on a photo to save it to your phone. The closest option is to use Instagram’s “share via email” feature, which sends a saveable version of an image. Otherwise, you need to set Instagram to save images when you post them.

Third-party tools have cropped up to fill the gap, but their security and privacy practices can be questionable. Vibbi InstaPort, Insta Saver, 4K Download and Picodash are a few. These services typically require you to log in with your Instagram credentials, which puts your username and password at risk of leaking to hackers. It’s also unclear what else could happen to your images once they export them. And the fact that some of these services, like InstaPort, offer to sell you Instagram followers too shows how scammy they can be. Perhaps the best bet for users is this open-sourced InstaLooter tool, but it requires some technical know-how to retrieve your photos and videos.

The rest of your profile information, photos you’re tagged in, people you follow or who follow you, your Likes and comments and any other Instagram data is all trapped in the app. The European GDPR privacy law goes into effect on May 25th, so Instagram may need to offer a data portability tool by then. Perhaps Congress should ask Zuckerberg about this during his testimonies over the next two days.

The problem is that without portability, there’s less chance of a legitimate rival to Instagram emerging. Snapchat’s ephemerality makes it too different. That absence means there’s nowhere to go if users are fed up with Instagram’s algorithm or other issues. This is partly why the #DeleteUber campaign peaked much higher in terms of Twitter mentions than #DeleteFacebook, despite having a much smaller user base. Those pissed at Uber could switch to Lyft without changing their behavior much. There’s no equivalent alternative to Facebook or Instagram.

#DeleteUber peaked higher than #DeleteFacebook because apps like Lyft give Uber users a viable alternative. An Instagram Download Your Information tool could promote competition.

The U.S. government may have been shortsighted to let Facebook acquire Instagram in 2012 for $715 million. Now at more than 800 million monthly users, Instagram joining Facebook led to a massive centralization of social networking that gives users fewer options. But even with the backlash against big tech and Facebook, it seems unlikely that the government has the resolve to break up Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

At the very least, Instagram should give users the ability to leave without losing their visual history. If Instagram and Facebook are going to remain united as one company, the same data portability tools should be available to both. That way, if someone actually did build a decent competitor, users could choose where they want to put their windows to the world. At the Download Your Information tool launch in 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself said, “Stuff that you put into the site, you should be able to take out.”

A day after this article, Instagram announced it will launch a data portability tool:

Source: Mobile – Techcruch