If you ask anyone which social media platform has had the most problems with data in recent years, Facebook would most likely be the first one they name. The tech giant faced a very public backlash (and possible legal action) a while ago with the Cambridge Analytica issue.

Since then it has been pitching itself as the platform that cares, with a focus on making users feel like their data is safe, and will always be safe. Perhaps as part of that new focus, Facebook has just announced something that, to be honest, not many people would have expected it to, not even in this new cuddly Facebook era.

Facebook launches new video and photo transfer tool

So what has actually happened?

Facebook has announced that it has created a tool that will allow its users to transfer photos they have on Facebook to Google Photos. The company is calling it an ‘innovation’ in data portability. Basically, you can move your data somewhere else than Facebook, and it will be safe and easy to do. On the Facebook Newsroom, the company states:

“At Facebook, we believe that if you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. That’s the principle of data portability, which gives people control and choice while also encouraging innovation. Today, we’re releasing a tool that will enable Facebook users to transfer their Facebook photos and videos directly to other services, starting with Google Photos.”

Facebook Photos
Image: Facebook

The data portability thing

Data portability is, by default, a new term. Cambridge Analytica exposed the fact that user data has been hidden or effectively imprisoned for years now. When Facebook collected user data as part of it’s engagement, it sometimes ended up (unwittingly or otherwise) in the hands of other companies and groups.

So Facebook has, seemingly, embraced the idea of data portability. By allowing data to be moved from platform to platform, this shows users that their data is their own.

Putting the data ownership question aside, there seems to be a bigger issue (from Facebook’s point of view) at work here. By allowing data to be portable, especially data it has collected, Facebook is potentially opening itself up to competition.

How so? Well, once Facebook allows data to be taken elsewhere, it will automatically be forced to make its own platform so attractive that people choose to stay. This is huge, and it could mean that it encourages Facebook to be a better provider overall.

The whole thing feels like a first step along a very long road, but all credit to Facebook for opting to make the leap. The option will only be available to users in Ireland initially, and that’s quite indicative of the tentative nature of it all. Usually, Facebook is quite open to trying new things, simply because it has enough money to manage failures. With this move though, it has potentially huge consequences if there is a leak of data for example.

Facebook Competition

Meanwhile, Facebook is constantly reminding it’s users (and the media) about how it plans to ensure that data is safe and secure. Almost as if Facebook invented the concept of ‘safe data’. This, again from the Facebook Newsroom:

“The photo transfer tool we’re starting to roll out today is based on code developed through our participation in the open-source Data Transfer Project and will first be available to people in Ireland, with worldwide availability planned for the first half of 2020. People can access this new tool in Facebook settings within Your Facebook Information, the same place where you can download your information. We’ve kept privacy and security as top priorities, so all data transferred will be encrypted and people will be asked to enter their password before a transfer is initiated.”

Where it all goes now, we will find out in a matter of time, but don’t be surprised to see a huge media explosion in a few months, when Facebook is lauded as the ‘platform’ that invented the ‘new’ data portability.

It is unlike Mark Zuckerberg to loosen the reins, but this seems genuine, and it will also make Facebook more attractive. If it works.