Facebook calls for data portability laws as it expands the types of info users can transfer to other services


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FBFacebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, October 23, 2019.Erin Scott | Reuters

Facebook is renewing its calls for Congress to create guidelines about how online services should make users’ data available to transfer to other platforms as it expands its own feature to do just that.

Facebook announced Monday it’s expanding a tool that allows users to transfer their data to other services. Facebook will now enable users to transfer a copy of their posts and notes to Blogger, Google Docs and WordPress. The company already has a way for users to transfer their photos and videos to other services as well.

Lawmakers have advocated for so-called data portability functions as a way to level the playing field for newer entrants into the tech industry. Facebook has attracted antitrust scrutiny and is currently facing legal challenges from the Federal Trade Commission and a broad coalition of states for allegedly maintaining monopoly power illegally. Some lawmakers believe that if users could more easily take their data off of Facebook’s services, it could incentivize them to leave. This would then open a path for new innovators to grow in the social media space.

Facebook itself has advocated for data portability laws, and it is using Monday’s launch to illustrate how firmer guidelines around the process could enable a greater, and more secure, flow of data between services.

For example, when users transfer their posts and notes through the new feature, those transfers will not include comments from Facebook friends or posts that friends left on a users’ page. That’s because of the legal ambiguity that exists around who owns that data, especially in the absence of a federal digital privacy law. Facebook already got into trouble for how it granted a third-party developer access to friends’ user data without their explicit permission during the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In a white paper published in 2019, Facebook raised questions about whether a platform’s “social graph” — or their network of friends a user maintains on the platform — should be portable to other services. While the idea of