Technology

Facebook pushes for data portability legislation ahead of new privacy rules

Brazil's General Data Protection Law, which will be enforced in 2021, will require data portability as similar regulations in Europe and California

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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  • Facebook pushed for rules to make it easier for users to transfer photos and videos to a rival tech platform;
  • In April, the social network allowed users in the United States and Canada to transfer photos and videos to Alphabet-owned Google Photos for the first time.

Facebook pushed for rules to make it easier for users to transfer photos and videos to a rival tech platform. The company did this in comments it sent on Friday to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ahead of a hearing on the topic on Sept. 22.

Data portability is a requirement under a slate of new privacy laws that have been passing around the world. The most notorious of them is Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but Brazil is also set to impose similar regulations under its General Data Protection Law (LGPD, its acronym in Portuguese). 

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Initially scheduled for August 2020, LGPD was postponed to May 2021, due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic – and it may be enforced later still. Nevertheless, one of its provisions says explicitly that users of digital platforms are entitled to “data portability to another service or product supplier, upon express request, in accordance with the regulations of the national authority, subject to commercial and industrial secrets.”

California’s privacy law, called the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), is another example of such rules. Data portability – considered a potential remedy for large technology companies whose control of social media material makes it harder for smaller rivals to get started – has become a key part of the antitrust and data protection debate.

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In April, Facebook allowed users in the United States and Canada to transfer photos and videos to Alphabet-owned Google Photos for the first time – a move that is likely to help the company respond to U.S. regulators and lawmakers, who are investigating its competitive practices and allegations it has stifled competition.

The FTC often issues reports following these workshops. I think their recommendations should include dedicated portability legislation.

Bijan Madhani, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook

Facebook said a portability bill called the Access Act, already doing the rounds in U.S. Congress from Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner and Republican senator Josh Hawley, is a good first step. It would require large tech platforms to let their users easily move their data to other services.

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Facebook has engaged with the lawmakers on it and will continue working with them, Madhani added.

He said Facebook is seeking regulatory guidance, in the form of an independent body or regulator, in answering policy questions and helping them address liability issues tied to portability.

The social media platform is also pressing for more clarity on what kinds of data should be portable and who is responsible for protecting such information as it moves to different services, he added.

In April, the company said it eventually hopes to allow users to move key data such as their contacts and friend lists onto another platform in a way that protects user privacy.

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Facebook developed its data portability tool as a member of the Data Transfer Project – formed to allow web users to easily move their data between online service providers whenever they want – which also counts Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Apple among its contributors.

Data governance is being adapted to forthcoming Brazilian regulation

With these changes, the social network is already beginning to adapt its users’ data governance according the LGPD, which will enter into force in Brazil. According to a statement entitled “Instagram data policy”, for example, there is a description of all user information used by the platform, also owned by Facebook, in the country. The new information security protocol includes Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

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Over the past few years, Facebook has been under public pressure on several fronts, from calls for it to stem the spread of disinformation to data protection and ensuring free speech. 

To that end, the company recently installed an Oversight Board, which may act as a kind of ‘high court’, to which users or Facebook itself may appeal about controversial issues. The big tech will be forced to abide by decisions made by the board, which include two experts hailing from Latin America: Brazilian Ronaldo Lemos and Colombian Catalina-Botero Marino.