Sep 14

Data Liberation is great, but how about owning it?

Google, Tech with tags: 6 Comments »

It was exciting to see Fitz launch today. You probably saw it:

Users own the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.

It is a pretty big deal what Fitz and his “Data Liberation Front” has done. Not only do you have the politics of making it happen, but think of the logistics involved in getting teams at Google to prioritize import/export in front of other features. It takes a lot of time. Good on you for fighting the fight guys.

Ragavan has posted some thoughts linking to the Guardian article and Glyn Moody.

I agree that this is a huge step, but very much the first step:

  • Being able to import/export data is a good start
  • Being able to say “delete all notion of my being here” is important
  • Having fine grained control of access is great
  • Being the center of the gravity of your own data, where you grant access and rights to it, would be awesome.

It is great to see a light shining on the issue. Hopefully this is the start of a conversation. One where we can discuss who owns our data, and where we can clearly recognize the rights that we have. I want to be able to understand your business model and see the value that you give me. Then, I can decide what access to my data I want to give. Ragavan has some good words here:

Personally, I think Data liberation (or data portability as it has been called formerly) applies as much to your data as it does to data about you. One of the big concerns about Google (and a number of other cloud computing players) is the amount of data they have compiled about you – online profiling, if you will. What sites you visit, what you buy, your likes and dislikes, your email – everything is mined, processed and used to improve your web experience (and to serve you ads).

So, while you may be able to liberate your data and move it to a different service, it is unclear what it means with regards to your online profile. I guess you could export your web history, but is that all Google knows about me? In fact, what does Google know about me? A related question that would be good to get clarification on is whether there is an option to permanently delete your data once you’ve exported it.

Another factor to consider is how you define what “your data” is. For example, if you look at it as just exporting your photos out of Picasa and importing them to flickr, I’d posit that’s a rather simplistic view. A large part of what makes your data useful and valuable is all the relationships associated with it. I share my photos with my friends and family, I license some under Creative Commons, I group them, I tag them – all of these make my data very context rich. How do you liberate this context? And if you do, what does it mean to import them elsewhere?

These are hard questions and I’m sure there are several more to ask. But these are the very questions that need to be answered as we move towards the people-centric web (or the you-centric web as some of us like to call it).