Facebook today announced a new tool that would allow users to transfer their photos and videos from Facebook to other storage services, starting with Google Photos.
This tool would be similar to the one we already have that allows us to download our Facebook information. While I’m sure many users already have their photos backed up to Google’s repositories, those who don’t might find this easy to use when it eventually rolls out to everyone. At the moment, the tool is in testing, with the company taking feedback from its users.
The tool itself would be nifty enough, but it’s part of a larger endgame that involves Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter. All of these companies are part of the Data Transfer Project, an open-source project aimed at (as the name implies) making it so that “all individuals across the web could easily move their data between online service providers whenever they want.” So that means that Facebook’s tool could potentially work with, say, Microsoft’s OneDrive or Apple’s iCloud.
Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s Director of Privacy and Public Policy, says of potential privacy concerns: “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.” He also links to a Facebook white paper where the company ruminates on the conundrums in “data portability” — a paper that acknowledges photos are one of the easiest use cases: “It seems clear that people should be able to transfer data such as the photos they upload to a service.”
This tool isn’t being offered in a vacuum. Facebook’s currently the subject of scrutiny from antitrust regulators worried about its anti-competition tendencies. Actually, that might be underselling it. The FTC launched an investigation into Facebook in July for just this reason, as did the Department of Justice in September. Satterfield obliquely refers to this — or at least this among Facebook multitude of other problems — when he says “We’ve learned from our conversations with policymakers, regulators, academics, advocates and others that real-world use cases and tools will help drive policy discussions forward.”
Most likely this effort from the Data Transfer Project is born in response to the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Article 20 of the GDPR states:
The data subject shall have the right to receive the personal data concerning him or her, which he or she has provided to a controller, in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format and have the right to transmit those data to another controller without hindrance from the controller to which the personal data have been provided… [and] the data subject shall have the right to have the personal data transmitted directly from one controller to another, where technically feasible.
Facebook is currently testing the Photo Transfer tool in Ireland. It plans to make it available worldwide in the first half of 2020.