The Backing For Data Portability Grows?

The portability of personal data (or rather the lack of it) has been a concern of regulators for a little while, but evidence of support in other areas is growing, not least within sections of the media and some users.

To date, regulator concern has been heavily focussed on social media, in particular because of actions such as Instagram's. Similar noises have been made around Facebook and Google amongst others.

Stereotypically, users are presented with a stark choice, accept the change regardless of privacy issues or lose what they may have come to see as a valuable and possibly essential service with little chance of moving to an alternative (even if one exists) because of the time and effort it would take to re-create the same store of data and experience.

The solution in regulator's eyes is to make personal data easily portable in electronic format between services, and couple this portability with a user deletion right (the so-called "right to be forgotten"): that way if someone does not like how their personal data is being treated, they have a greater ability to walk away taking their valuable data with them, incentivising service providers to stay on best behaviour.

The draft EU General Data Protection Regulation seeks to achieve this position, but has run into something of a storm over this and a number of other issues, not least due to the potential cost to organisations if such portability and delete-ability is made a blanket, one-rule-for-all, requirement.

The tide may be starting to slowly turn in the EU's favour though.

Firstly, in an editorial published on the 19th December, the FT championed the portability of data as the best way of ensuring competition and privacy concerns are addressed in the modern information age. In the FT’s words, “The bill for bringing the world closer together is falling due”, and such measures are part of the price to be paid. This is a significant development from such an influential, tech-savvy and business-orientated media organisation. (Interestingly the FT also highlighted the terminal decline of the arguably naïve view that “free” consumer online services are genuinely free. In its words, “Members are consumers; they are also the commodity”.)

Secondly, the UK Information Commissioner's Office in its consultation on subject access rights has highlighted a small trend towards people asking for information to be in electronic format, and encouraged organisations to use formats such as .CSV; holding out the possibility of best practice evolving organically in the very direction that the EU wish to achieve by new laws. It will be interesting to see if this trend grows in significance in 2013.

Such developments are only going to give the EU more ammunition in the debate over its EU General Data Protection Regulation data portability and "right to be forgotten" proposals.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.