DataPortability: The Good and The Bad (on Identities)

I recently came across this video seems to explain the buzzword “data portability” simply enough.

After all my rants about the problem of walled gardens (like Facebook), open standards like APML, OpenID (which Yahoo! recently adopted), microformats, RSS, OPML, and more, are now being (crowdsourced-ly) rolled into a integrated (hopefully coherent) reference package for information architects to improve web services, to a point where we might some day be able to share personal information, media and contacts, freely between existing trusted networks.

Quoting their byline:

DataPortability gathers existing open standards into a blueprint for a social, open, remixable web where your online identity, media, contacts and content can follow you wherever you go. Find out more at

So promising, I couldn’t agree more with Charlene Li who hopes this puts an end to her networking fatigue: “[…] new “friends” on Facebook, “followers” on Twitter, “connections” on LinkedIn, “business connections” on Plaxo, and the latest that has put me over the edge, “trust contacts” on Spock. Social networking fatigue has finally hit me.”

All this could mean one login for access to all web services, to all your media wherever they are being shared. Great right? Not so fast… I’m all for convenience, but I’m also looking for potential problems. For one, there could be privacy invasion of a different sort.

Legitimizing boyd’s law
A single identity for all your online activities probably compounds a red flag Cory Doctorow explains as boyd’s law, which refers to how “[a]dding more users to a social network [site] increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.”

Initially, Cory meant that we tend to “not refuse” friend adds on social networks, to a point where our profiles might get over-saturated and unusable. We might tend turn to set up newer, more private accounts to seize back control of our networked lives (thus social networks and their built-in self destructs). I’m realizing that data portability could make it many times worse, by making public evidence of linked identities, be it through crossover contacts or media.

To picture this, we often behave differently under different networks: We’re formal on LinkedIn, casual on Facebook, and possibly overtly relaxed on MySpace. By not having an electronic border around these selves, we then have to deal with a collision of the selves when friends cross-breed from different networks and discover all the other bits about you.

A Workaround?
What I’ve mentioned is a worse-case scenario, which is likely not to happen. I’d believe that the DataPortability group will include ways to protect your various profiles from being linked publicly. Meantime, it’s back to practicing good old Internet safety. While you can’t control what others might share about you online, you should at least build enough presence to manage how you are being portrayed online. For one, perhaps this is a benefit of blogging… since every seasoned blogger would naturally be their own public relations officer.

5 thoughts on “DataPortability: The Good and The Bad (on Identities)

  1. Well, there is a concept such as granular privacy control, isn’t there? Data portability will have to implement that in some way or will fail miserably.

    In the picture you paint (which is indeed a “worst-case scenario”) sharing a cross-medial profile would certainly be something a lot of people would simply not be prepared to do.

    Otherwise, I’m all for it and can’t wait. I hope it tracks the comments I make in a better way too; I’m still eager for a service that does that decently.

  2. Nils: Privacy is a mentioned as a focus of the project, so I’ve no doubt that this is but a figment of my sadistic imagination. I do want DataPortability to work… it simply has to!

    As for comments, I’d like there to be more connections between my relevant comments. I’ve tried CoComment, then there’s the interesting Disqus which somehow creates a forum and integrates that with the comment system for your blog. Seen anything better?

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