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Data in a handbag

July 2, 2012

Moving digital content between sharing sites or social media is next to impossible. Consumer rights groups are concerned. But planned EU laws could help.

A visitor uses a touch screen to check out cloud computing software applications
Cloud computing is taking the world by stormImage: Reuters

More and more people are uploading their photos, videos, audio or even their texts online in the form of blogs. But many do this without backing up for their content.

"People are creating content for the web, but they haven't reached the point where they can archive it, scrapbook it and pull it all in," says David Pakman, a partner at the New York based venture capitalist firm, Venrock. 

Pakman says people should be able to move their digital content anywhere.

The need to link and connect to your data is felt by many Internet users. It is one of the reasons for the success of Facebook Connect and Twitter Connect, which allow users to automatically transfer basic profile information.

But not everything is about ease of use.

German Commissioner for Data Protection and Information Freedom, Peter Schaar, says users should be able to switch services when the providers change terms and conditions or prices. No one is stopping you from moving, but if you have a lot of data, you might find it is no simple process.

"We have to find appropriate answers on Web 2.0 services and one answer might be data portability," Schaar told DW.

Peter Schaar, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information
Peter Schaar, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of InformationImage: dapd

Regulating the clouds

In January, the EU released a draft for new data protection regulations.

The proposals include the creation of a standard to allow users to transfer data from one service to another across all 27 EU member states.

If the regulation is approved by the European Parliament, individuals and companies could benefit. 

Cloud computing has taken off as an alternative to servers. Data is saved remotely - making it cheaper and more accessible to hold.

But companies and individuals who pay for cloud computing services are finding themselves increasingly tied to one provider. There is no way to easily transfer your data from one service provider to another because there is no standard.

"The people [at the European Commission] advocating this have always been consumer-oriented," Luca Schiavoni, Telecoms Regulation and Policy Associate Analyst at Ovum, told DW.

A win-win for all?

Schiavoni expects the directive to be passed with only a few changes.

As part of the EU's Digital Agenda, the Commission wants users to have more rights in telecommunications.

A user of Facebook logs on using an iPad
More than 250 million photos are uploaded everyday on FacebookImage: picture alliance/dpa

"The upside is that companies will have to deal with one framework for Europe as opposed to 27 coordinated across different authorities," Schiavoni said.

But despite the need for data portability and its advantages for Internet users, it is not expected to have big impact on social media.

"If we look at how social networks work, it does not depend on data portability," Schiavoni noted.

Platforms like Facebook or Google Plus are used by people who want to interact. When someone uploads digital content on these platforms, the aim is not to save it, but rather to share it with like-minded people. And because of this people are unlikely to move unless their friends - their networks - move as well.

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the current proposal on data portability in 2014 at the earliest. And if it passes, service providers will have another two years to comply.

Author: Chiponda Chimbelu
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany