Facebook announced last week that it joined the Data Transfer Project—along with Twitter, Google and Microsoft—to help establish a common standard for the transfer of personal data between online services, but with the social network under fire due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy hiccups, director of product management David Baser addressed the question of why users should allow Facebook to share their data with other applications at all.
In a Newsroom post Thursday, Baser called mobile phones “our digital backpacks,” noting that they have become “our address books, maps, to do lists, photos and, increasingly, our wallets.”
He pointed out that the Facebook Platform enables people to easily accomplish tasks such as taking pictures and quickly sharing them via apps like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat; uploading Gmail contacts to Paperless Post in order to invite them to an event; or syncing a Fitbit to an app from Nike to help monitor health.
Baser also acknowledged the bad side of sharing user data, writing, “Particularly after Cambridge Analytica, we know that this flow of information has the potential for abuse. Bad actors can gather information from people and use it in ways that they aren’t aware of and didn’t agree too, like selling personal data to marketers. Facebook has clear policies against this, but as we saw with Cambridge Analytica, bad actors are more than willing to ignore these policies in pursuit of their own objectives.”
He pointed to recent steps the social network has taken, such as restricting apps to users’ names, profile pictures and email addresses when users login with Facebook and authorize them, as well as limiting developers’ ability to ask for additional private data when apps have not been used in the past three months.
Baser wrote, “These changes push us in the right direction, but protecting people’s information is never-ending work. And the entire tech industry must work together, since both sides of a data-sharing handshake need to be private. Nearly every day, news comes out from a different company about personal data that got into the hands of the wrong people. Even if we’re all taking steps to shore up our privacy protections, we won’t find the answers in a silo. Companies are connected—and our technology ecosystem can’t be reversed—so we need to work together on standards and best practices to make data portability a reality while also prioritizing people’s privacy and security.”
Finally, he summarized why users should trust the process, and why the Data Transfer Project is an important step: “Some argue that the best response to Cambridge Analytica would be to lock Facebook down completely so apps can’t get access to this kind of information. But limiting people’s ability to share information would erase the conveniences we enjoy. After all, the ability to share your contacts with Venmo or Spotify, or move your digital profile en masse between services with tools like Download Your Information, has tremendous value. And at the end of the day, you should be able to move your information where you want.”