Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Welcome to Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. Free My Data!

On your fourth day at Facebook, my data said to me: Sheryl will surely set us free.


But, let’s be realistic–getting ubiquitous data portability is about as likely as actually finding a partridge in a pear tree.

Still, here’s an issue the new COO can actually sink her teeth into, as the notion of who has the rights to your data on social-networking sites like Facebook and how much control you have over it yourself is a topic that will surely eventually become a political one (and politics was an arena in which Sandberg was involved as a staffer in the Clinton administration).

While I know Facebook this week joined in a Microsoft (MSFT) initiative–along with social-networking sites like LinkedIn, Tagged, Hi5, Bebo–on a new and, well, convoluted, scheme to allow users to move their relationship info between the services, I am sorry to say that it is just not enough. Not nearly enough.

Like the appalling situation in instant messaging, where the key services do not work together because companies put their interests ahead of consumers’ convenience, there should be an industry-wide standard to allow users to move a great deal, if not all, of their data among and between services of their choice.

Obviously, all photos and videos, as well as personal information inputted, should be easy to move. And I do realize there needs to be clear privacy parameters around moving data about your friends (who, in any case, gave you access to the data in the first place).

And I do realize this is a difficult technological issue, but you are all very smart, I am told, and have plenty of money to figure it out.

So why won’t it happen quickly?

In a post I wrote in January after blogger Robert Scoble got slapped by the company for using software to “scrape” his data from his Facebook profile, I noted an even more obvious reason.

I wrote: “More to the point, such an ability would be damaging to Facebook’s business plan around building a robust ad business. The success of that squarely relies on people staying and actively using the service because they have committed time and effort in putting up scads of information, photos and videos about themselves on the service, as well as establishing a complex and personally valuable network of friends.”

While sites like Facebook like to trot out privacy concerns about this particular issue of being able to digitally move friends’ data around without explicit permission (even though a person could physically copy all this data and move it anyway), to my mind, the issue has more to do with social-networking sites wanting to lock you into their services, rather than allowing you to do what you like.


It’s all very parental, but not very realistic.

In fact, I might have several services I use, like Facebook for fun and LinkedIn for work and MySpace to meet, say, fellow fans of Barry Manilow (yes, I am a Fanilow).

Thus, I would like to be able to move data around easily and without having to pick a certain camp to live in to do so.

After all, as the great Barry sings (sort of): Oh, Facebook, well, I came and I gave (my data) without taking.

Now, though, I want to take.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work