Do all SaaS services allow users to export their own data?

(Via Quora, with slight edits:)

(All details correct only at the time of writing)

The GDPR has thankfully given individuals greater rights to access data held by organizations about them. (Of course, this has some caveats in practice: the data subjects have to be EU citizens residents to avail of the protection afforded under the Regulation by the European Union — among other fine technical points.)

As readers of this blog are by now surely aware I have a (personal) and longstanding interest in keeping copies of all my own data — whether it’s on my local network, on a cloud I manage, or on a private cloud operated by a SaaS company which I entrust my data to. (If not, check out my backup documentation).

For that reason, I have begun a Github project documenting the data export approaches of various cloud providers.

Observations and Comparison

Some observations from that process so far:

  • The approaches taken by SaaS companies and cloud providers are highly inconsistent and non-standardized: They range all the way from “we let you export all your data automatically at any time” (Twitter) to “here’s a chunk of JSON for you; do what you like with it” (Trello) to “write to our support people and we’ll do it within 30 days” (Reddit) to “only if you pay us” (Asana).
  • Some companies only allow you to export your own data if you are a paid customer. See above.
  • Some SaaS companies provide users with the ability to automatically create on-demand exports/snapshots of the data they have generated by using the service. Others (at the time of writing: Reddit, Quora) require that you interface with a human on their support team to request the data export who will then deliver it back via a support ticket (or directly through the platform) within a guaranteed timeframe. Others let you get some kind of export automatically, but it’s just a pile of unstructured JSON that is difficult to make sense of or do much with (Trello).

Additionally what you get back when you request/automatically download a data export varies quite widely too. You might receive:

  • All the data that you have ever contributed to the platform (Twitter)
  • All the articles that you have contributed to the platform but none of the images that you have used, as those remain locked up in the provider’s CDN (Medium)
  • A CSV (GoodReads)

Initiating the backup might be facilitated by a dedicated tool (Google Takeouts / G Suite) or else you might need to know how to compress an archive to pull out your files (Cpanel).

So my conclusions so far are:

  • Sadly no, not all SaaS companies allow users to take a backup of their own data.
  • Approaches to user data export remain highly inconsistent among providers.
  • Those that have taken steps to improve their data export options in order to become compliant with GDPR are allowing all users to avail of the functionality — whether they are based in the EU or not.
  • A cross-industry, coordinated, universal, standardized, and GDPR-compliant approach to user data export would probably be a good thing.

If you are also interested in data portability, exports, and backups, please feel free to follow my repository on Github: danielrosehilljlm/CloudBackupApproaches

More on Cloud Backups

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things.