Selected Readings on Data Portability

Andrew Young
Sep 3 · 16 min read

By Juliet McMurren, Andrew Young, and Stefaan G. Verhulst

As part of an ongoing effort to build a knowledge base for the field of improving governance through technology, The GovLab publishes a series of Selected Readings, which provide an annotated and curated collection of recommended works on themes such as open data, data collaboration, and civic technology.

In this edition, we explore selected literature on data portability.

To suggest additional readings on this or any other topic, please email info@thelivinglib.org. All our Selected Readings can be found here.

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Context

Data today exists largely in silos, generating problems and inefficiencies for the individual, business and society at large. These include:

  • difficulty switching (data) between competitive service providers;

Data portability — the principle that individuals have a right to obtain, copy, and reuse their own personal data and to transfer it from one IT platform or service to another for their own purposes — is positioned as a solution to these problems. When fully implemented, it would make data liquid, giving individuals the ability to access their own data in a usable and transferable format, transfer it from one service provider to another, or donate data for research and enhanced data analysis by those working in the public interest.

Some companies, including Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook, have sought to advance data portability through initiatives like the Data Transfer Project, an open source software project designed to facilitate data transmittals. Newly enacted data protection legislation such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (2018) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (2018) give data holders a right to data portability. However, despite the legal and technical advances made, many questions toward scaling up data liquidity and portability responsibly and systematically remain. These new data rights have generated complex and as yet unanswered questions about the limits of data ownership, the implications for privacy, security and intellectual property rights, and the practicalities of how, when, and to whom data can be transferred.

In this edition of the GovLab’s Selected Readings series, we examine the emerging literature on data portability to provide a foundation for future work on the value proposition of data portability. Readings are listed in alphabetical order.

Selected readings

Cho, Daegon, Pedro Ferreira, and Rahul Telang, The Impact of Mobile Number Portability on Price and Consumer Welfare (2016)

  • In this paper, the authors analyze how Mobile Number Portability (MNP) — the ability for consumers to maintain their phone number when changing providers, thus reducing switching costs — affected the relationship between switching costs, market price and consumer surplus after it was introduced in most European countries in the early 2000s.

CtrlShift, Data Mobility: The data portability growth opportunity for the UK economy (2018)

  • Commissioned by the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), this study was intended to identify the potential of personal data portability for the UK economy.

Data Guidance and Future of Privacy Forum, Comparing Privacy Laws: GDPR v. CCPA (2018)

  • This paper compares the provisions of the GDPR with those of the California Consumer Privacy Act (2018).

Data Transfer Project, Data Transfer Project Overview and Fundamentals (2018)

  • The paper presents an overview of the goals, principles, architecture, and system components of the Data Transfer Project. The intent of the DTP is to increase the number of services offering data portability and provide users with the ability to transfer data directly in and out of participating providers through systems that are easy and intuitive to use, private and secure, reciprocal between services, and focused on user data. The project, which is supported by Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook, is an open-source initiative that encourages the participation of other providers to reduce the infrastructure burden on providers and users.

Deloitte, How to Flourish in an Uncertain Future: Open Banking (2017)

  • This report addresses the innovative and disruptive potential of open banking, in which data is shared between members of the banking ecosystem at the authorization of the customer, with the potential to increase competition and facilitate new products and services. In the resulting marketplace model, customers could use a single banking interface to access products from multiple players, from established banks to newcomers and fintechs.

Digital Competition Expert Panel Unlocking Digital Competition (2019)

  • This report captures the findings of the UK Digital Competition Expert Panel, which was tasked in 2018 with considering opportunities and challenges the digital economy might pose for competition and competition policy and to recommend any necessary changes. The panel focused on the impact of big players within the sector, appropriate responses to mergers or anticompetitive practices, and the impact on consumers.

Egan, Erin, Charting a Way Forward: Data Portability and Privacy (2019)

  • This white paper by Facebook’s VP and Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, represents an attempt to advance the conversation about the relationship between data portability, privacy, and data protection. The author sets out five key questions about data portability: what is it, whose and what data should be portable, how privacy should be protected in the context of portability, and where responsibility for data misuse or improper protection should lie.

Engels, Barbara, Data portability among online platforms (2016)

  • The article examines the effects on competition and innovation of data portability among online platforms such as search engines, online marketplaces, and social media, and how relations between users, data, and platform services change in an environment of data portability.

Graef, Inge, Martin Husovec and Nadezhda Purtova, Data Portability and Data Control: Lessons for an Emerging Concept in EU Law (2018)

  • This paper situates the data portability right conferred by the GDPR within rights-based data protection law. The authors argue that the right to data portability should be seen as a new regulatory tool aimed at stimulating competition and innovation in data-driven markets.

Mohsen, Mona Omar and Hassan A. Aziz The Blue Button Project: Engaging Patients in Healthcare by a Click of a Button (2015)

  • This paper provides a literature review on the Blue Button initiative, an early data portability project which allows Americans to access, view or download their health records in a variety of formats.

More than Data and Mission: Smart, Got Data? The Value of Energy Data to Customers (2016)

  • This report outlines the public value of the Green Button, a data protocol that provides customers with private and secure access to their energy use data collected by smart meters.

MyData, Understanding Data Operators (2020)

  • MyData is a global movement of data users, activists and developers with a common goal to empower individuals with their personal data to enable them and their communities to develop knowledge, make informed decisions and interact more consciously and efficiently.

National Science and Technology Council Smart Disclosure and Consumer Decision Making: Report of the Task Force on Smart Disclosure (2013)

  • This report summarizes the work and findings of the 2011–2013 Task Force on Smart Disclosure: Information and Efficiency, an interagency body tasked with advancing smart disclosure, through which data is made more available and accessible to both consumers and innovators.

Nicholas, Gabriel Taking It With You: Platform Barriers to Entry and the Limits of Data Portability (2020)

  • This paper considers whether, as is often claimed, data portability offers a genuine solution to the lack of competition within the tech sector.

OECD, Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data: Reconciling Risks and Benefits for Data Re-use across Societies (2019)

  • This background paper to a 2017 expert workshop on risks and benefits of data reuse considers data portability as one strategy within a data openness continuum that also includes open data, market-based B2B contractual agreements, and restricted data-sharing agreements within research and data for social good applications.

Personal Data Protection Commission Singapore Response to Feedback on the Public Consultation on Proposed Data Portability and Data Innovation Provisions (2020)

  • The report summarizes the findings of the 2019 PDPC public consultation on proposals to introduce provisions on data portability and data innovation in Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act.

Quinn, Paul Is the GDPR and Its Right to Data Portability a Major Enabler of Citizen Science? (2018)

  • This article explores the potential of data portability to advance citizen science by enabling participants to port their personal data from one research project to another. Citizen science — the collection and contribution of large amounts of data by private individuals for scientific research — has grown rapidly in response to the development of new digital means to capture, store, organize, analyze and share data.

Wong, Janis and Tristan Henderson, How Portable is Portable? Exercising the GDPR’s Right to Data Portability (2018)

  • This paper presents the results of 230 real-world requests for data portability in order to assess how — and how well — the GDPR right to data portability is being implemented. The authors were interested in establishing the kinds of file formats that were returned in response to requests, and to identify practical difficulties encountered in making and interpreting requests, over a three month period beginning on the day the GDPR came into effect.

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