Your personal data is under constant attack. A week doesn't go by without news of yet another massive personal data breach. The only person who can't get at your data, it seems, is you. Google, in partnership with Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, will be changing that with the open-source Data Transfer Project (DTP). This project is developing tools that will enable consumers to transfer their data directly from one service to another.
This builds on Google's previous work for transferring data between individual cloud data storage services: Download Your Data, aka Takeout, which users can use to download a machine-readable copy of the data they have stored in over 50 Google products. With Download your Data, you can also transfer your Google Drive files directly to your Dropbox, Box, or MS OneDrive accounts.
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DTP's goal is to enable a connection between any two public-facing product interfaces for importing and exporting data directly using common application programming interfaces (APIs). The DTP was developed to test concepts and feasibility of transferring specific types of user data between online services.
The DTP will be powered by "adapters" which will convert proprietary data formats into a small number of canonical formats known as "Data Models." Data within these models will then be used to transfer data from system to system.
The data transfer between any two providers will use the providers' existing authorization mechanism. Thus, each provider will still control their service's security.
All individual credentials and user data will be encrypted both in transit and at rest. This will be done with perfect forward secrecy. In this protocol, a new unique key is generated for each transfer.
Even if all this works smoothly, there will be problems. For example, canonical data formats may not mitigate problems such as formatting limitations or inconsistent feature support. On the plus side, DTP's approach is expected to show that a substantial degree of industry-wide data portability can be achieved without dramatic changes to existing products or authorization mechanisms. In short, it makes data transfer easy enough that the DTP companies hope other firms will join them in building export and import functionality into their services.
According to Craig Shank, Microsoft's VP of Corporate Standards, DTP will be designed for users to easily and safely transfer personal data. Specifically:
That's all very nice, but let's get down to brass tacks: What can you use this for once DTP is up and running? The DTP developers suggest the following use cases:
These are all excellent suggestions. Now, when can we expect to see it? Good question.
As Brian Willard, Google software engineer, and Greg Fair, Google product manager, point out, "It is very early days for the Data Transfer Project and we encourage the developer community to join us and help extend the platform to support many more data types, service providers, and hosting solutions."
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They continued, "The prototype already supports data transfer for several product verticals including: photos, mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks. These are enabled by existing, publicly available APIs from Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Remember the Milk, and Smugmug." There's clearly a lot of work to be done here still, but these technology powers are off to a good start.
If you want to try it for yourself, you can check out the code via Docker and Code. To get it to work you'll need each service's API keys.
Will other companies support this? That's also an excellent question. Back in the '80s when I was writing C programs instead of technology articles, I worked a lot on data interoperability. It was frustrating. While everyone recognized that open data APIs and formats were a good thing, few companies were willing to expose their data to others.
Perhaps now, when it is clear that the open-source approach is the best way to create programs, companies will be more willing to entertain the notion that sharing data with users can work to their benefit as well.