Facebook on Monday announced a new feature that will begin rolling out in Ireland before spreading elsewhere: The ability to transfer your Facebook photos directly to other platforms without having to download them first. The feature will initially only port your pics over to Google Photos, though it’s likely more platforms are on the way.
This is a step forward from Facebook’s already-existing data portability tool, “Download Your Information,” which allows a user to keep a copy of everything they’ve ever put on Facebook on their private computer. In a statement, Facebook told Digital Trends that “the feedback we’ve received over the years tells us that although this tool is helpful, it isn’t seamless enough for users to take information directly from one service to another.”
“Giving people choice and control over their data and the services they use builds trust — and ultimately that’s critical for us as a business,” that statement continued. But what remains to be seen as the tool rolls out over the next months is whether this will signal a new mass exodus from Facebook’s platform.
“If I were Facebook, I would have thought this through carefully,” said Marc Jamison, director of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida, to Digital Trends. “I would have done tests to see if the archive of photos is really what keeps people there.”
For many people who have been on Facebook for a decade or longer, the social network can act as a default photo vault or archive. Photos, Jamison said, keep people on Facebook, but not necessarily active, and now Facebook needs to be careful to make sure its new tools are designed to bring people back. “The sharing should be designed in a way that makes Facebook a platform of choice for storing things that we can move later,” said Jamison.
“The cynical answer is that they have to do this,” said Ross Schulman, senior counsel and senior policy technologist at New America’s Open Technology Institute, when asked why Facebook would want to play nice with other platforms in this way. There are too many regulations in place now, he told Digital Trends, including laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which make ease of data portability obligatory.
“There’s pressure from governments that perhaps Facebook is too big, perhaps it has too much data,” Jamison said. “This is a way of trying to address this, it softens those arguments.”
Schulman added that “folks I’ve talked to in the industry generally seem to view data portability as a kind of net good. It’s sort of a goodwill signal. It doesn’t look great to capture your users and make it really difficult for them to go somewhere else.”
Whether the ability to transfer photos to another platform would cause a mass exodus, Schulman couldn’t say. But he did say he hopes it would allow Facebook competitors to enter the game more easily and be a net good for competition, especially if Facebook has gotten complacent.
“If what’s keeping people on Facebook is the photos, and that lock-in is there, you might see a competing social network that’s more focused on photos arise,” he said. That’s already happened, to an extent, with the rise of Instagram — which Facebook promptly bought. Still, Schulman said that data portability could make it easier for new social networks to innovate with new concepts and features.
“You can hop over to the new service without having to download gigabytes of data and re-upload them,” he said. “People who don’t have fast broadband at home, that really opens up the door for a competitor and, therefore, innovation.”