This post originally appeared on the Engelberg Center blog.

The Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy is pleased to announce the publication of a new whitepaper: Data Portability and Platform Competition: Is User Data Exported From Facebook Actually Useful to Competitors?. The paper explores how useful data exported from Facebook might be to a potential competitor. The answer: not very.

data portability paper cover

The paper, authored by Gabriel Nicholas and Michael Weinberg, focuses on a seeming paradox in the current debate around the size and power of platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

For those wary of breaking up these large platforms, data portability has emerged as an attractive alternative. Data portability would allow users to take their data from a large platform to a competitor, potentially making it easier for a competitor to grow and thrive.

The challenge with this hypothesis is that large platforms have allowed users to export their data for almost a decade, yet no major competitor has emerged. Why is that?

In order to find out, the authors leveraged the Engelberg Center’s access to New York City’s tech community. They exported data from Facebook and held a series of workshops with engineers, product managers, and executives from a wide range of technology companies. They asked participants how useful data exported from Facebook would be in building a competitor, and in doing so, learned about some of the limitations of data portability.

The paper documents the weaknesses in data portability as a tool for competition in the context of social media sites, and provides lessons for policymakers interested in integrating data portability into a large set of solutions.

You can read the entire paper here.

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