Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have teamed up to launch a new initiative dubbed the Data Transfer Project (DTP), which is intended to simplify data sharing across services.
The open-source effort is dedicated to building tools that will enable users to directly transfer information from one service to another so they don't have to download and re-upload it, explains Google, which first mentioned the project in a post about its preparations for GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Instead, people can port data from one company to another from within an application.
It's an interesting and somewhat sensitive time for these companies to be embarking on a data sharing project, given both Facebook and Google have recently been at the center of news involving their use of consumer information. Facebook is still dealing with the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which was centered around its API. Google recently responded to a report stating developers can sift through users' inboxes using third-party apps.
The participating organizations outlined their plans to secure and protect users' data in a white paper on the initiative, and described the responsibilities of users and businesses to protect information.
How the DTP works: all organizations involved with DTP are creating tools to convert any service's proprietary APIs to and from a set of standardized data formats, which can be used by anyone. This will let people move data between any two services using a standard infrastructure and authorization. So far, Google says, they have created adapters for seven providers and five types of user data.
DTP is made up of three main components, as explained on the project's website. The first are data models, or frameworks to create a common understanding of how to transfer information. Data models are grouped in verticals; for example, photos, emails, contacts, and music.
Each vertical has its own set of data models to facilitate transfer of related file types. The music vertical, for example, would have models for playlists, songs, or music videos. One goal of the DTP for organizations to use common data models, which would lessen the need for individual businesses to maintain and update proprietary APIs.
The second component is company-specific adapters for data and authentication. Data adapters consist of code that translates a provider's APIs into data models, and they come in two pairs: one is an exporter to translate from a provider's API into the data model; the other is an importer to translate from the data model into the API. Authentication adapters let consumers log into their accounts before moving data from service to service.
Task management libraries process background tasks: calls between adapters, secure data storage, retry logic, failure handling, individual notifications. DTP has task management libraries as a reference implementation for how to use the adapters for transferring data between apps.
Weighing in on Data Security
Services involved with the project must first agree to data transfer between platforms and require users must independently authenticate to each account. Authorization mechanisms are up to partners, so they can choose any form currently in their existing security infrastructure.
Users' data and credentials will be encrypted in transit and at rest, Google explains in a blog post on the news. Further, the DTP will rely on a platform of what Google describes as "perfect forward secrecy," which generates a new unique key for each transfer. Because DTP is open source, anyone is free to check the code and verify data isn't collected or used maliciously.
Microsoft's Craig Shank, vice president for corporate standards, points out how DTP enables data portability that will be especially important for people with poor Internet access.
"For people on slow or low bandwidth connections, service-to-service portability will be especially important where infrastructure constraints and expense make importing and exporting data to or from the user’s system impractical if not nearly impossible," he writes in a blog post.
While it may seem weird to see four tech giants working together on a project like this, breaking down the barriers for data transfer would make things easier for users and companies in the wake of GDPR, which requires platforms to provide all available information on a person.
Existing code for DTP can be accessed on GitHub.
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