In a recent post on Should Personal Data In Facebook Be Exportable I pointed out the potential dangers of allowing data to be exported out of an environment in which access control can be managed. I have previously suggested that in 30 years time potential new leaders of political parties will have their Facebook entries trawled by the tabloid press – I didn’t expect this to happen quite so quickly, but an Australian news site has the headline Benazir Bhutto’s son targeted on Facebook and the Guardian newspaper recently discussed the ethics of using data published on Facebook to support a news story.

It is quite clear to me that the ‘data must be free and open’ line is too simplistic. And we are not in a position in which it is a simple question of social networking service providers supporting open standards. There are many important issues of gathering requirements, exploring use cases, discussing and arguing solutions, etc. which we now have a need to address. And these aren’t just issues for services such as Facebook to address – institutions be facing similar questions, especially if they provide social networking services (such as Elgg) within their institution.

So it is good to hear that there are a number of new initiatives which have been announced recently. There is the Data Portability group which, as announced on Techcrunch, Facebook, Google and Plaxo have joined recently. And, via a comment on my blog, I discovered John Breslin’s blog, in which he recently posted on DataPortability.org, web standards, SIOC and FOAF. FOAF I’m familiar with, but SIOC is new to me. SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities Project, but also the Gaelic word for frost – there’s a convoluted explanation on the SICOC Web site) does seem interested and there a SIOC tutorial has been accepted for the WWW2008 conference.

John’s post concludes:

It’d be great if we can get some of the DataPortability.org people to come to the WebCamp workshop on Social Network Portability in Cork in March.

I do feel there is a pressing need for institutions to engage in the development of approaches for data portability. The relevant open standards aren’t available yet and, as many have argued, we will face difficulties in the future if we continue to grow large-scale walled gardens. Are there any readers of this blog who are planning on attending this event?