MySpace: We still control your data

I can appreciate that there’s a good reason for all the buzz on Techmeme about MySpace hooking up with Yahoo, eBay and Twitter as part of the Data Portability project. Data portability and open standards are a great thing, and it’s nice to see some movement on that front after all of the announcements and back-slapping that went on about it last year — followed by very little movement on anyone’s part. But after all the party favours are handed out and everyone’s finished their MySpace punch, it might be worth noting that this “data portability” initiative still keeps the power very much in MySpace’s hands.

It’s true that the site has agreed to open up its API and allow other providers such as Yahoo and Twitter to extract user data with the OAuth standard. But we’re still talking about data that resides on MySpace’s servers and therefore effectively — according to the terms of use agreement that members sign when they register — belongs to the social network. It’s nice that they are letting you use it elsewhere, but as Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOm points out, they still get to choose which services can play, since they have to agree to MySpace’s terms of service in order to get access to the API. And what if something happens and your account gets deleted for some reason?

Don’t get me wrong — it’s good that MySpace is opening up. And I think it’s great that being the first one to adopt any kind of open standard or interoperability seems to be turning into a competitive advantage. But this is very much about MySpace wanting to become the central storage point for peoples’ data, and then doling out whatever information it wants to the services that it wants to play ball with. Even the praise from the Data Portability Project seems rather faint: it says that it hopes MySpace will someday “evolve toward becoming a compliant implementation” of the project’s best practices. I hope so too.


Ben Metcalfe, who acted as an advisor to MySpace and is also a co-founder of the Data Portability group, has posted a comment here in which he corrects some misunderstandings of mine about the nature of what MySpace is doing. In particular, he says that the launch partners are not getting any kind of special deal, but were only chosen in order to “have someone to test and debug the implementation with and also have the ability to demonstrate the complete value proposition end-to-end.” Thanks for clarifying things, Ben.

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