Google and Facebook have joined the DataPortability Workgroup, in a moment the blogosphere is heralding as historic. The group's mission is to make all personal data "discoverable" and "shareable" across websites. This moment is about as historic as the intake of oxygen. The beauty of working groups is that they rarely change anything other than public perception. Brad Fitzpatrick of Google and Benjamin Ling make particularly handsome poster boys for the data-sharing movement. [They can port our data anytime. - Ed.] But neither has real pull to change their employer's business strategy.
How meaningless are working groups? For years Microsoft has been a member of MPEGLA which seeks to define and patent media standards, but Microsoft continues to advance its own formats. Apple is a member of the Blu-ray Disc Association, but good luck finding a Blu-ray player in an Apple device today. While Google and Facebook may eventually support data portability across their social networks and applications, they'll do so at their own pace, when it proves profitable to do so — not because they joined an advocacy group. Advocates of data portability would be better served by understanding how Facebook and Google make money — and making sure swapping personal details fits hand-in-glove with that reality.