Google’s Data Liberation Front battles data lock-in

Data Liberation Front logo

Google engineers have united to form the Data Liberation Front, with the aim of keeping data free for users.

The front is an amusingly named way for Google or to cynics, its marketing staff to address a serious issue in the online world. As a greater number of people put more and more data online, will they be stuck keeping those emails, photos and so on in the same service, or will they be able to move it where they please, whenever they want?

Formed two years ago, the DLF looks to keep Google marching down the right road when it comes to such data freedom. "We're a small team of Google engineers that aims to make it easy for our users to transfer their personal data in and out of Google's services, by building simple import and export functions," wrote Brian "Fitz" Fitzpatrick on the new DLF blog. "I wanted to make sure that users (myself included, as a consumer of Google products!) always had a choice."

This means that if you have thousands of emails in Gmail, they're not stuck there forever thanks to export functions that let such bits be moved to a different service.

The DLF advised any web user consider three questions before signing up to to an online service: Can data be moved out, and how much money and time will it cost?

"Unfortunately, not all web services make it this easy for you to take your data out of their services," noted Fitzpatrick, saying users can be charged a fee or made to jump through "technology hoops" to take their own data.

"But we believe that letting you leave our services easily actually helps us make those services better for you," he added. "If we stop making our products compelling and useful, we lose you as a user. It's just that simple."

Google has so far "liberated" half of its products, including Blogger, GMail and the App Engine. In the next few months, it promised to do the same for Google Sites and Google Docs. More details about how to liberate your data from Google are available on the DLF website.