| Publications | Working Paper | Data Portability between Online Services

Data Portability between Online Services

Dr. Robert Luzsa Chair of Psychology and Human-Machine Interaction | University of Passau
Prof. Dr. Susanne Mayr Chair of Psychology and Human-Machine Interaction | University of Passau
Emmanuel Syrmoudis Chair of Cyber Trust | Technical University of Munich
Prof. Dr. Jens Großklags Technical University of Munich
Sophie Kübler-Wachendorff Digital Services and Sustainability | Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich
Prof. Dr. Johann Kranz Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich
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The population-representative survey examines the requirements of users for the right to data portability from a psychological perspective and provides design recommendations.

This publication examines from a psychological perspective the requirements of users for the right to data portability enshrined in the General Data Protection Regulation, i.e. the possibility of retrieving data stored with one online service and having it transferred to another service, for example when changing providers. It will be shown how data portability could facilitate switching between online services, how innovation potentials result from this, and how portability solutions can be designed to achieve acceptance.

To this end, the current state of research on user motives and behaviour in the context of switching between online services is first presented and discussed. Then the results of a population-representative survey are reported, which show how data portability solutions can facilitate switching between online services, which consumer needs exist for data transfer between services, and which requirements users place on porting solutions. Conclusions can be drawn from the findings both for the implementation of data portability and for further research.

The most important points in brief

Data portability refers to the right of users to retrieve their personal data from one online service and have it transferred to another service, as guaranteed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) since 2018. The introduction of this right is intended to strengthen users’ data autonomy. On the other hand, it is associated with the hope of more open competition between service providers and more opportunities for new, data protection-friendly, European providers. The latter could benefit in several ways: The possibility of easy data portability could not only make it easier for users of established services to switch and reduce obstacles and barriers to switching, but also offer new opportunities through the provision of data-based services and business models.

However, this can only succeed if users’ requirements for data portability are known and taken into account in the design of services. This is the aim of this working paper, which examines data portability from a psychological and user-focused perspective. First, the current state of research and knowledge on the user perspective on online service switching and on data protection and data portability is presented. Then, results of a large-scale quantitative online study conducted in 2020 are reported, in which 995 German participants were asked about their use of online services, switching desires and barriers to switching, and their requirements for data portability options.

The survey shows:

  1. Little knowledge about data portability: only about a quarter of respondents know about their right to data portability; it is the least known and most difficult to understand GDPR right.
  2. High switching potential: Two-thirds of respondents report having already switched between online services; a quarter would like to switch or leave one currently used service but have not yet done so.
  3. Data protection concerns and a lack of trust lead to the desire to switch: Concerns about data protection and privacy and a lack of trust in the current provider are cited as the most important motives for still unfulfilled switching wishes.
  4. Data portability and information about alternative services could facilitate switching: The most important obstacles to switching are the possible loss of contacts, data and content, little knowledge about alternatives to the current provider and little experience in switching between services. Respondents tend to agree that data portability options would make it easier for them to switch and that they would use them.
  5. Concrete data portability wishes: When asked which data they would like to port or take with them between services, the respondents mainly mention media content (e.g. photos, sent and received messages), personal and contact data (e.g. addresses, user names, calendar entries), as well as their own preferences (e.g. playlists, history of films watched or past purchases).

In summary, the findings illustrate that users can be supported in their desire to switch online services by means of data portability solutions. However, this requires in particular an understandable design and communication of the corresponding functions. Possibilities and recommendations for how the practical implementation of portability solutions by providers can succeed, and how the state and society can promote this, are discussed in conclusion.