Account Portability is the ability of people with registered accounts to move their data to another service provider at any time. An example is that you are legally entitled to move your entire brokerage account from one stock broker to another. Securities brokers have a process called ACATS (Automated Customer Account Transfer Service) that is managed by the NSCC (National Securities Clearing Corporation) for moving open positions and cash from one broker to another. Some industries have fairly easy account-transfer protocols, but most do not.
Suppose you buy a new Mercedes Benz automobile, and the company offers a special customer web site, where you can log in and see everything about your car. Not just manufacture information, but service and performance data, perhaps even a trail of where you have driven (via GPS) and where you have purchased gas. This may be exactly what you want, but you have to go to this particular site to get it. Can you move your “account” somewhere else? Would it make sense to? From the company’s point of view, there would be no reason for you to move your account anywhere. Your account is in a proprietary Mercedes Benz data format locked into the system on the Mercedes Benz web site. Now, look at it from the customer’s point of view. If I have three cars, do I really want to go to three separate web sites to see how my cars are doing? Wouldn’t it be easier if I could transfer all my cars’ accounts to a single online data locker, where I can manage all my cars’ data at once? In fact, wouldn’t I want to do that with everything I own, so it’s all consolidated, under one login?
Account portability is separate from data portability. If you use Gmail and you want to get all your email messages, just go to Google’s Data Liberation Front page and make a request.
Account closure is another related issue. At many sites, it’s virtually impossible to close your account. They prefer to have “dead” registered users than to have the accounts disappear, because they can count these users as registered, and that helps their valuation. For stupid reasons, investment bankers and acquirers seem to value these dead accounts. Sites like FaceBook, LinkedIn, eHarmony, and others make it almost impossible to close your account.
Data portability is the transitional strategy.
Groups like DataPortability.org and others are working hard to provide mechanisms for protecting, deleting, moving, managing, and “owning” your own information. It’s important for users to recognize when companies ask for too much, as they have in the medical profession for years. As the semantic web develops, more and more solutions will give account holders more power in the relationship and vendor lock-in will become a nonviable business strategy. Here are some of the companies and groups helping build this future:
Personal data locker