Apple Joins Project to Make It Easier to Transfer Your Data out of iCloud

Apple Plans to Build Massive $921 Million Danish iCloud Data Center
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One of the big problems with so many different cloud-based services is dealing with transferring data between them. While file-based storage services like iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and Dropbox are all fairly simple to work with, it gets much more complicated when dealing with things like email, messaging, calendars, notes, and contacts. In fact, it can be so difficult that many users avoid switching platforms altogether due to the headache of moving their data over to a new service.

Although iCloud already uses fairly open standards for many of its services, it’s still not easy to get your data out should you want to start using another service. While enterprising developers have capitalized on this by creating third-party tools, these often cost money, can be complicated to use in their own right, and are always prey to changing standards.

The Solution

Fortunately, there’s a project that aims to make this entire process much easier. Known as the Data Transfer Project, it was actually launched last year by several other tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, with the aim to create an open source methodology for moving data between different platforms.

The Data Transfer Project was launched in 2018 to create an open-source, service-to-service data portability platform so that all individuals across the web could easily move their data between online service providers whenever they want.

Mission Statement, Data Transfer Project

When the initiative was first announced last July, Apple was conspicuously absent from the list of participants. Although the reasons for this are unclear, whatever reservations Apple had about the project seem to have been resolved as the team announced this week that “Apple has officially joined the Project” which means that it will be contributing code to allow data to be moved into and out of iCloud.

What it’s all about

The main purpose of the Data Transfer Project is to make it easier to transfer data directly from one online service to another. While tools like Google’s Takeout and Facebook’s Access Your Information have been around for a while (and Apple has built something similar), these are only designed to allow you to download data to your own computer, after which you’re left trying to figure out what to actually do with it.

The data downloaded by these tools is provided in a fairly raw format that isn’t really very helpful for any use other than archival purposes, and more importantly, even if the data was in a more friendly format, none of the major service providers have offered an easy way to migrate data into their services.

The purpose of the Data Transfer Project is to address this by making these tools and data formats compatible with each other, allowing users to easily move their personal data from one service to another. Of course, it’s very much a work in progress, and so far almost all of it has been focused on back-end code to make it all work under the hood. However, Google says that it will soon be ready to start releasing actual consumer tools.

What this means for you

The most important benefit will be the elimination of the last bastion of user lock-in when it comes to cloud-based services. Although it’s nice that Google, Facebook, and Apple let you get your data out of their services, very few users know what to do with it after that, and the act of moving all of that data to a new service is far from simple.

For example, right now, you might be able to get all of your photos out of Google Photos easily enough, but then what? Your only option is to upload them to iCloud the old fashioned way, losing much of your metadata and organization — and possibly even some of your edits — in the process.

In its most ideal form, this project will offer a proper migration tool that would let you simply push a button to migrate your entire photo library, including not just photos, but all of the other data that you’ve used to identify and organize your photos like albums and tags.

The project is also aiming to accomplish this in a way that’s not only seamless, but also private and more secure than using a third-party data migration service or tool. Since there will be no intermediate step involved — the aim of the tools is to move the data directly from one service to another — there are fewer opportunities for leaked data.

The best part for iPhone users, however, is that Apple’s participation in this project means that support for iCloud will be included, in both directions. This means that users who would rather be using iCloud Photos will easily be able to move over their entire Google or Facebook photo libraries — something that may have been a barrier to such a move in the past. The same will hold true for other structured iCloud data, such as email messages, calendars, contacts, notes, and more. Of course, this will work both ways, but Apple has never been interested in holding users’ data hostage, and if you want to leave iCloud for another service, they’re not going to try and stop you, and in fact will now make the process even easier.

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