Interoperability Policy Considerations

We supported the Internet Society this year in preparing a white paper describing “Considerations for Mandating Open Interfaces”. Both European and US legislators are concerned by the market and political impact of large technology companies like Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Google, and a popular line of advocacy seeks legislation to regulate them through enforced interoperability.

At first sight, this seems highly desirable. Why should services like WhatsApp and Google Chat not be forced to interoperate so that users of one can chat with users of the other freely? Why should users of Twitter, Parler and Mastodon not be able to subscribe to each other’s posts and participate equally in their follower networks? But the devil as always is in the details. Means of achieving these things can easily turn out to be problematic, either for technical reasons like architectural incompatibilities or for more subtle competitive reasons. Indeed, it’s notable that the biggest critics of Google and Facebook are the almost-cartels of mobile telephony companies who see in these mandates a way to hobble their most dangerous challengers.

The resulting white paper raises as many of the issues as possible in its slim 32 pages, while also attempting to point at solutions for some of them. You can read the Executive Summary and download the full paper at the Internet Society’s resource page.