29. October 2020

The DSA: Part #04 Better connected through interoperability

A Telefonica customer calling a Vodafone user? Of course this is possible – but this is currently not the case with messaging services. Why is this impossible for Signal, Skype, Threema and WhatsApp? Can’t services function together in a way that is workable for users? Yes, they could if they wanted to. The magic word is interoperability: it means that users can switch to another platform or app without losing their contacts and continue to communicate with them. In other words: If someone publishes content on platform A, their contacts can also read and reply via platforms B, C and D.

 

Users would no longer have to select their messaging app or social network according to the number of contacts they have there, but could instead chose based on better privacy standards or on the ease of use. The switch to alternative services would enable users to avoid personalised advertising and manipulation on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – without having to forego the convenience of modern communication. So far, these platforms have been focusing on content that will keep users’ attention the longest. This works especially well with polarising, extremist and frightening content and commentary – and has a dramatic impact on our society.

 

Interoperability therefore not only offers benefits in terms of innovation, quality and privacy, as providers must focus on best performance rather than synergy (as with Facebook Messenger). Experts also explain how interoperability can help improve media diversity and media pluralism (see Ian Brown, pdf). It could also allow to opt for different moderation models, for example to have insults filtered according to our own criteria, and at the same time strengthen Europe’s digital and technological sovereignty by enabling European services to successfully enter the market with an innovative idea.

My internet of the future

  • Users should be able to view posts by friends on other platforms without needing to have an account with the originating service. For example, if they switch from Facebook to another platform, they can still see their friends’ posts there.
  • Similarly, users should be able to interact with closed message or chat groups on other platforms. This means, for example, that you don’t have to install three different messaging applications on your phone, but you can choose one and then exchange messages across different providers.
  • In order to improve the autonomy and choice of users, the major platforms should allow third-party content providers to moderate content if users wish. For example, if you do not like the way Facebook displays content, you could delegate this task to an independent organisation that specialises in certain moderation practices and organises the discourse in a way that benefits the public good or allows you to set your own priorities.
  • In other words, large social networks can be forced into interoperability by a mandatory unbundling measure. Content hosting and moderation would then be technically and contractually separated. Dominant social media platforms would thus still be able to moderate content on their platforms, but they would also have to allow competitors to allow competing moderation services on their platforms. Such measures are nothing new and have already successfully led to more competition in the telecommunications sector.
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs) must be easy to find, well documented and transparent.

 

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