An urgent year for interoperability: 2022 in review

An urgent year for interoperability: 2022 in review

Walled gardens can be great: we all like it when Stuff Just Works because a single company oversees all the elements.

Walled gardens can be terrifying: When all our data, our social relationships, and our educational, romantic, professional, and family ties are trapped inside a corporate silo and the company does something we don’t like, the garden walls become prison walls.

Leaving Facebook or Twitter or Amazon or Google means leaving behind many important, valuable things, from media to data to social connections, and these companies know that, and that means that when our well-being comes at the expense of their profits, they tempted to sell us out, knowing we won’t go. All too often, big tech companies give in to that temptation.

That’s where interoperability comes in. From federated social media to alternative app stores to alternative customers to multiprotocol clients to tracking blockers, interoperable tools give you responsibility for the technology you use. You can block the parts you don’t like – like algorithmic feeds or bad manners or privacy invasions – and keep the parts you like: connecting with friends, colleagues and customers or accessing your data and the media and apps you’ve paid for.

2022 was one big year for interoperability. The global Right to Repair campaign gained more momentum and even broke through, with the passage of Colorado’s Wheelchair Right to Repair Act and a New York Right to Repair bill for electronics (which still needs the governor’s signature).

But there were disappointments in the United States, especially the inability of Congress to vote on it ACCESS Act and Act on open app markets (So ​​far). The anti-interop coalition is powerful, but it is not united. Meta and Apple both fund the tech industry’s powerful antiinterop lobbying machine, but that doesn’t stop Meta from lobbying separately to interop with Apple mobile devices. This monopolist-versus-monopoly violence reveals the deep fault lines in the anti-interop forces.

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Meanwhile, have public fed up with the back teeth of devices designed to control them and clamoring for third-party tools that allow them to unlock the value in the devices and products they own, from printers to luxury cars to motorcycles.

The Anti-Ripoff Coalition is a broad ideological church: proponents of government regulation see these abuses as evidence that corporations cannot be trusted to self-regulate, while regulation skeptics see abuses arising from a lack of competition and its power to discipline companies through the market. Both sides can agree that taking away dominant companies’ right to decide who can compete with them and how is badly needed. a bad deal.

In Europe, regulators are skipping over their American cousins. With the passage of Act on Digital Markets The EU has given technical platforms notice that they will be necessary to collaborate with small firms, co-ops, tinkerers and other new market players.

We welcome the EU’s bold move here, especially since the final DMA includes pro-interoperability changes that we proposed, protecting “Conflicting interoperability” (AKA “Competitive Compatibility” or “comcom”) – this is connecting to an existing product or service without permission from the manufacturer, such as connecting to the web with an ad blocker installed or using third-party ink in your printer.

While we are very happy with the DMA’s decision, we have serious concerns about its implementation. The EU has decided that the first targets for mandatory interoperability will include end-to-end encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp and iMessage. Billions of people around the world trust the integrity of these services and a rushed interoperability mandate could put all kinds of people, everywhere, at risk.

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We believe Social Media is the right place to start DMA’s work on interop: these services are much easier to federate (break into smaller, autonomous, interconnected servers run by many communities), and doing so will solve many of the problems people have with monolithic social media platforms.

In a federated, interoperable world of social media, you don’t have to tolerate harassment because quitting has a high personal and professional cost. In a federated world, you can quit a server whose management refuses to address your concerns and move to one with better moderation policies—and still stay connected to the people and communities that matter to you.

But it’s been more than a generation since the last large-scale, federated social media was in widespread use—many people today have no recollection of Usenet, The Fidonet and other decentralized, federated systems.

That’s why we created “How to quit Facebook without losing your friends,” an animated slideshow and accompanying essay that explains how federated, decentralized social media services can interoperate with today’s legacy giants without sacrificing privacy or opening the door to harassment.

This could not be more timely. Interest in unified social media has exploded in the weeks following the chaotic change of ownership at Twitter; although Meta’s efforts to lure users from Facebook into the metaverse have accelerated decline of Facebookwhose own technical staff are comically unenthusiastic about the prospect of being transformed into legless cartoon characters.

Like the world rethinking the wisdom of entrusting our social selves to the one-sided judgments of irresponsible tech firms, there is an exciting opportunity for interoperability to step into the gap and protect us from a future of walled gardens that become prisons.

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This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2022.

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