This week I published a piece in The American Conservative, “Interoperability is Key to Tech Competition.” You can read the whole article there, but here’s a synopsis, via two bullet points:

  • The House Judiciary concluded its lengthy investigation into tech competition with a substantial report (449 pages!) calling for substantial intervention, including structural separation and other reforms. Key from my perspective as a long-time advocate for interoperability (see, e.g., this 2017 Medium post and this 2019 white paper), the report includes data portability and interoperability among its recommendations — as does the “Third Way” report released by Rep. Buck (R-Colo.).
  • Interoperability mandates have substantial momentum in regulatory conversations in the U.S. and Europe, and we have some work ahead of us to figure out how best to design interoperability interfaces to promote competition. I started articulating some dimensions of this in a paper earlier this year with the Journal of Cyber Policy, “Unpacking interoperability in competition.” …

Over this series of policy posts, I’m exploring the evolution of internet regulation from my perspective as an advocate for constructive reform. It is my goal in these posts to unpack the movement towards regulatory change and to offer some creative ideas that may help to catalyze further substantive discussion. In that vein, this post focuses on the need for “critical community” in content policy — a loose network of civil society organizations, industry professionals, and policymakers with subject matter expertise and independence to opine on the policies and practices of platforms that serve as intermediaries for user communications and content online. …


My desk, with hundreds of conference badges (2005–2020).

It’s time to move on.

These badges mean a lot to me. For the past few years, I had the best badge game in Mozilla’s San Francisco office, all of these small pieces of plastic and paper displayed proudly on the side wall of my cubicle, layered over each other with the non-lanyard badges clipped together in long chains.

When you hire a policy person, you’re also hiring their network. Unlike many jobs, public policy is a thing we do together. Over the past 15 years (the oldest of these is from 2005) I’ve built an incredible network, and these events have been part of that process — typically not instrumental in building the networks (at least for me), but invaluable in feeding and sustaining them. These badges tell the story of that network. Many years of RightsCon and TechProm; high-profile international events of various forms; and workshops of all different styles and scales on every topic in the internet policy portfolio. I can speak competently about most internet policy issues, but I can also name several individuals who know any specific issue better than I do. …


Perhaps the most de rigeur issue in tech policy in 2020 is antitrust. The European Union made market power a significant component of its Digital Services Act consultation, and the United Kingdom released a massive final report detailing competition challenges in digital advertising, search, and social media. In the U.S., the House of Representatives held an historic (virtual) hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (Alphabet) on the same panel. As soon as the end of this month the Department of Justice is expected to file a “case of the century” scale antitrust lawsuit against Google. …


[Note: This piece was originally published on TechDirt.]

The internet policy world is headed for change, and the change that’s coming isn’t just a matter of more regulations but, rather, involves an evolution in how we think about communications technologies. The most successful businesses operating at what we have, up until now, called the internet’s “edge” are going to be treated like infrastructure more and more. What’s ahead is not exactly the “break them up” plan of the 2019 Presidential campaign of Senator Warren, but something a bit different. …


One of the most vexing issues in my portfolio of policy work is how to handle harmful and unlawful user content on the internet — and in particular, the role of tech / internet companies as intermediaries facilitating and moderating online speech. I wrote about this a bit last year, as part of my 2017–2018 “CATS” series on the future of internet policy. …


My previous posts have focused specifically on interoperability — what that means in the digital platform ecosystem, and why it’s relevant to the goal of promoting a competitive market and the economic benefits that derive from one for businesses and individuals. In this post, I’m going to shift focus a bit towards the backdrop behind all this: the state of American antitrust law. Changes in how competition approaches tech seem inevitable today, for a number of reasons. …


My previous posts on interoperability via APIs have focused on vertical relationships — ensuring that digital platforms remain platforms on top of which independent, innovative products can be built. Vertical competition carries with it the potential of future horizontal competition, something many have examined in the context of the Facebook/WhatsApp merger. But interoperability via APIs has a more present impact on horizontal competition — consistent with the core principle that competition policy is meant to support competition, not competitors — and that’s what I will explore in this post. …


In a previous post, I wrote that competition law and policy ought to push for more transparent, third-party accessible APIs to promote interoperability, including in vertical merger reviews such as the recent Facebook/WhatsApp integration. Focusing on the nondiscriminatory offering of APIs to enable interoperability encourages digital platforms to continue being platforms on which other services can continue to build. In contrast, letting the modern API ecosystem shrivel would convert today’s platforms into tomorrow’s gatekeepers threatening internet openness.

In this post, I want to dig into the interoperability APIs concept a little bit more, to help unpack what it would look like in practice. APIs have been getting a lot of attention over the past few weeks, and not the good kind. The recent Facebook hearings in Congress related to an early version of Facebook’s Graph API, one that allowed users to authorize the sharing of not only their data, but also their friends’ data with third party developers. This wasn’t a data breach, and Facebook didn’t “sell” data to Cambridge Analytica. This was an API working according to (bad) design. And one unfortunate possible future after this incident would be if Facebook, and other companies with substantial data pools, decided to shut the doors on their technical mechanisms for authorized sharing. …


Mark Zuckerberg survived the gauntlet. In the face of substantial pressure from several members of Congress to testify personally on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess, this week he sat through ten hours of questioning from the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees and the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

And, in my opinion, he did a decent job. He was calm, and generally seemed in control, despite some very aggressive lines of questioning. Sure, there are the Twitter jokes about him seeming robotic, but the baseline for emotional connection at a Congressional hearing isn’t all that high.

But I still think he missed a big opportunity to steer Facebook, and maybe even the entire tech industry, back onto a course of trust with internet users and government policymakers all around the world. The tech industry is on the hot seat right now on a host of fronts — in my last post I referenced my frequent characterization of last year, 2017, as the year of “everybody attacks tech.” Contributing to that tension are the robust data collection and use practices common to many successful businesses in the industry, practices with which Facebook is essentially synonymous. Users rarely have meaningful options to escape from these practices without sacrificing some or all of the features and benefits of online services. …

About

Chris Riley

Disruptive internet policy engineer, beverage connoisseur, gregarious introvert, contrarian order Muppet, and proud husband & father. Not in order.

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