June 11, 2020 — Interoperability is a practical safeguard against big tech oligopolies, said participants in a Lincoln Network forum Wednesday.
Participants argued that besides sweeping government intervention, the best way to break up large, too-powerful social media companies like Facebook is by facilitating competition. This is possible by pressuring social media outlets to make data and functionalities compatible with their competition, they claimed.
Convincing companies to make their platforms cooperative with rivals’ will be difficult, said Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Still, the birth of widespread internet involved a similar fight.
“Being able to plug a modem into the wall is one of the things that gave us the internet at the level that we did, and that had to be fought for,” she said.
When Facebook neglected to take any action on two of President Donald Trump’s posts, which threatened violence against protesters and falsely claimed that California Governor Gavin Newsom was illegally “sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there,” the platform faced widespread backlash.
While it is within Facebook’s right to either moderate or leave the posts untouched, the panelists said that interoperability could be a powerful way for those who disagree with the company’s inaction to seamlessly transition to a competitor.
“This is a market where you’re likely to see one very powerful company in charge,” said Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge.
“If like email or cell phones, you can easily communicate across networks, then those network effects that are providing so much power to the winner of that tipping market can be significantly diminished,” she said.
Slaiman said that a necessary first step towards improvement was starting to have conversations about interoperability.
“Having a place where those fights are happening, would be progress over what we have right now,” she said.