The Future is in Interoperability Not Big Tech: 2021 in Review
2021 was not a good year for Big Tech: a flaming cocktail of moderation failings, privacy breaches, leaked nefarious plans, illegal collusion and tone-deaf, arrogant pronouncements stoked public anger and fired up the political will to do something about the unaccountable power and reckless self-interest of the tech giants.
We’ve been here before. EFF’s been fighting tech abuses for 30 years, and we’re used to real tech problems giving rise to nonsensical legal “solutions,” that don’t address the problem — or make it worse. There’s been some of that (okay, there’s been a lot of that).
But this year, something new happened: lawmakers, technologists, public interest groups, and regulators around the world converged on an idea we’re very fond of around here: interoperability.
There’s a burgeoning, global understanding that the internet doesn’t have to be five giant websites, each filled with text from the other four. Sure, tech platforms have “network effects” on their side — meaning that the more they grow, the more useful they are. Every iPhone app is a reason to buy an iPhone; every person who buys an iPhone is a reason to create a new iPhone app. Likewise, every Facebook user is a reason to join Facebook (in order to socialize with them) and every time someone joins Facebook, they become a reason for more people to join.
But tech’s had network effects on its side since the earliest days, and yet the web was once a gloriously weird and dynamic place, where today’s giant would become tomorrow’s punchline — when was the last time you asked Jeeves anything, and did you post the results to your Friendster page?
Network effects aren’t anything new in tech. What is new are the legal strictures that prevent interoperability: new ways of applying cybersecurity law, copyright, patents, and other laws and regulations that make it illegal (or legally terrifying) to make new products that plug into existing ones.
That’s why you can’t leave Facebook and still talk to your Facebook friends. It’s why you can’t switch mobile platforms and take your apps with you. It’s why you can’t switch audiobook providers without losing your…