House Judiciary Committee recommends Interoperable Social Media

Today the House Judiciary Committee released its report detailing the numerous anti-competitive practices employed by the big tech firms: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The report details why these firms are under investigation, what role they play in their respective markets, and whether they have achieved monopoly status in those markets (spoiler, it says they have). The report looks at the web search, web advertising, social media, e-commerce, and mobile software distribution markets, their history, and their future. It's a long read, but you should check it out, at least through the Executive Summary section.

Importantly, the authors also make a number of recommendations aimed at fixing the problems they identified in the report. This is where things get interesting. The report recommends a lot of what open web folks (like myself) have been wanting for years. Here's a few of the most relevant recommendations (emphasis mine):

  • Structural separations and prohibitions of certain dominant platforms from operating in adjacent lines of business;
  • Nondiscrimination requirements, prohibiting dominant platforms from engaging in self-preferencing, and requiring them to offer equal terms for equal products and services;
  • Interoperability and data portability, requiring dominant platforms to make their services compatible with various networks and to make content and information easily portable between them;
  • Safe harbor for news publishers in order to safeguard a free and diverse press;
  • Prohibitions on abuses of superior bargaining power, proscribing dominant platforms from engaging in contracting practices that derive from their dominant market position, and requiring due process protections for individuals and businesses dependent on the dominant platforms;
  • Strengthening private enforcement, through eliminating obstacles such as forced arbitration clauses, limits on class action formation, judicially created standards constraining what constitutes an antitrust injury, and unduly high pleading standards.

p. 20-12

This is great news! These reforms would, in my opinion, do a lot to level the playing field that currently tilts towards benefitting these large incumbents. Each and every one of these companies benefitted by taking advantage of the power of the Open Web in their early days and most still do in some form, but they contribute nothing back and they actively work to undermine the things that make the Web and the Internet great. The report explicitly calls out Facebook's lack of interoperability and recommends that social media companies be forced to interoperate and provide data portability in the same way that phone carriers are currently required to do.

As a result, these markets are no longer contestable by new entrants, the competitive process shifts from “competition in the market to competition for the market.”

This dynamic is particularly evident in the social networking market...

In response to these concerns, Subcommittee staff recommends that Congress consider data interoperability and portability to encourage competition by lowering entry barriers for competitors and switching costs by consumers. These reforms would complement vigorous antitrust enforcement by spurring competitive entry.

a. Interoperability

Interoperability is fundamental to the open internet. It is present in email, which is an open, interoperable protocol for communicating online regardless of a person’s email service or the type of the device they use to send the email.

An interoperability requirement would allow competing social networking platforms to interconnect with dominant firms to ensure that users can communicate across services. Foremost, interoperability “breaks the power of network effects”...

p. 384

Open Web folks won't be surprised by any of these recommendations. We've been wanting them for years, but it appears that Congress is finally paying attention. There's a lot more in this report than just social media market reforms, but in my opinion these reforms are the most exciting and the most impactful to our discourse on the Web. Hopefully now that the wheels of government are turning, they move to enact some of these long-awaited and way-overdue reforms and give us back the Open Web we want.

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