I just published the 300th installment of my podcast, which has been going since 2006 (!); I present a reading of my EFF Deeplinks essay Adversarial Interoperability: Reviving an Elegant Weapon From a More Civilized Age to Slay Today’s Monopolies, where I introduce the idea of “Adversarial Interoperability,” which allows users and toolsmiths to push back against monopolists.
Facebook’s advantage is in “network effects”: the idea that Facebook increases in value with every user who joins it (because more users increase the likelihood that the person you’re looking for is on Facebook). But adversarial interoperability could allow new market entrants to arrogate those network effects to themselves, by allowing their users to remain in contact with Facebook friends even after they’ve left Facebook.
This kind of adversarial interoperability goes beyond the sort of thing envisioned by “data portability,” which usually refers to tools that allow users to make a one-off export of all their data, which they can take with them to rival services. Data portability is important, but it is no substitute for the ability to have ongoing access to a service that you’re in the process of migrating away from.
Big Tech platforms leverage both their users’ behavioral data and the ability to lock their users into “walled gardens” to drive incredible growth and profits. The customers for these systems are treated as though they have entered into a negotiated contract with the companies, trading privacy for service, or vendor lock-in for some kind of subsidy or convenience. And when Big Tech lobbies against privacy regulations and anti-walled-garden measures like Right to Repair legislation, they say that their customers negotiated a deal in which they surrendered their personal information to be plundered and sold, or their freedom to buy service and parts on the open market.
But it’s obvious that no such negotiation has taken place. Your browser invisibly and silently hemorrhages your personal information as you move about the web; you paid for your phone or printer and should have the right to decide whose ink or apps go into them.
Adversarial interoperability is the consumer’s bargaining chip in these coercive “negotiations.” More than a quarter of Internet users have installed ad-blockers, making it the biggest consumer revolt in human history. These users are making counteroffers: the platforms say, “We want all of your data in exchange for this service,” and their users say, “How about none?” Now we have a negotiation!
Or think of the iPhone owners who patronize independent service centers instead of using Apple’s service: Apple’s opening bid is “You only ever get your stuff fixed from us, at a price we set,” and the owners of Apple devices say, “Hard pass.” Now it’s up to Apple to make a counteroffer. We’ll know it’s a fair one if iPhone owners decide to patronize Apple’s service centers.