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Redecentralize Digest — February 2022

In this issue:

Interop remedies

As regular readers will know, we see interoperability as a key to decentralise the internet. The concept is boringly normal in some areas: your phone can call any other phone, your bank lets you transfer money to customers of any other bank, and likewise for email you can choose your preferred provider and app.

But nowadays, much of online communication only works between users of the exact same app and same platform, because tech companies create them with this restriction; a practice that we could call monopoly-by-design.

In response, imposing interoperability requirements on platforms has increasingly been discussed among policymakers; although so far with limited application and ambition. (I got Margrethe Vestager to say some words about the European Commission’s ambitions on this front — make of it what you will)

Designing such regulation is far from trivial. Importantly, interop requires agreement between different parties on how to interact. Who chooses the protocols, the mechanisms of exchange between providers and apps? Opinions on how exactly to go about differ, and the details matter.

A simple approach would be to demand big platforms to create some ‘open API’. But this would lead nowhere, as Amandine Le Pape of Element explains:

“They can drag their feet on opening an API. Release it without fanfare or enthusiasm, and make sure it’s not particularly good; a bit of a pig. Clunky. Unreliable. “This stuff is tricky, you know?” And just when people are finally getting to grips with it… they can update it! To make it worse. Or just different. Different enough to put a bunch of smaller companies through a whole lot more development cost.

And of course when all the Big Tech players do that across all their products, it becomes very expensive indeed for some start up to continue to compete. And Big Tech will say: “Well, we tried. We created the open APIs. But consumers chose to stay with us.””

The Data Transfer Project is a good example of how companies pretend to believe in and work on interoperability, without ever getting close to the promised outcome. Stricter regulation and enforcement is needed to mitigate such interop-evasion.

For example, platforms could be required to support specific standardised protocols (e.g. ActivityPub for social media); or perhaps to support any protocol of their liking as long as it meets clearly specified requirements; or something in between or beyond. And in each case, ongoing compatibility tests may be needed to ensure effective compliance.

How to get such regulations and specifications right, and achieve real-world interoperability? To discuss questions like these in the web standards community, the W3C Interoperability Remedies Community Group was recently formed. It is welcoming technical experts, but also legal experts, regulators and others to join.

EU’s Data Act

Next in the row of similar-sounding regulation proposals (DSA, DMA, DGA, …), the European Commission’s newly proposed Data Act intends to improve fairness and access to data. It proposes stronger data portability rights, easier switching between cloud service providers through interoperability, and access to data generated by your devices.

For summaries and (mostly positive) critiques, see e.g. MyData, OpenFuture, or this post from one of the involved EU officials (his view on the ungovernability of big tech monopolies is another reading tip!).

Open Tech Will Save Us, again

The Matrix team revived its monthly online meetups, Open Tech Will Save Us, with presentations about open source software and its social impact.

Last week’s show was themed self-hosting for individuals, with presentations from Nextcloud and YunoHost (pronounced why-you-no-host), as well as Matrix’s progress on peer-to-peer communication (some self-promotion is to be expected). The recording can be found on PeerTube/YouTube.

DWeb Camp ahead

It took a while because of a virus going around. But three years after the first edition (see our digest), a second DWeb Camp should take place again this year, August 24–28th. Save the date, at least if you are in/around California!



For more events like these, check out and subscribe to the dweb.events calendar!

About this digest

The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.

This digest was written by Gerben, with thanks for all tips & suggestions.

The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at hello@redecentralize.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!