What is interoperability?

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The proposed antitrust legislation that was quickly passed by a recent U.S. House of Representatives committee could force larger tech platforms to allow other systems to more easily connect to their technology. The concept is interoperability, and while it’s not a new idea, it’s something we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the coming months.

Think of interoperability as how technologies work in conjunction with other technologies. Take the email. If the email mode of operation was not interoperable, we wouldn’t be able to send email using Gmail to someone’s Yahoo email account. But because messaging systems are interoperable, we can.

Why is this an antitrust problem?

When technology is designed in such a way that it does not speak the same language as other technologies or erects barriers that prevent other systems from connecting to it or from operating its data pipelines, it can prevent these other technologies from activating certain abilities, stifling their growth. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation, promoter of interoperability, puts it, “interoperability is a key policy for a pro-competitive Internet” because it “undermines the network effects that keep users locked in the ecosystem of a conglomerate” and “eliminates barriers for new entrants by letting the small players graft themselves onto the infrastructure developed by the big ones.

The proposed legislation could force technology platforms, including Facebook and Google, to give other businesses better access to the information flowing through their systems. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter thrive in some ways by allowing outsiders to use trusted developer tools to create features that work in their ecosystems. When a business creates shopping tools that work in WhatsApp conversations, that’s an example of interoperability, and arguably helps Facebook-owned WhatsApp. But, because interoperability can open up opportunities for newbies to create new technologies that work with these dominant systems, it could create threats for tech giants.

Aren’t there already a lot of open tools that allow interoperability?

Sure. For example, APIs (application programming interfaces) allow users to use Google or Facebook credentials to sign in to other companies’ websites. And Twitter allows all kinds of businesses to build technology that works in conjunction with its platform and leverages Twitter data like tweets, conversation threads, and query language using an API.

“Open APIs allow developers to access proprietary software applications or web services and allow computer programs to ‘talk’ to each other so that they can request and share information,” wrote Dave Pickles, Founder and CTO of The Trade Desk in a 2019 Forbes article on how the software development community can drive greater interoperability.

What are the examples of ad technology interoperability?

In the world of ad technology, interoperability can be like an advertiser telling Google to send the Trade Desk a record of all conversion data associated with a brand or campaign, said Adam Heimlich, CEO and co-founder. from Chalice Custom Algorithms, a company that creates custom algorithms that work in conjunction with ad technology systems such as demand-side platforms. In this way, if Google or other platforms controlling a large part of the digital advertising market were required to allow more access to data, it could help level the playing field, as a DSP could be able to use this information to improve its models in the hope of ensuring that the appropriate ad inventory is credited when a web user clicks to buy something.

“For me, that opens the door to competition around this data,” Heimlich said. “It’s a locked set of values, and when the data is unlocked, those values ​​are also unlocked. “

Is scraping a form of interoperability?

Technologies that scratch or explore other technologies, such as browser extensions that collect HTML from sites, are considered a class of interoperable technologies. People often build technologies that build on other technologies in a way that might violate the terms and conditions of the mainstream technology. This is why the rules imposing increased interoperability are sure to provoke more and more lively debates and reactions from the major platforms.

Take on the growing crop of consumer-oriented data monetization browser extensions. By lowering the barriers preventing people from using external technologies such as browser extensions or apps to monetize the data they generate on Microsoft-owned Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the rules requiring platforms to allow Greater interoperability could have important implications for the companies that create these tools and the people who wish to benefit more from the data they generate. Increased interoperability would also help academic researchers whose tools have also been removed from social media platforms.

What about portability? I thought it was about allowing people to upload their photos and the like.

That’s a big part of that, and we hear most often from lawmakers who are concerned about the hold that big tech platforms have over our digital lives and virtual assets. Think of data transfer – generally referred to as data portability – as a subset of interoperability. Data portability is the sharing and movement of data. If forced to do so, platforms like Google might need to allow users to allow another service to access information associated with a friend’s shared location so that users can see where friends are outside of the network. Google Maps environment.

Are there no privacy concerns?

Indeed. “Interoperability is the sharing of data, and that comes with inherent privacy risks,” Bennett Cyphers, staff technologist at EFF, told Digiday. He and others expect tech platforms to use privacy and security risks as a key argument against increased interoperability, which could be red herring in some cases.

“There is a lot of space between these two ideas,” said Cyphers, who suggested that legislation that requires increased interoperability could attach certain conditions that protect privacy, for example by requiring that data cannot be transferred and used only for specific or unauthorized uses. for purposes not accepted by individuals. Ultimately, he said, there might be better privacy protections in place in the United States for certain shared personal data due to increased interoperability compared to the limited protections for the data collected. passively.


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