On Thursday, the European Parliament and EU member states announced their agreement on the Digital Markets Act. This legislation amounts to an overhaul of antitrust rules in Europe and will give the EU more power to rein tech giants like Facebook, Apple, and Google. One of the most important aspects of this new law is its approach to messaging apps.
What is the Digital Markets Act?
The Digital Markets Act is a set of regulations that the European Union has been working on for some time now. The goal of these regulations is to create a level playing field between Big Tech companies and smaller businesses. One of the ways it does this is by requiring messaging apps to be interoperable. This means that users will be able to message each other regardless of which app they're using.
There are a few reasons why the EU believes that this change is important. First, it will make it easier for people to communicate with each other. Second, it will promote competition in the messaging app market. And third, it will help reduce the power that Big Tech companies have over our lives.
Messaging under the Digital Markets Act
Under the Digital Markets Act, messaging apps will be required to provide interoperability. This means that users of different apps will be able to message each other regardless of which app they're using. For example, a WhatsApp user will be able to message a Facebook Messenger user and vice versa.
The belief is that by requiring all of the messaging apps to allow cross-communication, it will improve competition in the space. However, it is likely to do exactly the opposite. The reason why people who love iMessage do so is that it has features and capabilities that are not found anywhere else.
If Apple is required to interact with Facebook Messenger, the company will either be required that make those features available off-platform, or it will have to kill those features off entirely.
Then, there are the platforms that are specific in their messaging offerings. For example, Signal only offers end-to-end encrypted conversations. Snapchat offers short-lived messages in text, photos, and videos. If they are required to open up their messaging platforms, does this mean that Signal will have to offer unencrypted communication, or that iMessage will have to offer encrypted communication? Will texts possibly disappear from Android Messages, depending on who you message?
As it stands, I have the option to message someone on Facebook (Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp), Telegram, text, etc. I may choose the platform because of certain features or because of a particular connection reason. I might choose Telegram or Signal for anonymity and privacy. I may choose Messenger or text because of convenience. And, I may never want those two things to cross. This law would make that impossible.
Innovation and forced compatibility
Forcing the messaging platforms to be interoperable will stifle innovation quickly. In fact, it would be likely that several companies would get out of the business immediately. Why try to compete in an industry where you have little to no control over what you are able to do?
Our editorial staff found a line of demarcation in where platforms would have the ability to innovate. On the device, things can be unique. On the network, you would have to conform. So, a platform could have a unique UI. It could do photo and video filters (both live and locally). It could parse text and do interesting things, like translation or intuit information, like invitations and events. But, as far as the network, that's locked.
The end result
This would require creating an industry standards committee to decide what would and would not be supported in messaging apps. Then, every company that has messaging, from Facebook to Slack, would be required to throw away all of the work and infrastructure they have built over years and start over. While that's happening, a middle tier would need to be created and maintained by someone (the standards commission, likely). Customers would lose features and companies would lose any will to be part of the industry.
In reality, the end result is likely that Europe becomes a messaging desert where no one does business. Similar to Google News leaving Spain over policy disagreements, the companies would just end business in the European Union, undermining the EU's plans and hurting consumers.
Can you think of any positive reasons to implement this law? Let us know in the comments.