What may make Warren's "break up Facebook" proposal USELESS

 

Everybody has been saying for a while that “it’s time to break up Amazon, Google and Facebook”, and now even a USA 2020 presidential candidate has joined that team. Is her proposal complete?

Amazon is probably a different story, but with companies like Google or Facebook… in general, breaking them up is half impossible, half useless, as I have already said several times. At first sight, even this new proposal seems to fall into that category.

On March 8th, 2019, Elizabeth Warren published a proposal to break up Amazon, Google and Facebook which includes regulation to “reverse illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers”, like Facebook with WhatsApp and Instagram, because “unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market”. The assumption is that such regulation would:

  • put on Facebook “real pressure from Instagram and WhatsApp to improve the user experience and protect our privacy”
  • give new tech entrepreneurs “a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants”

Nah…

What may make Warren's "break up Facebook" proposal USELESS /img/zuckerberg-laughing.jpg
Mark Zuckerberg, here shown as extremely worried at the mere thought of governments "breaking up Facebook"

The truth is that communication services are not like biscuit makers. You and your relatives don’t need to eat the same biscuits to have breakfast together. In and by itself, instead, reversing the Facebook/WhatsApp/Instagram mergers would merely keep everybody stuck into the same, unbelievably stupid situation we have been for years now:

unable to directly, transparently exchange messages between Facebook, WhatsApp and any other instant messaging provider, which is as smart as, for example, Huawei phones unable to call iPhones, or Vodafone users unable to call Verizon ones.

Breaking up communication providers is completely useless, if they are allowed to be incompatible with each other.

The only thing that will “put real pressure” on certain companies in the right way is forcing them to use, and make really accessible to all their users, really open protocols to communicate transparently with the users of any other competing service of the same type.

Lack of such interoperability may not be the only thing that should become illegal, but surely is the first one. Only forcing Facebook, with or without Instagram and WhatsApp inside, to be really interoperable with every other provider of the same services gives:

  • to its two billions users, real, actual freedom to transparently communicate with all the users of e.g. Telegram, or to switch to any other provider of instant messaging
  • to any current or future competitor, an actually fair playing field

Do that, and anti-merger regulation will be much less needed. But please don’t waste any more time to break up, nationalize or transform into a cooperative anything like Facebook in that way:

To contact me to speak or write more about these matters, please email mfioretti@nexaima.net. To support this and my other work, see here.

Picture source: Gizmodo, “The Movement to Break Up Facebook Has Begun” (break up in the wrong way, of course)

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