Europe takes a stance: large messaging services will have to open up

Gabriel Engel
April 25, 2022
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5
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Gone are the days when email was the main channel of digital communication. In 2022, messaging apps are the way we all communicate in our personal and professional lives. We use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Viber, and others to communicate with friends and family. At work, we rely on platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Rocket.Chat.

However, some of these messaging platforms have one big disadvantage compared to email - the lack of interoperability (or cross-platform messaging). You simply can't send a message from WhatsApp to Messenger; the same way you can from Google’s Gmail to Microsoft’s Outlook. That's not because its not technically feasible but because a few Big Tech "gatekeepers" have decided so.

The good news is, as of March 24th 2022, we get to choose.

EU Parliament to the Big Tech gatekeepers: “Open up your APIs!”

On March 24th, Europe got a step closer to achieving what was until recently considered impossible by many. The EU Parliament & Council agreed on the contents of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) - new legislation from the EU intended to limit anti-competitive behavior from tech “gatekeepers”.

The catch is that the new legislation doesn’t enforce restrictions on the big players. Instead, it aims to make them “more open” and interoperable with other messaging platforms. This change clearly shows Europe’s determination in ensuring fair competition, more innovation, and more freedom for end-users. 

As published by the European Parliament:

During a close to 8-hour long trilogue (three-way talks between Parliament, Council and Commission), EU lawmakers agreed that the largest messaging services (such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage) will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms, if they so request. Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice.

Supporting fair competition

Are you using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp because you are impressed with their features or because everyone else uses them? 

Yes, most of these giants began with a great product. But the main reason why we use them today is because of the ability to talk to a large network of their users. Naturally, the market has become anti-competitive: users become locked into the network and can’t switch even if they want to.

The Digital Markets Act is a huge step towards bringing back fair competition in this market. It puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies. From now on, these big players must show that they allow for fair competition on the internet. 

Bringing back the freedom of choice 

The closed networks of today’s Big Tech players put a completely arbitrary limit on how users can extend and enrich their own conversations in both their private and professional lives. 

Interoperability will enable photo and file sharing, video calling, and message exchange across different platforms, expanding users’ choice and eliminating the typical social network effects that create innovation-chilling service lock-in.

As well put by TechCrunch:

This change could be hugely significant in empowering consumers who object to the policies of a giant like Meta, which owns Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, but feel unable to switch to a rival because they would lose the ability to message their friends.

But is data privacy at risk?

Interoperability puts data privacy at risk”. This has been one of the biggest ‘gatekeepers’ arguments against opening their APIs. But does interoperability really mean sacrificing privacy?

Not necessarily!

For example, by decentralizing the bridges and spreading them around the internet, you avoid them becoming a single honeypot for attackers.

Another solution would be for the gatekeepers to switch to a decentralized end-to-end encrypted protocol to preserve end-to-end encryption. 

In their recent article, Matrix has debunked all the gatekeepers’ myths about data privacy. Here are some of them:

  • MYTH - "Interoperability is incompatible with end-to-end encryption"
    ⇒ false: services just have to speak the same language, email has proved this with S/MIME and PGP - where different vendors can and do interoperate with E2EE. It’s even better when the protocol is E2EE by default.
  • MYTH - “Interoperability is not compatible with data privacy”
    ⇒ false: Interoperability gives the ability to users to choose who is hosting their data and as such choose providers they trust. Besides, the DMA will exist alongside horizontal regulations like the GDPR and the Data Act, which give people sufficient control over their data. Enshrining interoperability in law will at least ensure gatekeepers need to provide recourse for people to have further control over their data, which will be an improvement from the landscape today.

Take a closer look at all the 11 myths debunked by Matrix

DMA and Rocket.Chat: A Step Closer to Achieving Our Ultimate Mission

For us, March 24th was a big day. The new legislation brought us a step closer to enabling people to communicate on their own terms, regardless of what platform they choose. We want the world to be well connected and their data to stay protected.

Rocket.Chat Federation allows servers to communicate with each other, with no limits to the number of servers connected. We use industry standards, like DNS records, to keep the process as seamless as possible, and seek the most hassle-free communication between servers. 

Furthermore, by working with decentralized protocol providers we are eliminating the concern of compromised data privacy.

If you are looking for a secure, interoperable communications platform, you can always try Rocket.Chat for free for 30 days!

Gabriel Engel is the CEO and co-founder of Rocket.Chat, the leading open source communications platform.
Gabriel Engel
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