One of five antitrust bills introduced last week, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act (they did a lot of heavy lifting getting to get to an acronym so the least we can do is refer to it as the ACCESS Act) would mandate that platforms maintain open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to make them interoperable with those of rivals and to let consumers transfer their data out of an existing platform.
History doesn’t recommend that encouraging extensive network interoperability promotes competition, as AEI’s Mark Jamison notes using the AT&T example. And Mike Masnick of Tech Dirt notes that the portability prescribed in the bill won’t help consumers much either. Sam Bowman at the International Center for Law and Economics uses the experience of the U.K.’s banking regulations to point out the myriad problems with viewing these mandates as policy silver bullets.
Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of all that interoperability and portability have dangerous implications for consumer privacy. The bill waves those concerns away with little more than the statutory language equivalent of “be good.” American consumers deserve better.
Perhaps the biggest shift away from the light-touch regulatory and permissionless innovation models that have made U.S. tech firms global leaders is the requirement that these large platforms get approval from a technical committee at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) before making changes to their APIs. This is the height of technocratic Washington meddling. Do we want bureaucrats at the FTC or actual software engineers at four of the most successful companies in history make these decisions? (Hopefully, that’s still a rhetorical question for most people.)
Dictates that ignore the risks they create and the enormous government intervention into one of the most dynamic industries in our economy show that Washington is in over its head with this proposal. This is not antitrust legislation; this is technological micromanaging. Consumers don’t benefit when the federal government moves away from setting broad rules of the road, toward micromanaging business decisions.