My latest Locus Magazine column is "Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability," an essay about the goal of competition and its handmaiden, interoperability, namely, "technological self-determination."
I don't fight monopolies because they're "inefficient." I fight them because they deprive everyone - workers, users, suppliers - of the right to decide how to live our lives, both by eliminating competitors who might offer superior choices and by locking us into their silos.
A monopolized world is one in which a tiny number of people get the final say over every aspect of your life: where and how you live, work, socialize, shop, politick, love, convalesce - even how you die.
I don't care how "efficient" or brilliant self-appointed, unaccountable lifestyle czars are. Benevolent dictatorships are bullshit. No matter how well they work, they always fail disastrously, because dictators are just mediocre humans like you and me and they fuck up.
This is especially important when it comes to tech monopolies, because tech is how we'll coordinate the movement to smash *all* monopolies. No tech product designer knows more than you do about the exigencies of your life.
If you don't get to override their decisions - if you don't get to reconfigure the tech you rely on - then you'll be stuck waiting for a mandatory software update on your car at the moment you need to drive away from a raging wildfire.
Tech monopolies claim they got big through "network effects," an econ term for a product that improves as it grows. Facebook is big because the bigger it is, the more you need FB, and when you join, you make it bigger, so even *more* people need Facebook.
But that's pure misdirection. Sure, tech might *get* big because of network effects, but it *stays* big due to "switching costs" - the things you forfeit when you leave the service.
You come to Facebook because your friends are there, but you *stay* on FB because if you leave, you'll lose touch with those friends. There's no intrinsic reason this must be so: after all, you can switch cellular carriers without losing touch with all your friends.
The only reason leaving FB means leaving behind friends, family, communities, and customers you have there is because FB engineered it that way. FB blocks interop specifically to keep switching costs as high, so you can't exercise self-determination.
We're at an unprecedented, intercontinental moment in antimonopoly enforcement, with competition laws in train all over the world. Despite this, the world's governments are in for a tough fight: Big Tech is bigger than most countries.
They're not shy about mobilizing their vast storehouses of ill-gotten monopoly rents to defend their right to deprive you of the right to live your life the way you want to.
Interoperability - in the form of mandates and legal permission to hack ad-hoc interop into dominant services cuts the supply lines to Big Tech's lobbying efforts, easing way of people who want to escape Big Tech's gravity well without cutting off people they leave behind.
Interop - and competition - are both a means to an end: not choice for its own sake, but nothing less than the right to life your life in service to your values, rather than the self-interest of the shareholders of dominant platforms.
The problem of monopoly isn't "bad companies" and "good companies." It's the issue of whether you can override corporate judgement when it's in your interest to do so.
Interop mandates - like those proposed in the ACCESS Act - are an important part of this agenda, but on their own they will never suffice. Mandates are too easy for monopolists to subvert, and regulators move too slowly to fix them.
In addition to mandatory interop, we need "adversarial interoperability" (AKA Competitive Compatibility or comcom) the legal right to connect new services and add-ons to existing ones without permission.
With comcom in the mix, corporate bosses that cheat on their interoperability obligations will face instant consequences for their perfidy: their competitors will switch from orderly interop via mandated interfaces to chaotic comcom guerrilla warfare.
Smart managers will avoid this altogether - and when stupid managers prevail, the users they are attempting to trap will still have recourse in the form of comcom interfaces.
Monopoly isn't purely a matter of Big Tech. Monopolism has conquered nearly every industry. But tech platforms are our best tool for fighting monopolism - and the momentum we build in fighting Big Tech will serve us well when we go after the rest.
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