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IGF 2019 – Day 0 – Raum IV – Pre-Event #41 Leaving Hotel California: promoting alternatives to the Internet giants

The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, Germany, from 25 to 29 November 2019. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 

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>> MODERATOR:  Hello, everyone.  We will have Sivan, my colleague, running around with a microphone if you contribute, which we would like you to use it.  My name is Astor Carlberg, and I work for OpenForum Europe in Brussels.  We have been around and active in Brussels for maybe 17 plus years, something like that, working on openness in the IT markets.  So key words would be open source, open standards and interoperability.

Next to me I have Vittorio Bertola, Open Xchange and our cohort.  

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  I am Vittorio Bertola.  I have been in this environment 20 years, and I'm one of the people responsible for inventing the figure which I take the blame for all of this stuff.  But I am here as the head of policy for Open Xchange, which is leading European free software company making software, and we are interested in promoting the open source idea and open standards which this will be about.

>> MODERATOR:  This topic of interoperability.  It's something that has moved up on the political agenda and the competition or the lack thereof in the digital markets and in particular for the platform economy.  And for this conversation and discussion, we would like to focus on interoperability as a possible solution to increase competition.  And to some extent we feel like the topic of interoperability has been slightly overlooked in the policy debate for the last few years, and the idea of it essentially for the ones who have not engaged with this before, is that an interoperability requirement put in place by law or perhaps through standards organisations would put in place for large platforms, it would enable other new competitors to enter the market and kind of turning the network effects, it's kind of considered like a judo move on the network effects.

So the idea is that you lower the barriers of entry by being able to compete with, at different levels of the large platforms.  And having more, you know, lower the barriers of entry into the market will then allow more competitors to simply fairly compete.

And this in turn unleashes societal benefits such as user choice and control.  So the idea is that the user doesn't have to get access to every single platform and we would avoid through these winner takes all outcomes.  So while I made the point that interoperability might have been a bit forgotten in the competition debate.  We feel that there is more and more conversation around this.  I guess to the further the debate they start to rely on many policy makers.

So hopefully we hope you feel up for the challenge of both asking questions, giving statements and ideas.  Some of the questions range from pretty straightforward and perhaps more politically sensitive to some being technically challenging, and it's very important to get as much input as possible to push the debate and conversation forward.  We have quite a lot of time allocated, so we will see how it goes, but feel free and if you want to add something, state your name and the organisation you represent and Sivan will run around with a microphone.  Vittorio Bertola, maybe you want to open the floor with some of the first questions.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  Yes, I will start with a first set of questions, and as I said, we hope you will have ideas on this.  If you come here, we expect you to at least have an idea of what the problem is and to have some thoughts on why it is important.  So before introducing the questions actually I would like to but some context and help you because I don't know how many people here are technical or not technical, how many are familiar with the issues.

I would like to start with a clear example of what interoperability means and why it makes a difference.  It's an example from something that we all use every day, which is the Internet communication mechanisms, but I think that you have to understand the difference and you can clearly notice the difference between the two main types of communication we make over the Internet and one is email and the other is instant messaging, because I mean, if you look at email, email is one of the original let's say standards from the original Internet, I mean, early forms of emails have been existing since the 70s.  The proper Internet did not exist yet, but the first attempts, I think, at connecting different networks started and Internet has grown thanks to open standards.

So the standards are open.  You can implement them, and different people, different services that implement the standards can talk with each other.  So even today, even if there is already a lot of concentration going on in the email situation with Gmail having the lion's share and having over a billion users.  Email is very much distribute and there are hundreds of thousands of email services around the world, different servers.  We calculate over four million installations of the software we make and which is included in basically every Linux installation.

So there are several million servers around the world.  So this is really opening up possibilities for new services and new developments, extensions to the technologies, and in the end also opening up a choice for the users.  Then when the instant messaging systems came, it was already the age of the commercial, and after the first of dot com bubble, and the IPOs, and there are still open standards for instant messaging but many companies that enter this space just wanted to build their garden and their customers so people stopped using customers of open standards and started being customers of a closed service, so these services like WhatsApp, Telegram, there are lots of applications, some are more open, less open, but they are all silos. 

So if you want to communicate with someone on WhatsApp, you need a WhatsApp account.  If you want to communicate on Facebook Messenger, you need an account.  This is very inconvenient for users because you need an account on each and every service, but it's convenient for the people that run the silos and can profit by monetizing them.

So even today you can try to start up a new instant messaging application, maybe even better for the users with more privacy protection.  We have privacy protection in terms of the ownership of the service, but no one will use it because all of your contacts are already on other services and you cannot communicate with these other services so this is what interoperability would be useful for because if all of these services were forced to interoperate, let people from other messaging applications communicate with users, then all of a sudden you could have competition because you could build a new messaging client, a new messaging application that would allow you to exchange messages with people on WhatsApp, people on Telegram, people on Facebook Messenger. 

And actually it would be possible for new entrants to start new products that may be better for the users, and it would be possible for users to move.  So this is what we are talking about.  We are talking about basically reinstating the original principles of the Internet, which are about, really about openness and interoperability, and which are the ones that enable the Internet to grow and to bring a lot of good things to everyone around the planet.

So this is my take on the issue, but now I would really like to encourage people in the room to speak.  So the first question is basically what do you mean by interoperability, especially the concept that has been mentioned is this adversarial interoperability, which means it is a form of interoperability that has to be imposed on these companies even if they don't accept to do it.

So the owners of these services who just decide to open up the interoperability and allow other people to communicate.  This was partially true because it's a common strategy for the news services to be open in the beginning when you need to build the user base and then to close down the service once they get to critical mass.  There are still some of the services that allow you to, for example, build third party applications against the platform, but they are strictly limited because they are only allowed by the owner of the service as far as it suits their business interests.

The concepts of adversarial interoperability is rather than the deregulation of some kind of norm that requires players to be completely open at least in the state of basic features and allow different applications to interoperate and offer the same basic features to everyone independently of which client they are using.

Another point we would like to discuss is how is this different from data portability because we already have data portability provisions in GDPR in Article 20.  The point about the GDPR portability is that it's conceived for porting out data when you leave a service.  So I don't want to use Gmail, I push a button, I get my data and I can import them into a new email provider.  The law says you should be able to do this automatically, and as of today, no one has implemented this.  So already getting this implemented would be a good step forward, but this is not enough really if you want to create competition.

So the important thing is to actually stress the difference between proper interoperability, interoperability which is real time connection between services and the data portability which is good but not enough.

And especially we would like to be interested in you have any in examples, I mean, so if you see changes in this environment, if you see examples of people trying to, there are going to be people from all around the world in examples and experiences on this.  Or even exercises on this.  The point, we will get to this maybe in the late, in the other parts of the discussion, but the focus of this is also how do we get to an agreed definition of interoperability.

It's easy to say we want to open up, and the point is if you want to bring this up by regulation, we have to have a very precise definition of what do you mean by interoperability, and this is also a discussion we need to have.  So we would like hear views in the room from people that, first of all, if you share the views or you think that this is important, that you then have comments on what it is, how can we define it and how can we bring forward.  So please don't be shy.

>> AUDIENCE:  Hello.  I think one of the main ways to get traction on interoperability.

>> MODERATOR: Could you introduce yourself?

>> AUDIENCE:  I am Christian Budgadi.  I work with Poly Poly which is an effort to build decentralized private data storage, interoperable data store for your own data.  And the gist here is it is important that we have an economic incentive for companies to be interoperable because if we don't have that, there will always be a resistance.  Companies that have incentive to not be interoperable, making more company by being a closed silo will never open themselves up.  Even if we have laws or regulations, they will try to undercut them or fulfill them in the minimal way to get by with that.

If we have an economic incentive of being interoperable, having access and option for customers to freely move around and be interoperable with other services, then this will be a success.  Otherwise, it won't be.

>> MODERATOR:   Do you have any ideas of what that economic incentive could be?  Is it tax structure?  What are you thinking?

>> AUDIENCE:  I could go into a sales pitch right now.  I don't want to hijack that here.  It is basically we need to reduce the running costs of scoring data and being closed and make it economically viable to share data and have, and enable business models that rely on data not being in a closed sigh low.

>> AUDIENCE:  Andrew Campling, 419 Consulting.  Considering the interoperability, it strikes me one of the challenges certainly for messaging is companies that claim encryption my certain that as a barrier to allow others to become involved because it would breach their control and trust of the entering encryption.  So I could see that being used as an objection to portability.  As an example of where I think good practice exists, certainly if I look at how open banking is being implemented in the U.K. where you have a clear differentiation between this front end apps that provide the interface to the user and the back end apps that the various banking providers use to operate the accounts and clearly that can be the same institution of both sides of the equation or it could be in some cases a third party that specializes just in the front end.

The advantage that gives is it encourages innovation, but that's been brought in because it's been mandated through law.  And I suspect that's the answer to the question, which is if you want interoperability then you have to have tightly defined laws to require it.  The only caveat to that is I think you do need to allow some  innovation.  So it would be a real shame if new entrants come in with innovation and then large established companies can provide leverage their innovation and the new entrants don't get to actually get the advantages of that.

>> A quick thought on that, I think it's interesting.  There have been proposals in the debate by academics where essentially the idea would be not to have, let's say, an across the board interoperability requirement.  So it would land on and here comes another definitional challenge.  It would land on the so called, the large platforms of the incumbents which at least in the European context or the EU context it's been quite the challenge to pin down a definition that would capture these services but the idea then would be the option of picking an encrypted or more privacy focused messenger would not be undermined by one of the large platforms or large messaging services to go in and adversarialy interoperate with the service but it would work the other way around instead.

There is potentially one challenge, but, again, a new definitional challenge arises in that context, again, and makes the law more complicated to write, of course.  Any other thoughts?

>> AUDIENCE:  Hi, Karen Reilly, Status 404.  I come from a tech background, and I am an advocate for open source.  Software freedom in itself is a thing to support.  However, I think it's important essentially talking about the Internet giants in California, and the human rights implications of having technology made by non‑diverse teams.  Why do we want interoperability?  What are the human rights, harms we are talking about?  One of the things that I focus on is platforms that make it easier for stalkers to find victims.

Platforms that make gender‑based violence online easier that don't have blocking, muting and abuse reporting mechanisms.  So especially in the European context, how can we create better alternatives given Europe's tech abysmal record on gender diversity, racial diversity, the type of people who intuitively know what sort of threat models end users face.  So it's important to not just talk about open technology standards, but where do we want to go with these standards and what kind of teams, what kind of organisations do we need to build on a social level to have these discussions be fruitful?

>> MODERATOR: Do you think perhaps that, of course, the discussion then to make sure that that it's an inclusive discussion when we talk about, let's say if it's the legal strategy into putting this in place.  Would you say that, let's say, a more open and interoperable system could potentially enable more groups that have been kind of excluded from the technical development perhaps because of network effects, et cetera, and the already established incumbents that this would open up opportunities for them to enter the markets, let's say, with their technology or alternatives.  Perhaps that is a positive opportunity.

>> AUDIENCE:  One of the other things that is lacking in some open source activism communities is a focus on usability.  So there is a lot of fed rated social media projects, open data projects, but unless you are a systems administrator, you are not going to be able to deploy them and if you talk to hackavists, the answer is if you really wanted privacy you would use this online utility to communicate with only other hackers and saying that usability is security, it one of the things that a lot of people are discussing, and it's met with a lot of resistance, so that's one of the components whether you are talking about end users, marginalized end users or enterprise environments, you are not going to get adoption unless you have graphic designers, UIUX people in the room as well, and a lot of times those are going to be diverse groups whose work is not valued in the so called hard, serious tech world.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  One of the reasons that the big Internet platforms became big is because they were good at this stuff.  So I agree.  In the end, I also say that the reason why we wanted to promote this as regulatory problem is I still think if you make the best possible new competing application completely open and with a great user experience, it will not go anywhere if you can't interoperate with the users on the mainstream platforms, and I think this is one of the problems even with the less better.

>> MODERATOR:  Any other thoughts or ideas?

>> AUDIENCE:  Hello.  I'm the open tech Summit here.  I was inspired by this contribution on the diversity and more non‑technical aspects of interoperability.  I'm a great supporter of this European approach, of the European interoperability framework, because it expands in all of these other areas like supporting language diversity which is a huge issue or when you think about UIX and UX design often it's overlooked, what do when you deal with different type faces.  When I try to get into the U.S. using the waiver channel, I had to provide my personal data, my name, and my name includes an accent and it was not eaten by the system that serves like 60 million people per year, and then I tried, had to try the same with the name of my parents, Günter and Erica.  And Günter is written with an umlaut.  The American system doesn't accept this.  This is a mass system and you can see this in so many applications that we have these interoperability issues also on a cultural level, like you don't understand the software, you don't understand the navigation and it doesn't process your language, it doesn't process your way of handling it or it's not accustomed to the red green blindness because nobody on the team that made the software had red green blindness and never understand that this issue will arise.

I think the interoperability framework is still very useful, but still there is international regulation.

>> You could give background on the EIF.  It's a pretty specific EU document.

>> AUDIENCE:  This is known in the interoperability community because it was like part of a very substantial struggle between Microsoft on the one hand and free and open advocates on the other hand, but that's a long time ago.  But in essence it's a framework where the European Union first tried to define what are open standards, I phrase that's used very often, and then tried to define the levels of interoperability, the characteristics.

There should be semantic interoperability, legal aspects, organizational aspects of interoperability.  Mostly when Member States of the European Union with their diverse systems cooperate in E‑government, they have to overcome interoperability challenges because all systems are different, grown from below and they come together on the European level and try to exchange data, harmonize the systems, and this cannot be done top down. 

There is also very much a bottom up element to it.  There are also global challenges.  One is the trade challenges, like VTO, we have  technical barriers to trade agreement.  And when I look at what was decided in Europe on the official level was the standards regulation.  It's very much inspired the criteria from the BTO, BTB.  It's an agreement that doesn't reflect that much.  The Internet age and specific requirements was web standards.

Personally I think we need to bring the expertise of the IT markets into the trade arena because what's decided there and you see it with E‑commerce chapters trying to prohibit open source, et cetera, really requires some expertise and contemporary input from affected industries.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: I wanted to point out.  The way that we ‑‑ I wanted to express that in this is a strength for the industry, because in general, maybe one of the reasons why, you know, people always ask why don't we have a European Google or a European Microsoft, why Europe did not produce these very big Internet platforms and now we are depending on the American ones.  I think this is also connected to the nature of Europe as an Archipelago of 28 states plus others that are not in the EU with different languages and actually still different markets.

But in the end, this model, the model based on interoperability and open standards is the model to which we can cooperate and create alliances between the naturally smaller companies in these different companies.  By the way, the fact that we have to cooperate with different languages and markets and still a certain amount of national laws is what makes the European technology more flexible and easy to use in the rest of the world.  The next billions of Internet users which are not going to be in North America and in Europe but in the rest of the world and which will have challenges about languages and national issues and whatever.

So I do think that in general this is, I mean, what we are opposing is good in terms of principle and freedoms and rights and is also good for business in Europe.  It's strategically something that fits the European model.  Maybe this is why I would expect Europe to be a little stronger amongst the global players because this is a requirement for the European industry to be able to compete with the global platforms.

>> Any other initial thoughts for the first set of questions and ideas or just reactions.

>> AUDIENCE:  May name is Leonid.  I work in Asia‑Pacific.  I realized from the beginning what the topic was how to rate the oligarchy.  Am I right.  I was a little bit flabbergasted that the conversation took a little bit different twist which is technical.  Though from my perspective this is purely institutional problem.  I witnessed the rise of two different systems.  One is let's say the U.S. in the U.S. and the other one in China.  So both countries, now both the biggest Internet companies in the world by contrast, Europe doesn't have a company which, I mean, an Internet company which would make it to top ten.  Does it?  So the question is why.  I can address the audience, why no European company has ever entered the top ten biggest Internet companies in the world?  And there isn't a simple.  The European legislation is so stringent that it effectively strangles those companies and cannot just let them go into that area.

The U.S. companies are big because they benefited from the original Silicon Valley sentiment which was all about laissez‑faire approach.  There were no limits, no limitations, no legislation in place to limit their growth.  Once they became that big, the Government, of course, reacted and not necessarily in a very positive way.  In China, this is my speculation, situation the champions were mostly handpicked.  They were told so you will be leading the market, not him and not him, just you.  And that's how they developed very quickly and how they became really big.

And now, it seems to me the question came when we have two ecosystems, then we have effectively no choice bought to follow either and be their slaves.  So the big question is how to return to that laissez‑faire approach which was practiced at the beginning and how to restore the young generation of entrepreneur's trust in their ability to develop something which would become credible at the end of the day rather than solve off at the very early stage of development to one of those big companies.

It seems to me the answer is, the answer lies, I reluctantly have to admit it, with the Governments.  There should be some kind of set of measures which would return trust in those institutions which under a free market, I mean, in the real sense of the world, thank you.

>> I guess maybe rephrasing I think what you are describing, it's right there in the middle kind of pops up the theme of interoperability as well.  This is a context in which it's often discussed.  The idea is Europe has, and this can, of course, be argued between politically speaking, but Europe has, if we take an example of a regulation like the GDPR or data protection rules, a political decision essentially to simplify it greatly that the big data gathering business models are not going to be promoted to the same extent in Europe.

And at the same time, you also hear a lot of, sets a, European policy makers asking themselves why don't we have these big data based businesses and there are other factors, but the question is, of course, not just directly framing it is we should promote and go with a political setup that enabled these companies in the United States where there is also now a lot of concerns about these business models the way they were put forward.

We are interested in looking at interoperability as potentially the aspect in between, not picking one side but instead promoting let's say a model, and this is, I think, back to Andre's point, it's interoperability in the technical sense to a technical extent, a lot may happen in open source communities or standards bodies depending how the actual solutions will be promoted.  But there is the political discussion how do you promote and push this forward so that there is a way where perhaps we don't grow these massive companies, but instead we manage through interoperability and openness network the some SMEs and universities and individuals.

I think Europe has between ‑‑ we have more developers in Europe than the U.S. has.  So in terms of the human capital, we have it.  This is an alternative, perhaps, to unleash them and find ways for them though compete and this goes back to I guess something that's very popular in the EU bubble, in the context of the European values still to be defined.

>> AUDIENCE:  You know, several years ago, the economists actually ran that question why no European company made it to the top ten.  And they found an answer, I mean, them, and I would in some way agree with them.  They found an answer in institutions not technical standards or interoperability.  For example, they examined the issue of bankruptcy law.  In the United States and in Europe.

And they found out that, for example, in the United States if you go bankrupt, you can start a new company in a matter of days.  In Europe, in France, it takes up to ten years if I'm not mistaken, in Germany it's three or six years so there are no incentives for those young and talented developers to start it all over again after that market failure.  So I believe that, yes, interoperability matters, but so are institutions, once again, which I understand fully in the classic definition as a set of formal and informal arrangements which are acceptable to the society and which can either benefit or be a penalty to that society if they misuse or if they are wrong essentially.  Thank you.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: I take your point, this is why we should have proper economic studies to understand whether these effects are true or not, I suspect that more or less regulation, advantage from the U.S. derives from availability of capital especially and also from a cultural aspect.  Still, maybe I'm an idealist, but I think that Europe should not try to copy the American comment more in cultural and social terms.  We have a different social model which is maybe, yes, more attached to regulation and the public interest to defending some social values and not just about, I mean, making big companies very quickly.

I think the question for us Europeans is how do we keep the model and find a way to have it survive economically in this big clash between two other models, the American and the Chinese one.  My take, I'm ready to discuss this with the people and also to have a look at proper scientific studies, but my take is that we need to defend our own market from these models which are fast in bringing products and even better at closing them down and cornering the market forever if we do this.  So we have to find ways to resist this trend by these other social models to conquer us and allow our companies, our economy, our industry to grow in a lower but a different way which suits sour social model which is a cooperative way, I mean a corporation difference in all of these very different local ways that we have as existing as Europeans.

So this is why I'm still interested in the different model, and I will point out that really the only thing that Europe has been doing in the last ten, fifteen years that has left a mark is GDPR.  Regulating is maybe Europe's talent.  I start to suspect this.

>> MODERATOR:  Any other thoughts now, because I really would like to investigate ‑‑ oh, yes.  Here in the front.

>> AUDIENCE:  Just a quick one.  I'm thinking that interoperability is very much linked to the simplicity of the basic common denominator that we have among the applications that have to be interoperability.  I'm just saying I was prompted by the contribution of the colleague here, for instance, if we ask for some requirement for the script, ASCII is basic and its easy to, how can I say, achieve interoperability if that is the common minimum common denominator that we ask for.  If we start using different scripts and so on, if you have the universal acceptance as the basic common area, this all becomes incredibly more complicated.

In Europe, we have some things that if we want to be really perfect are problems that are very, that have very difficult solutions.  I remember many, many years ago when I was a young programmer that I was giving a simple task, that was to sort last names, European last names.  It was a big issue because, of course, the double L in Spanish is a letter of itself, so I don't know.  Depending on whether you use the Spanish collating sequence, you have a certain order.  If you have use the Italian collating sequence, you have a different order.

There is no way to agree on which name comes before or after.  Will so I think that one of the ‑‑ when we ask about interoperability, this is not an abstract question where you can give a bang and answer, yes, I'm in favor of interoperability or not.  It has to be connected with what is the set, the minimum set of requirements that we want to have in common.  And in this, I think that the Americans are much more pragmatic than the Europeans by having a less complicated set of requirements that can achieve interoperability in a faster way.

>> AUDIENCE:  A really quick one.  First of all, European regulations are not that difficult to deal with if your infrastructure company cannot deal with Article 30, the reported of processing activities of the GDPR, run away, because they will be a security nightmare.  They will have servers running God knows what in the corner of the data centre that nobody knows about it until they returning DDOS attacks or something like that.  So the GDPR is complex, but it's not the worst thing to come out of Europe.

In terms of a highly international community that does interoperability that deals with localization, deals with all sorts of different characters, languages like Persian and Arabic that present a challenge, civil society is good at this.  There is an NGO localization lab that does this for NGOs.  There are, you know, usability studies that are geared towards the way people from different cultures use technology.  These civil society people are running on very, very small budgets, and they are here.  Find the people with colorful hair and lots of stickers on their laptops and talk to them about how they do this on a miniscule budget.  We can learn a lot from them.

>> Yes, let's move over a little bit just maybe especially since we have such a diverse crowd, especially for us working with open source and open standards our crowds are often not as diverse as this, so that is something positive to begin with.  But we also started looking a little bit at let's say the positive aspect.  We really presented interoperability, we talked about the technical things that there is a lot of possibilities but also challenges.

But also looking at different examples of maybe non‑IT markets, I think the open banking example is very interesting where kind of interoperability requirement has unleashed kind of the FinTech revolution arguably in London and the market is happening there, kind of the innovation that Europe would like to see happening way more on our continent.  Also there are interoperability requirements in the telco markets that enable a lot of new entrants into the markets and lower costs, et cetera.

So thinking, really opening up the floor and maybe opening seen as a brainstorm, thinking apart from these examples or if you know more about these examples maybe develop a little bit, but maybe if you can think of other examples where these kind of requirements put in place of actually led to a positive outcome or for that matter a negative outcome if there are risks we need to keep in mind.

>> AUDIENCE:  Hi, my name is Basil Ajith, I'm from an organisation FLCIN, Freedom Information Law Centre in India.  I just remembered carrying on from what you said about usability.  We go around different events and one event, so I'm a lawyer and I also do digital security trainings and another digital security trainer came out and said free software didn't look good.  And second thing that she pointed out a good example that we all need to be aware of is accessibility issues.

So they wanted to move to a very private and secure messaging platform but they had a person which had a disability.  So and it was free software, so I have seen a lot of free software or a lot of open source software that's promoted forget or do not work on that issue so that's one thing we all should look into.

>> MODERATOR:  Any examples or ideas?

>> AUDIENCE:  I'm Jack, I'm from a small company called Assembly Four.  The examples of Internet is probably Mastodon, which is the Twitter‑like platform where you can federate and talk to other programmes.  That is one of the very few that exists that has a decent user experience.  As previously mentioned, a lot of open source software don't have fantastic user experience because good designers cost money, and open source tends to be pretty poor by comparison.

I don't know what a good way to make that better is apart from funding and that which probably comes from Government grants and so forth, but back in Australia, we slashed funding for various stuff like that because our Government is not in a great place right now.  But, again, I think a lot of it stems from capital that people don't have.

As for solving that problem, that's something I don't know how to solve.

>> AUDIENCE:  I'm Harbin, I'm mostly in technology, software, web standards, those kinds of things.  I just wanted to make a small note in the discussion, it sounds like there may be some confusion with interoperability systems and open source systems, and it's been insinuated a bit or it sounded like if it's an interoperable system, then we are talking about open source software, but I think open standard or interoperable systems and open source software or very different things, and the sad thing is that nowadays most things that are made to interoperate and not lock users into one type of software is coming from these open source, non‑profit systems, software projects.

But I think the whole point that we want to get towards here is to also get the commercial players to make their software in such a way that it can be interoperated by other software creators.  So requiring interoperability, because that's the word used here a lot.  Requiring interoperability, right.  If you do that, if you require interoperable software from most of the commercial players, then you can also make commercial things that may have a better UI and a funding model and it doesn't have to be open source software to be interoperable with other things.  You can have a closed source Mastodon server, a closed server Mastodon client.  I think it's important to keep those things separated.

>> MODERATOR:  I think that is a very important point.  I mean, also open standards, I think, and interoperability standards be it in the form of let's say the question then let's say there are a bunch of standards already that are, you know, quite well placed to enable this kind of interoperability.  Again, there are so many different layers where you could discuss this, and it's hard to really pinpoint it.  If we are talking about let's say interoperability of something like app stores, that might, we might have to look at different technical solutions.

If we talk about instant messaging I think it's perhaps the easiest one to get your head around just thinking about it the first time, but there are other aspects here.  There is also just generally speaking together with the standards, you know, open source today doesn't necessarily guarantee no lock in.  There are other sources of lock in that are coming in place as well.  A lot of it, and this is something that was quite clearly pointed out by Commissioner Vestager's report that came out I think January this year, where it's very focused on the data aspects and data portability and interoperability. 

Separating those two are very important.  But there is also a deeper question there when you start pushing it into a law or a solution, if that's even what we want to do, if this would make sense, the concept of data ownership I find is very interesting, but it gets very complex as soon as you start thinking about 4 billion people owning their own data and what that would look like in practice with these platforms.

I'm not saying it's impossible, really not making any strong statement on this because I think that it's very important to dissect the different topics and make sure we are discussing about the right things but from OpenForum Europe's point of view how we usually see it is there is almost like in promoting openness, there is this trinity of, you know, open source implemented through open standards together with open data.

And all of these three aspects are also interesting to keep in mind when kind of sorting through the interoperability conversations because Europe and the EU may not be the fastest legislative body in the world, but they are quite eager to act.

And we have already seen especially regulations on the content layer which might actually put us in a situation where, you know, the original copyright directive as it was proposed would have been very problematic for collaborative software development, for example.  You also have aspects there where very few companies can actually perhaps meet those new requirements being through filter requirements, for example,.

Here is a conversation that right after it popped up quite early after the copyright directive was voted through to some, and was quite controversial, but some people said essentially, well, now, if the EU has decided we are going to filter everything, let's at least make sure that the filters are Free and Open Source Software because those filters, let's say you are a big company and you are the only one that actually sits on the technology that meets the requirements of the new law, you might be in a kind of filtering licensing monopoly position which obviously is not good for competition either.

So many different aspects pop up, and I think that it's very good that you pointed out those differences because if we really take it down to the lowest level it's standards we are talking about, open standards in this context.

>> AUDIENCE:  I have heard many interesting points throughout the discussion so far.  I would like to connect to a couple of those, a couple of those things said today.  Number one is I believe if we are looking how to define interoperability, we should start from the customer perspective, citizen user perspective.

We should not leave it in the circle of academics nor public sector nor us businesspeople.  I would say it's important to ask and we have more than enough qualified experts and customers who can help us define what they would like to see as an interoperable solution and what they want to migrate or have access to or define in a way that we are trying to define it.

I think it's very yes to gather and get through social media which has been mentioned so many times in an intelligent mode gather that information and basically implement them in our standards.  Number two is we mentioned several times how to get to the open standards.

If you at the telecommunications industry I'm looking for we have numerous successful open standards which we started implementing years ago and they were all found out also on the principles of this multi, like it's popular, million dollars, multilateral discussions and I think this should be a good basis to start a discussion also in this context.

I think also whoever plays in a certain domain, so let's say if we are speaking now about the big five, the large ODT companies, they should follow the same rules.  We have very clear rules about the information and communication, especially telecommunication here and if somebody is enabling messaging then also it should be the same set of rules should apply.  To telecommunication software operators and to Internet giants in this case.

And we see examples of SMS or text messaging that it is possible to establish open standards and it's also possible to make them a success in a broader discussion.  And I think it's very easy to follow those things and so we are proud, I mean from digital telecom that inventor of SMS is one of our colleagues.  He received a German medal a couple of days back.  Speaking about lagging behind in 5G or AI, there is lots of negativity around that.  I'm not such a pessimist.  When you look at the United States or China, for example, they were lagging behind in 3G several years, two years lagging behind and having the headsets and capabilities we had in Europe.  So I don't think the situation is not reversible.

We as Europeans can catch up, not in 5G maybe in 6G or some other technologies.  It's important that he with have this mindset that we have to understand that the world is competing and I also think the same thing applies to our friends and colleagues, for example, in India or any other region which is seeking for its right to innovation.  And I think we have a fantastic chance there as well.

Maybe one of the other points, if we look at basically coming from the open standards into a discussion we need to make really the decision in a way that basically everyone is included and that we have clear, clear path forward and what I'm also noticing already in many of the Forums for the fifth, sixth or seventh time is that we are often very long discussing the potential solutions instead of applying and iterating and making sure that it's basically there.

I'm going to give you another example, narrow‑based IoT, if you know it's basically a specific ways of communications for the IoT devices based on the 4G networks currently.

We could have discussed that for a very lock time, however, there are two groups, two very distinct groups of telecommunications companies which started with their partners to build such model.  They are competing standards like NB IoT.  However, one of them will win like it was in the past and the other ones will apply, will adjust to this standard.

So instead of trying to make a full consensus for all of the stakeholders, what the best standard would be and lose a couple of years I think we should simply start and gather the critical mass of like-minded organisations and I think start something.

I'm sure if it's meaningful and good, the others will join.  That's my five cents.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: By the way, I think teleco is one of the environments where we are highly regulated and successful.  Especially I'm thinking of certain consultations going on at the European level.  We have though be careful that we apply the same sort of rules to telcos when they do the same things because today it's not always like that.

>> AUDIENCE:  Yes, one thing is in terms of how do we get into interoperability viable and useful.  One of the big hurt wills we face now is a lot of companies if they have personal data, they have a huge incentive of not sharing it, of not letting that go.  We have this incentive mostly right now because a very, very large chunk of what is happening on the Internet is financed by advertising.

Making money through advertising thrives on having the sole access to personal data.  And we need to remove that.  We need to remove the advertising business model and that means as if you are an investor or you somehow are in the position of advising an investor, advise people not to invest into advertising money, not into advertising companies, because those will not be interoperable.

They have no interest in that.  If you are a journalist, hype the companies that are not advertising companies, and are not funded by those models.  Hype the companies and write about the companies, but have a non‑advertising business model because those have an incentive or at least they don't have the incentive to not share the data so there is at least the hope that they do that.  If you are an end user and you look at the new service on the Internet, if it is advertising funded, they will have no incentive to ever be interoperable.  So go these ways, look at those things and then we will have an ecosystem of companies that at least is not hindered to be interoperable, and then they can start to do the right thing.

>> I wanted to also say there are many things that are interesting to pick up on here.  Your point about listening to, let's say, the customer or the user.  Could you develop that a little bit?  I'm being purely practical.  How would you approach because in our world one general challenge for us often is, and I know many other organisations do this also, where you work for a user perspective, but in terms of users in the broadest sense here, it's very difficult to essentially find them to get the input legitimacy into your efforts to have them represented.

And I mean, this is kind of a big challenge for the EU generally of the multi‑stakeholder approach.  You want to have the customer or user represented, but the way the customer is represented in the European context is through the European consumer organisation, which is set up and to large extent funded by the European Commission because that's all, that collective action challenge, if one would put it as such.

How are you thinking practically in doing something like that because that would be' very interesting first step in approaching this?

>> Sure, one example of interoperability or you mentioned portability someone mentioned portability.  We have the topic of number portability.  15 years ago we didn't have it and then what happened is we spoke with the customers and, of course, the consume every protection organisations were also talking to the customers, and customers said, you know, I'm annoyed whenever I want to change the operator, I'm going to lose the contacts, all people who have my number, I will have to send it again.  Today you can do that with one click.  Today is one example, what would be the parallel to the social networks, you know, maybe moving username, alias, you tell me, so basically something that's basically easy and we need to speak with the people to understand what would be important for them to be able to either use IDL case which I would very much support, when using one platform, not being needed to basically have 20 other accounts and apps on one phone.  I am also suffering from that if you ask me.

But I would say we have to, we simply have to speak with them and there is a way like you mentioned to speak through the representatives of the customers but also I think it's better way to speak directly to them.  So in a smaller circle, for the smaller companies it would be talking to neighbors and friends and colleagues but for bigger companies such as, for example, as we were, as we were considering changing of some of our company's policies or terms and conditions, we are basically, we engaged the customer focus groups which say this product is good, this product is bad.  You should change the color, et cetera.

We spoke with them about those things instead of asking them, you know, what's the ideal lifecycle of a product.  We were asking them directly, for example, what do you find negative or positive within our terms and conditions.  So they went through and let's say some old lady from some village somewhere was telling us, you know, I cannot read this.  This is small caps.  Some other user from a big city said, for example, I understand everything about this paragraph which speaks about my data being processed in that way.

So we simplified that and came to a conclusion.  So basically, I think this conversation has to happen and there are many people in this room who have a good capacity to do that in access channels and basically when you gather that information, it will be a great starting point for the discussion.

>> Couldn't agree more but there is, perhaps, another layer to it, if we take the example of the end user or customers or for Ma matter citizens, there is a concern from consumer rights organisations about let's say the market concentration, for example, in the Cloud market.

And a lot of that market is B to B, but the fact is the costs to society or the consumer will be incorrect in terms of higher costs further down the line.  And that might, again, not knowing this, but I could see this being difficult.  It becomes this kind of, you ask a counter factual question to consumers pour users, it's like if there was more competition, you would have a lower price and you are happy with that.

But that aspect of representation and going on to encounter different points in the stack and looking at market concentrations where one could also argue that looking at B to B cloud offerings and seeing what is happening in that market might be one of the key examples of developments right now both in policy, self‑regulation, co‑regulation to see how different interoperability challenges or solutions could bring a better outcome.  There depending on where you look at interoperability or data portability or switching costs, they are so different depending where you are in the Cloud stack.

And here it's important to be quite sensitive in terms of what you would propose.  But if the other two options, and I guess this is one of our main points we mentioned early on, if the other two options are monitoring and reporting on the societal costs and market concentration and the other option in the other extreme would be to break up companies, maybe it's worth to take on the challenge of working through the details and finding that kind ever middle way.  That is perhaps more palatable for politicians or policy makers as well.

>> AUDIENCE:  Back to the data portability aspect, it seems like number portability seems a lot more simple compared to moving a social account across.  You can back up your personal stuff, but your comments, the relationship you had with other people on the platform and ultimately the biggest problem is social media customers have no leverage to make any of this happen.

Like can someone go to Twitter or InstaGram and be like, hey, can you build portability stuff and they are probably like, no, get lost.  Consumers in the social media space at the very least have minimal power.  Obviously this is not, interoperability would be like, I guess, again, Mastodon, where anything that reports activity pub can talk to other ones, but for the purposes of, I guess, end consumers, and I guess advertising‑based platforms there is no incentive unless it's like regulations from the Government to make that a possibility.  And I just don't see an easy way forward for users to gain that power, I suppose.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:   Data portability let's say is the first to interoperability in the sense that it's full interoperability would allow you to move your data around in real time and exchange data with people outside of your system where data portability allows you to leave a supplier or client you don't like and go somewhere else.

I wanted to point out that first you do need regulation for this because no company would like to lose people through a competitor, but even when the regulation is there, it's very hard to get these companies to actually implement it, and we are seeing this in Europe.

Article 20 of the GDPR involved basically two years, and after the GDPR went into force one year and a half ago, in the email space all of the big players big platforms are calling the financial project that was meant to have interoperability for the image space.  We provide the Web mail platforms to a few big European telecos so we went for this effort and said do you have implementation on roadmap.  When will Gmail implement this so we can make sure we are ready and we will implement it and users will be able to use it for both sides and we never got an answer.

And now there is analyst there and there is a Google processor posting an update but I have not seen deployment of this.  For this moment, maybe they will surprise me by actually putting it live into Gmail in three months or three weeks but it looks more like an effort to say, yes, we are thinking and working on this, but not really doing it.  This is why, I mean, I wanted to introduce another issue which is, I mean, in the past we were taught that self‑regulation is enough.

I don't think it's enough.  Even in very esteemed technical spaces like the IGF a lot of discussions of things is good but it's never enough to make things change practice at least in this space then we have regulation but even regulation itself is not enough.  We need something very specific.  I think specifically different type of application.  So maybe we can have a regulation with a very high level principle of dominant platforms should be required to interoperate, but then we need something someone, that can define practically what that means for each type of application, which are the features that need to be interoperable, who it affects.

And then we need enforcement.  This is shown by the GDPR.  The GDPR are not new.  It's the same rules in place since 1996, but it changed the fines.  This was the change that brought global players to finally implement European privacy laws.  I say that happen at ICANN, for example.  This is why it's nice to have the high level discussion but I wanted to hear your views if you have discussions or whatever on how you can bring this support and then put it into very practical application that can actually create effects in the real world because that is the difficult part.

>> Building on that, I think the point that the gentleman in the front made earlier is also very important to keep in mind if there is one thing that companies are good at it's responding to incentives and if those are not in place, it will be always an uphill battle building on the idea of a unique identifier and the challenges of putting something like that in practice for data portability.  Since the right incentives are not in place, what that looks like in practice, you get a spreadsheet with a list of names of the contacts that you have on your social media account which met some lowest level maybe like expectations of the requirements.  Exactly where this is now, I don't know, but the idea to extend our conversation to also talk about how to incentivize these companies to actually take the full step and make it make sense for them I think is very important.

I think I saw a hand being raised in the back.

>> AUDIENCE:  University of Leads.  I just wanted to raise a couple of issues in relation to the different types of implementation that we can have.  So I think that in order to restore some level playing fields and competitive equality, what we need is diverse approach to the remedies.  So we should have more stringent, more significant obligations on the dominant players and that was pointed out also at the beginning, but we need to think about really across the chain of regulation all types of remedies need to reflect, I think, this principle.  So when we are thinking about interoperability, maybe we might want to have more wide ranging type of connection, for example, live access to an API when it comes to the dominant players.

And I think that would be one aspect.  Another aspect is also with regard to the fines and the kind of duty of monitoring that needs to be in place for each of the platforms that are concerned.  I think the more the platform is, has the potential to affect individual liberties, the more they should have these kinds of duties.

But also with regard to what's the purpose of the remedy of interoperability of portability.  If we are talking a user who has a specific professional need, then the interoperability can be framed or can be mandated in a way that helps that user to achieve that objective.

So in certain cases we might have a user who is a journalist and might want to have access to, you know, certain sources of information, how Facebook, the platform was derived from certain data.  And it's important in that case to make the obligation so broad so that that user can use then basically the sources in a way that serves the journalistic need.

Whereas, we have other users that need to understand why they were targeted.  And it may not need access to the same range of information.

I'm wondering if you are perhaps thinking about this different implementations of interoperability to suit different needs and also different players to which this can be imposed.

>> Yes, I think generally the more, you know, we have been digging into this space and listening to a lot of voices, you know, this is the point that it comes down to that there are a lot of different angles, and depending on how you see it, which perspective you take, you can see there are many different user or customer needs.  That's one way of seeing it.  More from a technical perspective, there will be different solutions that perhaps not should be prescribed specifically in a law, because then you end up locking the market to particular technical solutions now, and really, there are sensitivities here, and a multitude of challenges, but at the same time, and this is what I really want to stress.  It will be important to keep on having those conversations and perhaps this is a point made earlier also, in a particular area, it would be good to start perhaps putting something in place and then iterate based on that experience.

There have already been some laws put in place or proposed.  There was one in the French Senate a few months back which essentially touched on many of the points that were made here today where there is still quite a lot to wish for in terms of really specifying the aspects of how it would happen, there was essentially ‑‑ I'm a bit mean now to this legal proposal, but essentially it said we want interoperability, please, our regulator, can you sort out what that means and how it should work.

But at least there are efforts being pushed.  I think that was in the done text of app stores specifically.  But perhaps we should take some steps in some areas to see how it would work and perhaps pick those based on where we see the biggest risks and biggest sources of let's say be it network effects that exclude new entrants to the markets or perhaps something else.  It is to a large extent an open question, and we have heard quite a lot of academics and professionals that have very strong positions on exactly what should be done.  And I think the more we are digging into it, we think there is more complexity to it than that.

Any other thoughts?

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  In the meantime while we wait for the next intervention, I will add that there are in newish concepts coming up like the idea of device neutrality that was developed in Italy and spread to other countries.  All of this discussion operates with network discussions.  The network concept as it was designed 20 years ago, it's now becoming counterproductive because it's basically disadvantaging the European industry.  Which is at the network level.  It's still the concept maybe also that part of the discussion needs to be re‑examined under the light of the new scenario., but, yes.

>> If there are no other ‑‑ yes, we have a point here.

>> We also have a question from YouTube.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  We didn't know we had remote viewers.  Thank you for following us.

>> AUDIENCE:  Is interoperability serving the end user or potential competitors to the market or some other player that is something especially if we put it into law that has to be considered?  Because if I say it has to serve the end user, it has to look, feel, work in a completely different way.  If say it is to enable a more open market, because when it works more behind the scenes for other things, it's more about data, about technical standards, but it doesn't need to have a fancy end user interface, for example,.

I'm really on the fence of where we should put this.  I tend to say to the end user, but it might make more sense to say it should be for the market and for future competition.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  In theory if you enable competition you get better services for the users, but we have to be clear because in some cases there may be contrasts.

>> Now, I'm curious about the YouTube question.

>> I'm going to read it, I just have to walk back down to the end of the room.  So we have from Amal, is it possible to establish a decision free of values?  For example, used for instance for showing relationships between languages like Euro Asian heritage languages?

>> Can you ask it again?

>> It's half an hour ago.  I will read it again.  Is it possible to establish a decision tree of values?  For example, used, for instance, for showing relationships between languages like Euro Asian heritage languages?  It's more of a cultural language issue.

>> Which is one part of the interoperability as Andre pointed out.  There is obviously, also, I guess, not answering this question directly because I feel like I'm not personally in a place to do this, but I think we should also keep in mind those other aspects.  There is the technical interoperability, live access to an API, et cetera, but the language cultural legal aspects of it are also very much part of the conversation, and particularly in Europe.

I mean, what is the EU, but a big legal standardization process.  And it will be part of the conversation as well if you take the perspective of wanting to see, which is, I guess, another angle to look at this also which is very much on the table not just in Brussels but other EU capitals is essentially how can we rethink the model so that Europe wants to compete better, if that is, you know, that is at least on the table for a lot of Governments to really look at it from an industrial policy point of view.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA:  By definition big platforms make scale he economies so they tend to make a product which goes more or less fine with more or less the majority of people.  If you are someone who has a very specific need, for example, a very minority language or a different cultural approach or you are a specific advantage group then having the ability to build your own politic to operate with everyone else it gives you the possibility to express yourself and defend your values than just to rely on the big platforms.

>> I have to say I think we are very happy that there were so many people that wanted to contribute.  We were ability worried and came in and saw that it wasn't a round table that it would fall flat but thank you for your input.  Are there any last ideas or suggestions?

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: I think we want to follow up to this so this was not meant to be a one off discussion.  It was very interesting, lots of things came out.  We will go through the list of things that were said, but we would like to engage with people that want to contribute to this discussion.  I think we have a window of opportunity in Europe since we have a new commission coming in, and there have been at least  declarations in general making the platforms and something to change the situation in Europe.

>> And interoperability is very much in the documents and strategies being put forward.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: So we would like to build a civil society industry bottom up propose will based on open source and openness environment, and so everyone is welcome to participate.  By the way, if you want to stay in touch, please leave us your contact so if we don't know you already, we want to maybe, we will build a mailing list or say way to continue the discussion.

>> Yes, please come up if you are interested in continuing the conversation, exchange business cards.  It is as we said a complex but interesting conversation, and I think this is one of the conversations more broadly speaking that the IGF is quite well suited for because here we have a diversity of voices that is quite often lacking in some technical conferences or for that matter policy ones, and here the two meet a bit more.

So, yes, please come up and change cards.  That would be great, and then we can start to see where we can take this forward because I think everybody is agreeing that a lot of exchanges of ideas will be needed moving forward.  If this is the strategy we decide to go for, if this is reasonable, it needs to be thought through and carefully designed.  Okay.

>> VITTORIO BERTOLA: Thank you.

>> Thank you very much.

(Applause).

 

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