Interoperability and Open Standards Drive Competition, Innovation

Just to reveal a little more of my listening habits, here is a link to an O’Reilly Radar podcast with Cory Doctorow about data, security, interoperability and open standards.

This snippet from the conversation shows some of the urgency:

The first is that the kinds of technologies that have access controls for copyrighted works have gone from these narrow slices (consoles and DVD players) to everything (the car in your driveway). If it has an operating system or a networking stack, it has a copyrighted work in it. Software is copyrightable, and everything has software. Therefore, manufacturers can invoke the DMCA to defend anything they’ve stuck a thin scrim of DRM around, and that defense includes the ability to prevent people from making parts. All they need to do is add a little integrity check, like the ones that have been in printers for forever, that asks, “Is this part an original manufacturer’s part, or is it a third-party part?” Original manufacturer’s parts get used; third-party parts get refused. Because that check restricts access to a copyrighted work, bypassing it is potentially a felony. Car manufacturers use it to lock you into buying original parts.

This is a live issue in a lot of domains. It’s in insulin pumps, it’s in voting machines, it’s in tractors. John Deere locks up the farm data that you generate when you drive your tractor around. If you want to use that data to find out about your soil density and automate your seed broadcasting, you have to buy that data back from John Deere in a bundle with seed from big agribusiness consortia like Monsanto, who license the data from Deere. This metastatic growth is another big change. It’s become really urgent to act now because, in addition to this consumer rights dimension, your ability to add things to your device, take it for independent service, add features, and reconfigure it are all subject to approval from manufacturers.

We are all familiar with lock in. Heck, I’ve been in some product development meetings where some of these things came up. “How can we keep customers with us and away from the competition?” they ask. 

Meanwhile the customer says, “I’m pretty happy with your product now. But what if you start acting like Mylan and its EpiPen? I find myself locked in, and now I am susceptible to frequent price increases. Or what if your quality begins to dip? Not to mention, what is your incentive to innovate any longer?

And so, the inevitable dance continues.

I’m not opposed to big companies with comprehensive product offerings. Sometimes there is a lot of innovation. It takes a lot of money to invest in developing some of these products. Customers appreciate this. They welcome partners. They just want to see competition and alternatives. But sometimes the customer voice gets lost.

Sometimes I look at the situation as an independent analyst/writer not beholden to anyone and decide someone has to speak up for the customer.

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