KEI letter to FTC regarding interoperability remedies to address unlawful and anti-competitive actions by Facebook

KEI letter to FTC regarding interoperability remedies to address unlawful and anti-competitive actions by Facebook

Today KEI sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking that the FTC require Facebook to extend interoperability remedies to third party social network services. The letter is attached as a PDF file, linked below.


The following is the cover letter to the FTC.

Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) is a Washington DC and Geneva Switzerland based non-profit organization. We are attaching a letter, as a PDF file, which asks the FTC to require Facebook to extend interoperability remedies to third party social network services. The letter identifies three areas where users are harmed by the inability of users of third party social networking services to have sufficient interactions with Facebook users and Facebook hosted events, and makes a proposal for the implementation of interoperability remedies.

The three areas were users are harmed by the lack of interoperability with third party services include a (1) lack of choice regarding user interface and extended services, (2) an inability to choose services which provide more appropriate levels of privacy for personal information, and (3) a lack of choice or control over policies and practices that determine appropriate content ​ and ​ conduct, as well as editorial control and manipulation of newsfeeds and other content.

While governments may directly set minimum standards for protection of privacy, government standards themselves are inadequate to fully protect users. And, governments are particularly ill suited to directly intervene in matters such as software user interfaces or the regulation of content or conduct. Here competition can bring much needed benefits to users.

The proposed remedy begins with a set of definitions, which include references to Facebook’s Social Graph, and two standards for interoperability developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Social Web Working Group, including WebSub and ActivityPub.

KEI then recommends four specific obligations for Facebook, and proposes the creation of an independent third party entity, titled the Social Network Interoperability Board, or SNIB, to implement and monitor compliance. The KEI recommendation for the SNIB includes a proposed governance structure.

KEI requests the opportunity to discuss this proposal with the FTC staff.

The following statement can be attributed to James Love, Director of KEI:

    “There is wide and often bipartisan agreement that Facebook’s enormous size (2.4 billion users, including 7 of 10 adults in the United States) creates unique challenges for society, including but not limited to threats to privacy as well as the unwanted consequences of a single entity having excessive influence regarding information flows and interactions in a social network. Much more underdeveloped and lacking consensus are the remedies that would be appropriate for governments to impose on Facebook. KEI endorses an approach favored by several others, such asCory Doctorow, to require Facebook to open its network up to comply with open standards for interacting with other social network services. One analogy would be email services, which at one time were siloed, and unable to communicate with each other. Today users can use a variety of email clients, and they work with each other. In the rush to monopolize and monetize new Internet services, some companies, like Facebook, have refused to open networks up and embrace appropriate interoperable standards. In the case of Facebook, the stakes are very high, and extend not only to privacy concerns, which are becoming more important every day, but to Facebook’s nontransparent and undemocratic influence over content regulation and conduct; concerns that are greatly amplified by Facebook’s enormous market share and current exclusion of rival services. KEI has spent several months looking at various remedies, including those implemented in other cases, such as the earlier European Union Undertaking for IBM, the Microsoft Browser case, and various actions involving Google, West Publishing, medical records data portability, medical devices and other products and services. What KEI is proposing can be implemented today, and monitored by an independent entity that can be trusted to protect user interests and promote competition, while expanding freedom of speech and freedom to innovate.”

The following statement can be attributed to Aimee Sixta:

    “By implementing interoperability that is in line with the open standards the web was founded on, this addresses issues of content moderation, market power and constrained flow of news sources that have revealed themselves to be major social problems in recent years. We endorse interoperability standards of social networks by allowing users control and portability of their social graph in conjunction with improved privacy standards to ensure that social networks can continue to innovate and so that users continue to have expressive freedom. The ability for users to exercise choice online is increasingly important as there are known networks that have violated privacy trust. The remedies proposed could also raise user awareness of stored personal data as well as the ability to take action by migrating service known networks that have violated privacy trust.”