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2 Friday, July 12, 2019 01:30

Interoperability: Fix the internet, not the tech companies

Everyone in the tech world claims to love interoperability—the technical ability to plug one product or service into another product or service—but interoperability covers a lot of territory, and depending on whats meant by interoperability, it can do a lot, a little, or nothing at all to protect users, innovation and fairness.

Lets start with a taxonomy of interoperability:Indifferent InteroperabilityThis is the most common form of interoperability. Company A makes a product and Company B makes a thing that works with that product, but doesnt talk to Company A about it. Company A doesnt know or care to know about Company Bs add-on.

Think of a cars cigarette lighter: these started in the 1920s as aftermarket accessories that car owners could have installed at a garage; over time they became popular enough that they came standard in every car. Eventually, third-party companies began to manufacture DC power adapters that plugged into the lighter receptacle, drawing power from the car engines alternator.

This became widespread enough that it was eventually standardized as ANSI/SAE J563.Standardization paved the way for a variety of innovative new products that could be made by third-party manufacturers who did not have to coordinate with (or seek permission from) automotive companies before bringing them to market.

These are now ubiquitous, and you can find fishbowls full of USB chargers that fit your car-lighter receptacle at most gas stations for $0.50-$1.00. Some cars now come with standard USB ports (though for complicated reasons, these tend not to be very good chargers), but your auto manufacturer doesnt care if you buy one of those $0.

50 chargers and use it with your phone. Its your car, its your car-lighter, its your business.Cooperative InteroperabilitySometimes, companies are eager to have others create add-ons for their products and services. One of the easiest ways to do this is to adopt a standard: a car manufacturer that installs an ANSI/SAE J563-compliant car-lighter receptacle in its cars enables its customers to use any compatible accessory with their cars; any phone manufacturer that installs a 3.

5mm headphone jack allows anyone who buys that phone to plug in anything that has a matching plug, even exotic devices like Stripes card-readers, which convert your credit-card number to a set of tones that are played into a vendors phones headphone jack, to be recognized and re-encoded as numbers by Stripes app.

Digital standards also allow for a high degree of interoperability: a phone vendor or car-maker who installs a Bluetooth chip in your device lets you connect any Bluetooth accessory with it—provided that they support that device, or at least that they make no steps to prevent that device from being connected.

.This is where things get tricky: manufacturers and service providers who adopt digital standards can use computer programs to discriminate against accessories, even those that comply with the standard. This can be extremely beneficial.....


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