EU Demands Interoperable Messaging

Bright future for interoperable messaging such as Matrix: the EU has come to its senses and demands the walled gardens like WhatsApp must interoperate. Hooray, at last.

But why should we care? Let's see.

First, the news itself, as The Verge reports:

and the EU's press release:

and several posts from those involved in Matrix, for example:

The latter is one of several articles focused on debunking all the myths and FUD that the incumbents will like to use in support of being allowed to carry on as they are. (“It's too difficult, it will be insecure, it will lead to spam and abuse...”)

Why does this matter?

In my social circle most of us use WhatsApp and love what it gives us. But it's a walled garden in the sense that it only lets us chat with other members of the club, who sign up to the same rules and restrictions. Have we stopped to think how it affects other people?

Its owner (Facebook) has absolute control over what we can do in their garden, and with whom. By contrast, with an interoperable system such as email or telephones or Matrix, each of our friends can chose a service provider that has terms and restrictions they are happy with, different from the one we choose, and we're still able to talk to them. Concrete example: my child is old enough to write to her grandparents herself, but they use WhatsApp and she can't have her own account because WhatsApp's rules don't allow under-16s.

If we used an interoperable system such as Matrix, the problem goes away. She's allowed her own Matrix account, if I allow it and if I choose a provider that allows it.

Interoperating with the “walled gardens” or “silos” such as WhatsApp and the many others, is something that currently is done on a small scale by people in the privacy and open source and technology advancement communities. One such system is Beeper, which is based in the open communication standard Matrix. Systems like Beeper are currently much in demand, but have to jump through hoops to work at all because the walled garden operators make it so difficult to throw messages over their high walls. This new law should make interoperating much easier and more mainstream.

Some of our friends have friends in countries censored by WhatsApp: people who are banned from joining the club. Lots of people for many reasons end up having to use one messaging app for their WhatsApp-using friends, a different one for those friends abroad, Signal or Telegram for their privacy-conscious friends, ClassDojo for messaging their school teachers, and another one for their work, and all of those work in slightly different ways, have different ways to control their ping notification settings, different abilities to forward, download, upload, keep or not be allowed to keep your messages and photos, etc. If I use WhatsApp (or iMessage or Telegram or any of the silos) I only add to the problem.

So what do I do? I use Matrix. I have it bridged to a WhatsApp account and a Telegram account and an IRC account and so on. All my chats are now in one app. And indeed not one particular app that a mega-corp insists I use, but my choice of whatever matrix-compatible app I like best.

Telephones used to be walled gardens a hundred years ago when Bell's phone system didn't talk to the next one. Eventually folks said, enough of this nonsense. That's what's happening here now. That's why I say, Hooray!


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