[Members] Messaging Interoperability initiative and the Digital Markets Act

Matthew Wild mwild1 at gmail.com
Tue Jul 26 11:57:18 UTC 2022

Hi folks,

Yesterday I remotely attended an IETF meeting about forming a possible
new working group focused on interoperability between messaging
providers. Here follows a little report on that, and a little insight
into the potentially big changes coming for internet messaging
interoperability in the coming years.

In case you missed it, the EU's Digital Markets Act (DMA) compels
so-called "gatekeeper" providers to open their doors to third-party
access, both for person-to-person messaging but also other
integrations (for example, maybe an application that allows you to
analyze or export your data).

A "gatekeeper" is defined by a list of criteria, but the policy makers
have crafted the criteria such that the definition applies to the
usual suspects in big tech, without actually naming them directly. So
this ultimately means Facebook, Apple, Google, and some others you
might not immediately think of (Sony was mentioned, for example). Any
small-medium sized independent XMPP operator certainly does not
qualify as a "gatekeeper" under the DMA's criteria.

In theory the DMA is great. As many of us know, Google especially, but
also others used to provide interfaces to their platforms using XMPP,
but gradually turned them off and restricted access to their
proprietary apps. The DMA is aiming to reverse this process, and
require them to open up again so that third-party services and
software can interact with their platforms

Rightly or wrongly, the DMA does not require them to use any specific
technology or standard to do this (it can be argued that doing so
would limit innovation). It is possible that some providers may choose
XMPP, while Matrix folk are pushing for Matrix to be used, but by far
the most likely outcome right now is that every provider publishes
their own individual custom API.

This has many people (rightly) worried that a lot of the potential
benefits of these providers opening up may be lost if nobody agrees on
a common standard. Every app, service and platform would have to
develop integrations specifically with every other app, service and
platform, rather than just implementing one API/protocol and
automatically gaining compatibility with every messaging provider.

In light of this potential future, the idea for a new working group at
the IETF is under discussion. This group would work to identify common
patterns across modern communication providers, and aim to, to some
extent, describe reusable interoperable building blocks that the
gatekeepers can utilize when opening up their platforms.

It is early days, and still at the stage of "what do we want to do"
and has not yet reached "how do we do it". There is also the reality
that even if we work on this, there is no guarantee that even one
gatekeeper would adopt it.

Interoperability also has numerous technical challenges, still. The
DMA requires that any API preserves common features like end-to-end
encryption. Traditional gateways and bridges between protocols have
always been free to translate between different wire formats, but with
communication data being encrypted end-to-end, this becomes
essentially impossible. Issues such as spam prevention were also
raised as things that have come up as hurdles for large providers in
the past.

If all this is the kind of thing you're interested in, and you want to
help potentially shape the future of interoperable messaging on the
internet, the authors have requested feedback on the initial problem
statement: https://www.ietf.org/id/draft-mahy-mimi-problem-outline-00.html

The mailing list can be joined at https://www.ietf.org/mailman/listinfo/Mimi

Either way, I hope this small report was useful and interesting to people.


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