Bipartisan legislation would force Big Tech to allow interoperability with small competitors

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching" (ACCESS) Act was introduced by Senator Mark Warner [D-VA] and co-sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley [R-MO] and Senator Richard Blumenthal [D-CT]; it mandates the creation of "third party custodial services," regulated by the FTC, that will allow uses of Facebook and other Big Tech platforms to switch to smaller, direct competitors who would then act as an intermediary between these new entrants and the platforms.

The requirement to open their systems to third parties would take effect 120 days after the bill's passage.

This idea is fantastic in concept: as the bill's authors note, interoperability has always been a key to keeping tech markets competitive, and the creation of third-parties that act as conduits — rather than as service providers themselves — is a kind of structural separation that could keep everyone's incentives aligned. As intermediaries, rather than as service providers, the third party custodial services would be limited by FTC rules and thus (theoretically) not in the business of locking in or abusing their users.

One important note is that mandated interoperability is not enough: there will be legal, legitimate, pro-competitive activities that aren't in the remit of the third-party custodians, activities that would fundamentally challenge the platforms. For this reason, it's vital that mandatory interoperability should be the floor, not the ceiling, on interop — we must preserve adversarial interoperability as the upper bound on interoperability.

If approved, the ACCESS Act would allow users to sign up for a third-party data management service that would work as an intermediary for managing their privacy and account settings across platforms. This "third-party custodial service," as the bill refers to it, would need to register with the Federal Trade Commission and adhere to any rules created by the agency governing them that are spurred from the passage of this bill. Notably, these services will likely not be free for users. The text of the bill explicitly says that these services could charge users a fee, but it doesn't
outline how much that could cost.

"Your data is your property. Period. Consumers should have the flexibility to choose new online platforms without artificial barriers to entry," Hawley said. "This bill creates long-overdue requirements that will boost competition and give consumers the power to move their data from one service to another."

Congress could require Facebook to build more open APIs under new bill [Makena Kelly/The Verge]

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching" (ACCESS) Act [Senator Mark Warner, Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Richard Blumenthal]