Dean Bubley: So-called "Platform Neutrality" – nothing to do with Net Neutrality, and a minefield of unintended consequences

ATN-300InsightaaS: On Wednesdays, Across the Net often turns its attention to IT policy issues – and no IT policy issue is hotter today than Net Neutrality. When we tuned into Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis, though – our ‘go-to’ source for deep thoughts on the subject – we found “Disruptive Dean” focused on an issue that telcos are starting to ‘bot on’ to Net Neutrality – platform neutrality, or the notion that rather than being forced to use Apple’s AppStore/iTunes or Google’s Play Store, “consumers should be free to procure and use legal apps and contents on any platform from any source.” Bubley doesn’t lack sympathy for the idea that apps could, and probably should, have a clearer set of guidelines. But he believes that in an “everything is software” world, rules requiring platform neutrality would have “very widespread ramifications – as well as all manner of ironic unintended consequences which could harm telcos even more than the device/Internet giants.” Bubley lists nine potential pitfalls, and leaves the clear impression that it would be possible to build a much longer list. His main point, though, is that the debate shouldn’t really occur at all – that “the “principles” of so-called Platform Neutrality exhibit seriously woolly thinking and a complete misunderstanding of the roles of software platforms,” and that telcos would likely find that supporting platform neutrality and opposing net neutrality have one “main similarity”: “both have the potential to have huge and damaging unintended consequences for the telecoms industry.”

One of the things I’ve noticed cropping up over the last year has been the concept of “platform neutrality”. It’s a line of argument used by telecom lobbyists and executives to shed light on perceived unfairness stemming from Apple and Google’s control of their respective ecosystems (and, to a degree, Microsoft and Amazon and others).

It seems innocuous at first – I’ve seen it defined as “consumers should be free to procure and use legal apps and contents on any platform from any source“.

In other words, the telecoms industry doesn’t like the control that Apple has over its AppStore and iTunes and similar platforms, nor Google over the Play Store and other properties. Some of this is fairly reasonable – Apple has some rather arcane, non-transparent and inconsistent policies about apps it allows in its store, while Google could be accused of manipulating its search results in ways to maximise revenues. There are also persistent rumours that only favoured developers get access to “private APIs” as well.

It’s not obvious to me, however, that such practices warrant either huge regulatory intervention, nor conflation with the more prominent concerns about Net Neutrality. There might be some unfairness – perhaps even questions over competition – but they are both entirely separate from, and of a different magnitude to, various network practices that telcos have been lobbying for…

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