What do Germans think about DMA interoperability?

In December, German research agency WIK published an interesting (critical) study on the EU Digital Markets Act (DMA) interoperability requirements (Article 7) for NIICS (Number-Independent Interpersonal Communications Services). These currently apply to the designated gatekeeper services WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger:

“Based on a consumer survey in Germany… consumers are not averse to IOP. Depending on the implementation phase, at least half of NI-ICS users state that they would want to allow IOP… However, IOP tends to reduce the use of alternative NI-ICS for these consumers, while the use of gatekeeper NI-ICS is not expected to change.”

I have innovation-related thoughts 🧐

  1. The study shows many German users of gatekeeper NIICS would value interoperability. Perhaps Meta should have implemented it voluntarily for that reason alone, but it didn’t! Clearly the benefit to WhatsApp/Messenger of excluding competitors and locking in their own users outweighed the benefit it would have given them.
  2. DMA Art. 7 interoperability constrains the market power gatekeepers get from their user base, since (unlike for example during the controversy over WhatsApp’s privacy policy change a couple of years ago) users have a meaningful ability to exit.
  3. Smaller competitors will have a disincentive to interoperate if they add little to the functionality available from dominant service(s), beyond giving access to their own users. But that means they will have to focus on service innovation/differentiation — a good thing? This is particularly true in Europe, with its many smaller cultural and linguistic niches than the national/global US-English market focused on by Big Tech. And it helps startups overcome the chicken-and-egg problem of acquiring users without an existing user base to build on, with the potential to significantly increase service diversity.
  4. Interoperability will enable users to choose from a broader range of services without being cut off from their contacts, without having to multihome (use multiple services simultaneously) if they don’t want to. I certainly would prefer not to have an account with any Meta service… and to be able to use a single messaging service — something I also expect lies behind the survey respondents who would respond to interoperability by using the dominant service more.
  5. Finally, I found some of the language slightly overstated. Why is it “a disillusioning picture” (p.31) that more respondents were interested in basic interoperability than more complex forms (participating in groups and real-time audiovideo)?

As with any type of consumer survey research, it tells us about what users of messaging services think about the current market structure, and how they think they would respond to market changes. That market will change as a result of the DMA… and new services will not have an existing user base to partially lose to an interoperable dominant platform 👨🏻‍💻 We should also get data on actual consumer behaviour soon, as the first WhatsApp-compatible services are released following the DMA’s full application 👀