ICLE Response to NTIA Request for Comments on Mobile App Ecosystem
Our response to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (“NTIA”) request for comments (“RFC”) is broken into two parts. The first part raises concerns regarding what we see as the NTIA’s uncritical acceptance of certain contentious assumptions, as well as the RFC’s pre-commitment to a particular political viewpoint. The second part responds to several of the most pressing and problematic substantive questions raised in the RFC.
The RFC appears intended to invite comments that conform to a pre-established commitment to interventionist policy. The heuristics and assumptions on which it relies anticipate the desired policy outcome, rather than setting a baseline for genuine input and debate. Unfortunately, these biases also appear to carry over to the substantive questions. These comments offer four substantive observations:
First, that interoperability is not a panacea for mobile-apps ecosystems. There are risks and benefits that attend interoperability and these risks and benefits manifest differently for different groups of end-users and distributors. Specifically, some users may prefer “closed” platforms that offer a more curated experience with enhanced security features.
Second, considerations of security are intrinsic to determining whether interoperability is feasible or desirable. Centralized app distribution is what allows platforms like the App Store to filter harmful content through a two-tiered process of both human and automated app review. Such control over the ecosystem’s content would necessarily be relinquished if third-party app distribution and payment systems were allowed on “closed” platforms.
Third, determinations of “user benefit” in the mobile-app ecosystem must account for both end-users and developers. Where the interests of the two sides of the market conflict, total output—rather than price—should be the relevant benchmark.
Fourth, there is no objective “correct balance” between security and access. Some end-users and developers prefer more curated and ostensibly safer ecosystems, while others are most concerned with the sheer quantity of options. The NTIA should not substitute its own preferences for the revealed preferences of millions of users and distributors.