Service portability and data decoupling

May 08 2018

The NGI Study draft final report recognizes the need for service portability and data decoupling as essential to achieving the vision of next generation Internet.

Service portability and data decoupling outlines the need for empowering users to separate their content and data from internet software and services. This ability will transform market-dominant ‘black box’ internet services into universally available alternatives available to all as generic ‘white label’ building blocks that can be reused and adopted by anyone. This re-establishes the boundaries between content owner and service provider, allowing alternative and complementary services to be mixed and matched. It will also safeguard openness and diversity by actively steering away from market monopolies. In addition, without the pressure to maximise profit, services can be cleaned from psychological manipulation, be made more efficient and better adhere to the ethical preferences of the user. Following is the motivation and benefits of this approach.

User Mobility: Monolithic internet services result in a soft lock-in of the user community with one or a few companies. The overall cost of switching providers becomes too high, which means users can no longer autonomously decide to leave because they are co-dependent on a group of peers they use the service with. At that point users are at the mercy of the supplier, even if that user is facing very unfavourable or even unethical treatment or the service is no longer satisfactory. In the common case where multiple services are combined from a single very large company, these effects are even stronger.

Users should be able to choose service providers and/or host services themselves. Users should be able to use services that have the best match with their needs, ethics and rights at any point. At the very least they should be able to switch providers without friction, and to choose the conditions under which their services are run and where their data is stored. This also makes sense as user needs are not static and universal. Allowing the user data to be decoupled and independent of service providers will boost the availability of commons alternatives for important internet services such as calendar, instant messaging, etc. and hence favouring user mobility.

Increased competition and resiliency: Service portability and data decoupling go hand in hand to help achieve openness to new entrants by unlocking clustered service verticals that have strong market positions. This will provide active countermeasures against market dominance and launch a competitive ecosystem of strong solution providers with a level playing field. By favouring the introduction of suitable microscale alternatives as a result of data independency, the monolithic dependency on individual hyperscale service providers can be dissolved, resilience be increased as there will be no single point of failure, and European or localized service providers become more competitive.

Standardization and reduced friction: The goal herein is to establish suitable mature technology commons for popular end user services as open source, which are not bound to be hosted on any one individual company and have no friction cost for switching. These ‘commons services’ should contribute to standardization to reduce friction so that data and content is easily portable across instances in different providers. By introducing suitable microscale alternatives and interoperable standards that can be universally deployed, individual service providers are no longer a single point of failure and resilience will be significantly increased.

Diverse, Inclusive and Localized Services: Service provider’s businesses considerations are not supportive of incorporating broad social and cultural diversity into the nature of services, and the needs of economically marginal user groups are left under-represented. Availability of open-source building blocks will reduce the cost of innovation and foster creation of suitable microscale alternatives that are representative of the needs of economically marginalized and people with disabilities, and also provision services in many local languages, boosting diversity.

The report also recognizes that without prioritizing data decoupling and service portability, we face following risks.

  • Stagnation of overall innovation
  • Vendor dominance due to Metcalfe’s law creates single points of (significant) failure in each domain
  • Lack of alternatives makes users vulnerable to targeted profiling and exploitation.
  • European businesses are at an unfair competitive disadvantage.
  • Failure to reach the overall vision of the NGI.

In addition, the report proposes inviting projects proposals that create the generic infrastructure to facilitate data decoupling and frictionless switching such as –

  • remote storage and transfer of content separate from software provisioning
  • Solutions to reuse non-commercial social and business graphs.
  • Delivery methods.