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Let's assume the EU does the following things:

  1. It develops a messaging standard for texts, speech messages, documents, video calls, end-to-end encryption and more and makes this open source (like the Email-standard for emails). This standard allows communication between apps by different developers. It could be an extension of the matrix communcation standard or Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol.
  2. It makes it obligatory by law for every messenger (e.g. WhatsApp, Skype, iMessage ...) to use this standard.

This means that every use can use the messenger client of their choice to communicate with every other user independent from the app/client they are using. For example I could write an iMessage in a group chat with other users using WhatsApp and Skype respectively. Clearly that would be a huge consumer benefit increasing consumer welfare and it would foster competition between app developers.

Would the EU be allowed to do so and make the use of such a standard obligatory instead of voluntary?

  • The standards that you mentioned already (ex. email) are defined by the International Engineering Task Force (IETF), which started out as an agency of the US Government. While IETF has defined standards for many things, they are all voluntary, and is up to individual companies to decide whether, and to what extent, they are to be implemented. – Joe C Jul 12 '19 at 23:42
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – yannis Jul 13 '19 at 13:02
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    Just a small frame challenge to the explicit assumption underlying your question "Clearly that would be a huge consumer benefit increasing consumer welfare and it would foster competition between app developers." Mandating shared weaknesses and failures for malicious parties to exploit does not benefit the consumer. Competition on the protocol level is just as important as any other area of competition, for both security and because some possible new features require protocol changes. – Ben Voigt Jul 14 '19 at 3:56
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    No one, at all, implements the entirety of the original specification for most internet protocols. SMTP-as-written is a spammer's dream. DNS-as-written is a hacker's paradise. Let's not even get into the protocols for voice call routing. And if evolution of those standards were stifled by government mandates... the only useful messenger apps would be the non-compliant ones. – Ben Voigt Jul 14 '19 at 4:01
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Three questions here:

  • Could any state require such standards?
    The state might have signed international investment agreements to protect foreign investors from sudden non-tariff trade barriers. The owners of the messenger services could demand compensation. Or there are bilateral or multilateral treaties on the trade in services.
    Another problem might be constitutional issues regarding the freedom of speech. Does the state have the right to stop their citizens from using foreign-hosted, non-compliant services?

  • Could any state enforce such standards?
    In the first bullet point, I asked if the citizens have the right to use foreign messengers. Even if the state thinks they do not, could it stop them from doing so? China tries.
    A less intrusive way to go about this would be to go after the money. If the message service makes advertising revenue in a state, there will be an office where court orders can be served, or accounts that can be seized. The corporation could try to organize to make this more difficult, of course.

  • Has the EU been given authority in this area by the member states?
    Yes. They were allowed to pass the GDPR, which includes provisions for data portability. What you propose is just a more real-time use of the same principle.

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Sure, why not. The EU standardizes, regulates and limits a lot of things. Starting from the power of your vacuum cleaner and stopping at the way internet users are informed about the way their behavior is tracked by cookies.

Some mandatory messenger standard seems not unthinkable.

But if they really will do it depends also on the political will to do so.

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