Abuse of Power? Competition Commissioner that Pushes “Smart Business Decisions”

by on June 12, 2008 · 8 comments

“I know a smart business decision when I see one — choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed. No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

The above proclamation is from Neelie Kroes, the EU’s Competition Commissioner, as reported in the New York Times. And it seems odd–perhaps even an abuse of the position–for a regulator charged with enforcing competition rules to advocate for one business model over another.

First of all, the world is not so simple as “open” or “closed.” Most software has both open and closed elements, and thus falls along a linear spectrum of being more open or more closed (or proprietary). But politicians, we know, will often eschew nuance and speak in simple rhetoric. And what rhetoric it is!  No citizen should be forced or ENCOURAGED to choose a “closed technology” — this is more befitting of the Free Software Foundation or any NGO, just not a government’s chief antitrust official.

On a related point, I’d like to refer you to a blog post by Noah Clements, who is a guest on the ACT blog. He’s an attorney and former computer programmer, and he recently discussed why governments should not choose technology standards:

First, it is simply too easy to bet on the wrong horse.  A prominent developer, John Sowa, summarized this idea as the “law of standards”:  “Whenever a major organization develops a new system as an official standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of some simpler system as a de facto standard for X.”

Second, and a point that flows from the first, even when you choose the best option available, that option will not be the best for long, nor will it be the best solution for all problems.

I invite you to read the rest of his post.

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