Lock-in is real

It turns out that respecting users might be very important when you launch an app, but once they can’t leave your app without ditching their friends, they stay even when that respect erodes. It is inevitable that every popular user-facing messaging application will come under increasing pressure to chip away at user privacy and encryption. Early good intentions are not enough to protect users over longer terms if those users are locked in to apps that change privacy policies. Portability and governance are the keys.

When switching costs are low, app developers have to compete more like cereal companies, instead of like utility companies. Switching costs for cereal amount to whatever the price difference is. Cereal manufacturers can’t stop people from switching to a different brand; they have to compete on price and appeal to market segments.

Imagine this: the idea of a “cereal police” coming to your house to make sure you keep eating their brand, banning you from eating their cereal if you don’t eat it the way it’s pictured on the box, being able to successfully sue you for saying it tastes bad and you don’t like it. It’s absurd. Why is it somehow less absurd to hold people’s family photos and online connections hostage so they can’t use another social media app, to kick them off for using a fictitious name, to delete their comments or suspend their accounts for criticising them on their own platform?

Portability will certainly reduce switching cost. Will governance? Depends on who’s governing and how. Governance can and should enforce portability.

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