It’s like Net Neutrality, but for APIs.
According to savetheinternet.com, the Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers or governments may not discriminate between different kinds of online content and apps and users. It guarantees a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies without any intervention.
Following mainly 2 technical principles:
Absolute non-discrimination : all content, sites, and platforms equally distributed on the network
First come first served : No enqueuing of data packets because of fees.
You have to add also no censorship, affordable access etc…
Because of business we today have more a Limited discrimination without tiering
That means if you don’t pay specific fees for quality of service, you cannot have a better network than someone else on the same network.
Also, if you pay for a high level Quality of service, so you’ll benefit of this high level quality of service, but in the same condition than an other customer paying the same fee.
Net Neutrality is the reason the Internet has driven online economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech. It protects our right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher-quality service and which to demote to a slower lane.
Now we have a programmable web, through more than 8500 open APIs and a lot more partner and private ones. And through combined applications using plenty of APIs, now the final user quality of service depend of API providers.
"The principles and factual assumptions that animate network neutrality— that the network has been operated in a particular socially beneficial way and that, especially in the absence of effective competition, it should stay that way—can also apply to Internet services that solicit mash-ups from third-party programmers like Google Maps or Facebook”
It is true that APIs are often owned by companies and are governed by market demand or business objectives.
And all third-party applications now depends on API policy and terms of service
You can see for example Twitter which restricted its API to third party applications like Tumblr few months ago, or even Instagram or even. IFTTT triggers.
They also stopped the PeopleBowser access to the firehose last November.
And when twitter has changed its API policies for all developers, it was a second kind of non respect of API neutrality.
Because twitter was providing an open API, when 3rd-party developers made a business which becoming competitive with their platform and business model, they decided to restrict it, enforcing their position on their own data and ecosystem.
The issue is that it exactly looks like an anti-trust behaviour. Twitter has a dominant position on Twitter data (obvious), but also on all the Twitter ecosystem itself enabled.
This is the same as ine the case of USA against Microsoft case for Windows and internet explorer anti-trust issue in 1998. Microsoft enforced its dominant position on Windows by providing a web browser without giving enough access to other compnaies to build one , so less possibility to users to install an other one, and so enfrenging the sherman anti-trust act.
(Funny, that the case obliged Microsoft to give access to Windows API to third party companies in a fair way)
Jonhathan Zittrain in its “The Future of internet” takes the following examples :
Those who offer open APIs on the Net in an attempt to harness the generative cycle ought to remain application-neutral after their efforts have succeeded, so all those who have built on top of their interfaces can continue to do so on equal terms. If Microsoft retroactively changed Windows to prevent WordPerfect or Firefox from running, it would answer under the antitrust laws and perhaps also in tort for intentional interference with the relationship between the independent software makers and their consumers. Similarly, providers of open APIs to their services can be required to commit to neutral offerings of them, at least when they have reached a position of market dominance for that particular service”
But it is what Twitter does with its API !
Microsoft = Twitter
Windows = Twitter API
Windows app = Twitter official apps
Competitor’s windows app = Twiiter API 3rd party app
And working these days of API Terms of service, a lot of API providers don’t give public all their rate limits or quotas, and say openfully that they can up to their own discretion make differences between third party developers. As you serve me, i let you quiet, even if you pass the limit i said.
Even Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Klout, ask for contact of you think you’ll pass through the limit and examine your business. This is not neutral.
What could be API neutrality?
Absolute data to 3rd party non-discrimination : all content, data, and views equally distributed on the third party ecosystem. Even a competitor could use an API in the same conditions than all others, with not restricted re-use of the data.
Limited discrimination without tiering : If you don’t pay specific fees for quality of service, you cannot have a better quality of service, as rate limit, quotas, SLA than someone else in the API ecosystem.
If you pay for a high level Quality of service, so you’ll benefit of this high level quality of service, but in the same condition than an other customer paying the same fee.
First come first served : No enqueuing API calls from paying third party applications, as the free 3rd-party are in the rate limits.
There is a solution.
Pay-as you go or other paying model insures you API neutrality. Because every $1 has the same value.
Even, some freeAPI from companies which are profitable are trustable, but when it is free, you are the not the consumer, you are the product. So the provider has a control on you, and if you are not a suffisant profitable or usccessful third party app, you may be cut at each time.
Never forget that free openAPIs provided by companies may be dangerous for your business, because they are governed by opportunity and if the API is not enough profitable, it will change in a not neutral way.
As Johnathan Zittrain says too that
"Skeptics may object that these relations can be governed by market forces, and if an open API is advertised as contingent, then those who build on it are on notice and can choose to ignore the invitation if they do not like the prospect that it can be withdrawn at any moment. The claim and counterclaim follow the essential pattern of the network neutrality debate."
Only free APIs from NGO, like openstreetmaps or wikipedia could be trust and considered are neutral ones. Because the data is already free.
Who is ready for defining better these rules and may be make with us a developer petition?