BlackBerry CEO John Chen proposes profoundly stupid 'app neutrality' law

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BlackBerry’s developer support has sunken so low that the company is now seeking a government bailout.

In a blog post on BlackBerry’s website, CEO John Chen made a proposal that seems too preposterous to believe: In addition to considering net neutrality—the idea that Internet providers shouldn’t discriminate against certain types of traffic—Chen said the government should consider “application/content neutrality.”

Essentially, Chen is saying developers who write for iOS and Android should also have to create apps for BlackBerry. He calls out Apple for not offering iMessage outside of iOS and OS X—even as BlackBerry has brought BBM to other platforms—and says Netflix has “discriminated against BlackBerry customers” by not making its streaming video app available.

“These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level,” Chen wrote.

Why this matters: This so nonsensical that it only underscores how desperate BlackBerry has become. “App neutrality” would be a nightmare to enforce, and it’s based on false assumptions about what net neutrality does. We only bring it to your attention so we can lampoon it.

What’s wrong with “app neutrality”

On some level, Chen’s position is understandable. The point of net neutrality is to encourage innovation in online services, and to prevent Internet providers from picking winners and losers. Chen is saying that BlackBerry hasn’t been given a fair shot because app makers have declared iOS and Android victorious.

But there’s a critical difference between net neutrality and the app neutrality that Chen proposes: With net neutrality, non-discrimination is the default. The Internet stops being neutral only if Internet providers create new, discriminatory practices such as blocking, throttling and fast lanes. The point of net neutrality rules is to maintain the Internet in its non-discriminatory state.

With Chen’s proposal of app neutrality, no such non-discriminatory state exists. Each new platform merely creates more work for developers, thereby requiring greater investment. Under Chen’s proposal, the barriers to entry for a small startup would become greater, and innovation would be stifled. App neutrality may be beneficial for BlackBerry, but it would actually counteract the things that net neutrality is trying to achieve.

Besides, enforcing this crazy idea would be nearly impossible, since anyone can create an operating system, and anyone can write an app. How would a government decide which apps should target which platforms in a way that wasn’t completely arbitrary? It’s also worth noting that BlackBerry doesn’t offer native BBM apps for Windows, Mac OS X or the web, so it’d be violating its own idea right out of the gate.

With all due respect to Chen, it’s hard to imagine why a well-qualified, respected business leader would offer up such a profoundly stupid idea in a public blog post. Maybe he’s just doing it for attention, but it’s not bringing BlackBerry any of the positive kind.

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