APIs Used To Close, Rather Than Open The Internet

I get a lot of folks who come to my blog, see the title, read one or two posts, and assume that I’m a blind lover of API technology, and that I see APis as a solution to everything. While some of this is true, I do love APIs, and think they are a great solution (in some cases), at the same time I’m also an outspoken critic of APIs, and work hard to be a voice of reason when I see people doing stupid shit with them.

With this theme in mind, I want to once again remind everyone that APIs are neither good, nor bad, nor neutral by themselves, they are merely one of the tools companies can wield, and completely reflect the motivations of their masters. One such example of this in action, where I believe an API is being used for some pretty bad reasons is with the AT&T sponsored data API.

I’ve tried to support AT&T as much as I can, because I really want to help the enterprise make sense of web APIs, and teach them to wield them in positive ways, but I have to say the sponsored data API is not something I can get behind. Upon closer examination this API is working to close down, control and meter the Internet, rather than opening up the Internet making it more accessible, and usable by AT&T customers.

Allowing for mobile users to get their music, video and other content delivered in a way that doesn’t impact their phone bill seems like a good idea, and allowing companies to step in an sponsor the delivery of data and content for users, may smell like a good opportunity when you own the pipes, but this is leading us down a dark road. I’m sorry, there are much more interesting ways to optimize the delivery of content, and make money off the Internet pipes you have--AT&T you lack imagination, and creativity.

I'm sure you are well aware, but what you are doing with sponsored data delivery to mobile phones is another push for allowing the prioritization of Internet traffic, and being able to pay for a better Internet experience for those who can afford it, rather than making the web accessible to everyone. Additionally if you consider that many providers will actively work to slow the Internet delivery of content behind the scenes just so they can generate revenue using approaches like sponsored data, things really start to get really ugly. I'm not ok with you doing this via APIs, and helping your customers see API as something attached to their bill, and speeding up the Internet

This use of an API to close the Internet down, and such bad examples of API monetization really bum me out. There is so much opportunity for monetization if everyone has open, free access to the Internet. We can get more creative than this, when it comes to monetizing the pipes, and approaches like this from AT&T is just going to continue fucking up the Internet, similar to what we are seeing come from Verizon, and the other leading telcos who don't get Internet, let alone APIs.

PS: I wrote this 8 months ago, and just now found in my Evernote. Figured I'd publish in the shadow of FCC announcment on net neutrality.