Why Regulate Digital Organizations’ APIs

Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu are today’s digital titans: Their services accelerate innovation and enable new business models, but also create expansive data empires that allow them to control and shape the digital world. Given their rapid growth and dominance, concerned citizens and regulators in Western markets are asking: How should these digital titans be regulated?

The need for regulation is clear: among Western companies, at least 79% of the American public uses Facebook. Similarly, Google accounts for 90% of search traffic. With access to large volumes of user data, these companies are able to create fine-grained, multidimensional views — what we call digital replicas — of consumers that pose several challenges to society’s stakeholders:

  • For consumers, use of these digital replicas by the digital titans and third parties compromises individual privacy.
  • For regulators, these digital replicas are impossible to monitor and track.
  • For service providers, titans control access to consumers and act as a “competitive bottleneck” to their ability to reach millions of customers.
  • For competitors, digital replicas create unfair hurdles that tilt the playing field toward companies with the most data and limit competitors’ access to data.

To address these issues, regulators need to focus not only on market dominance, but also on data dominance — specifically, how these companies integrate the vast quantities of data to which they have access and how they share their data or insights with third parties. Given the broad consequences of digital titans’ unbridled behavior, we need sweeping regulatory reforms.

Models already exist for the kind of regulatory schemes we need. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which aims to protect EU citizens from privacy and data breaches, regulates all organizations collecting data on EU consumers, issuing guidelines and rules on how these companies should protect privacy. Other models include the current U.S. system for monitoring the use of medical records (HIPAA), and the central bank’s system for tracking regional banks. Reforms of this magnitude — that are practically feasible — need corresponding infrastructures and investments to implement policies and regulations.

We argue that data audits are one of the best tools available to regulators for reining in the influence of these companies, improving transparency, and leveling the playing field for other companies. Data audits that focus on application programming interfaces (APIs) will give auditors and customers the full picture of these companies’ influence over society. With the arrival of cloud computing, APIs have become the lingua franca for the exchange of data and services between companies. Digital titans use APIs to dominate the digital world.

How Will Regulating Data Through APIs Help?

APIs are capabilities that allow two or more systems to connect and exchange data, both internally and externally, in a controlled manner. These APIs provide companies with well-defined and easy access to data and services from third parties. Currently, there are very few regulations for what data can be shared with third parties. If these APIs were monitored within the digital titans, we could get a complete picture of what data exists and which projects are using the data.

Subjecting APIs to monitoring will provide the following changes to the current system:

  • Auditing APIs will allow third parties to track the flow of data both within and between organizations, thus permitting regulators to decide if this flow is permissible or not.
  • Regulators can prevent digital titans from sharing data with the business units that are competing with new entrants. Without this advantage, the titans will have to compete solely based on the innovative products they bring to market, leveling competitive playing fields.
  • Consumers will be able to check on the accuracy of their data and correct it when appropriate, thereby increasing the accuracy of data.
  • Requiring digital titans to seek user permission to integrate user data will allow users to understand and control their digital replicas, putting them in charge of their data.
  • When the titans enter new markets or acquire a company, they could be forced to license their digital replicas to new entrants to assure fair play, thus taking away the overwhelming advantage they have over the new entrants.

The U.S. government has taken no action on monitoring and regulating how data flows occur within digital titans and among their third-party partners. Currently, neither EU nor American regulators are regulating the use of APIs. To protect consumers and to ensure a fair competitive landscape, the data troves of digital titans need to be more transparent to regulators. The best way to do that is to give auditors access to the digital titans’ APIs.

Currently, U.S. regulators are doing little to constrain the data dominance of digital titans. We want to see these digital titans grow, but as responsible companies that protect the larger interests of society. Self-regulation is an insufficient solution. Until companies begin providing access to their data to level the playing field, monitoring APIs is the logical next step.


MIT Sloan Management Review

How To Regulate Power in Davos? (With IoT!)

The Global Elite are currently converging on the Swiss town of Davos for the 2018 World Economic Forum, and the heavy snow means that there’s already heavy traffic before it even begins.

The forum is traditionally all about power relationships — but in these cold, snowy conditions, a different type of power regulation may come into play, based on the Internet of Things.

The Swiss federal railway (SBB) runs on electricity. In the Global Railway Review and in a recent presentation in Budapest, SBB’s  explained how new technology is pointing the way to greater energy efficiency.

The highest energy use occurs in the winter during the coldest periods during the morning and evening commutes, when many trains all leave at the same time. These sharp peaks typically have a duration of less than one minute, and only occur a few times a year — but these few minutes a year require the supply of an entire additional power band.

By 2030, the SBB expects an average increase in demand for energy of more than 25% — and at peak times even more than 40%. In order to avoid the expensive construction of new power stations in the alps, the organization has implemented the first steps to a railway smart grid by implementing “peak-shaving.” This is when a high-performance IT system identifies peak loads, selects appropriate “thermic consumers” that can be temporarily disabled, and switches them off for just a short period of time.

The “thermic consumers” include rail carriages and the railroad switches (points). The new system uses an in-memory streaming analytics system based on SAP HANA to detect the arrival of peak loads and communicate with the heating systems in the train carriages. Extensive testing has shown that not even the most sensitive passenger would notice the short time the heating is turned off.

There are many benefits to the new system, including postponed investments in new energy infrastructure by leveraging existing assets, savings in peak energy costs, and an increase in the reliability of the energy supply.

And this is just the start for SBB — the organization is already looking to expand this first project into a full power management system, with new opportunities to control other energy-consuming appliances in the future, such as the train engines themselves.

If only political shutdowns could be as easily avoided by the proper regulation of power!

This article originally appeared on Digital Business & Business Analytics.


Internet of Things – Digitalist Magazine

Regulate air flow with Arduino

Blow guns can be very helpful around your workshop, but sometimes you want a subtle shot of air instead of a full blast. There are several ways to take this on, but YouTuber “MBcreates” decided on a novel method using an Arduino Nano for control.

In his setup, a stepper is used to turn a screw as a linear actuator, pushing an intermediate blow gun’s trigger at progressively more aggressive intervals. This effectively regulates the air flow going into the handheld blow gun, allowing for a more subtle burst of air when needed.

Simple is often better. So I grabbed an old blow gun and used this a valve. The Arduino Digital Air Pressure Regulator uses a NEMA 17 stepper motor to press the lever of the blow gun. A micro end switch was placed against the lever. When the Arduino Nano goes through the setup, the stepper hits the end switch, now the program knows the exact position of the stepper.

The video seen here features some very clever build techniques, and it really turned out spectacular, especially considering it was MBcreates’ first Arduino project!

Arduino Blog