Some Data on the Skype iPhone Application

SkypePhoneSkype is a polarizing product for telecom operators and customers. It is an application that lets customers abandon their historical phone services in favour of an encrypted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications service that provides ‘free’ calls to computers and cheap rates when making a Skype-to-analogue/cellular phone service. For customers, it extends the choices presented to them and potentially reduces their monthly phone expenses.

The iPhone application for Skype has made headlines as telecom and smartphone manufacturers alike have actively and passively resisted, and ultimately relented, to permitting customers make Skype calls from their iPhones and other mobile devices. Apple has stated that they will not ‘jump through hoops’ to ensure that VoIP applications work through successive operating system updates, and AT&T’s poor data transmission systems likely made them somewhat hesitant to allow another bandwidth-heavy service onto their networks. What really got me interested in the Skype iPhone application, as a Canadian, was the following:

  1. Canadian customers can now install Skype on their iPhones;
  2. There was no place on the web that informed Skype users of how much data was consumed by the iPhone application when in use.

It was #2 that was particularly interesting. Canadian consumers tend to have fairly low default bandwidth caps with Rogers, the primary carrier of the iPhone in Canada, at 1GB in the basic iPhone plan. My thought was this: if the iPhone application actually consumed massive amounts of data Rogers would:

  1. Make a killing on the likely data overages as early adopters shifted over to Skype VoIP in favour of Rogers’ own voice services;
  2. If the application actually consumed a large amount of bandwidth, carriers might see it as ‘technically’ needing to be mediated using some system (perhaps deep packet inspection).

I started putting out feelers, and no one knew how much data the application consumed. Rogers claimed they didn’t know, nor did Apple. A contact on Twitter who worked as customer relations for Skype also doesn’t know the amount of data used, and the information was nowhere (that I could find) on the English-written web. Similarly, my international contacts were uncertain about data requirements. Fortunately, after an extended wait, I’ve finally received word from Skype’s customer service desks (my last ditch effort was to submit a support ticket). Here is how the relevant part of the email reads:

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Analysis: ipoque, DPI, and Network Neutrality

netneutralityrallyottawaGerman Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) manufacturer, ipoque, has produced a white paper titled “Deep Packet Inspection: Technology, Applications & Network Neutrality.” In it, the company distinguishes between DPI as a technology and possible applications of the technology in a social environment. After this discussion they provide a differentiated ‘tiering’ of various bandwidth management impacts on network neutrality. In this post I offer a summary and comment of the white paper, and ultimately wonder whether or not there is an effective theoretical model, grounded in empirical study, to frame or characterize network neutrality advocates.

The first thing that ipoque does is try and deflate the typically heard ‘DPI analysis = opening a sealed envelop’ analogy, and argue that it is better to see packets as postcards, where DPI analysis involves looking for particular keywords or characters. In this analysis, because the technology cannot know of the meaning of what is being searched for, the DPI appliances cannot be said to violate one’s privacy given the technology’s lack of contextual awareness. I’ve made a similar kind of argument, that contextual meaning escapes DPI appliances (though along different lines) in a paper that I presented earlier this year titled “Moving Across the Internet: Code-Bodies, Code-Corpses, and Network Architecture,” though I think that its important to recognize a difference between a machine understandingsomething itself versus flagging particular words and symbols for a human operator to review. Ubiquitous, “non-aware,” machine surveillance can have very real effects where a human is alerted to communications – its something of a misnomer to say that privacy isn’t infringed simply because the machine doesn’t know what it’s doing. We ban and regulate all kinds of technologies because of what they can be used for rather than because the technology itself is inherently bad (e.g. wiretaps).
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The Business of Infringing Content

CreepycopyrightinfringementWhen people are about to download content from the ‘net that is copywritten, many often ask ‘will I get caught doing this?’ For many, the response is ‘no’ and then continue to download that episode of Seinfeld or whatever. Given that there are so many people downloading, and that record companies in the US have claimed to have abandoned filing new lawsuits against individuals, then things (in North America) appear to be getting better.

At issue, however, is that filing lawsuits is big money, and in Europe especially it looks like Digiprotect has moved in to assume first-mover advantage. Digiprotect gets “the legal rights from the companies to distribute these movies to stores, and with these rights we can sue illegal downloaders. Then we take legal action in every country possible, concentrating on the places where such action will be profitable” (Source). They avoid demanding too much money from infringers, on the basis that few judges like the idea of imposing million dollar fines on individuals – usually opting for suits demanding in the vicinity of 500 Euros. This amount of money ‘teaches’ individuals and provides enough money to keep the employees paid. No staff member has a fixed salary – they are paid according to the ‘cases’ that are won. The actual method of determining the financial burdens are based on the business expenses, profit, and money to be distributed to artists. In effect, the company sets up a honeypot and then sues whomever it is profitable to sue.

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The Geek, Restraining Orders, and Theories of Privacy

restrainingorderI’ve been reading some work on privacy and social networks recently, and this combined with Ratliff’s “Gone Forever: What Does It Really Take to Disappear” has led me to think about whether a geek with a website that is clearly their own (e.g. Christopher-Parsons.com) should reasonably expect restraining laws to extend to digital spaces. I’m not really talking at the level of law necessarily, but at a level of normativity: ought a restraining order limit a person from ‘following’ me online as it does from being near me in the physical world?

Restraining orders are commonly issued to prevent recurrences of abuse (physical or verbal) and stalking. While most people who have a website are unable to track who is visiting their webspace, what happens when you compulsively check your server logs (as many good geeks do) and can roughly correlate traffic to particular geo-locations. As a loose example, let’s say that you were in a small town, ‘gained’ an estranged spouse, and then notice that there are regular hits to your website from that small town after you’ve been away from it for years. Let’s go further and say that you have few/no friends in that town, and that you do have a restraining order that is meant to prevent your ex-spouse from being anywhere near you. Does surfing to your online presence (we’ll assume, for this posting, that they aren’t commenting or engaging with the site) normatively constitute a breach of an order?

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Context, Privacy, and (Attempted) Blogger Anonymity

bloggingtimelineWhile it’s fine and good to leave a comment where neither you nor an anonymous blogger know one another, what happens when you do know the anonymous blogger and it’s clear that they want to remain anonymous? This post tries to engage with this question, and focuses on the challenges that I experience when I want to post on an ‘anonymous’ blog where I know who is doing the blogging – it attends to the contextual privacy questions that race through my head before I post. As part  of this, I want to think through how a set of norms might be established to address my own questions/worries, and means of communicating this with visitors.

I’ve been blogging in various forms for a long time now – about a decade (!) – and in every blog I’ve ever had I use my name. This has been done, in part, because when I write under my name I’m far more accountable than when I write under an alias (or, at least I think this is the case). This said, I recognize that my stance to is slightly different than that of many bloggers out there – many avoid closely associating their published content with their names, and often for exceedingly good reasons. Sometimes a blogger wants to just vent, and doesn’t want to deal with related social challenges that arise as people know that Tommy is angry. Others do so for personal safety reasons (angry/dangerous ex-spouses), some for career reasons (not permitted to blog/worried about effects of blogging for future job prospects), some to avoid ‘-ist’ related comments (sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

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Continuums of Social Media?

socialmedialandscapeWhile it’s not the core focus of my research, I pay a lot of attention to trends and conversations about social media, and particularly focus on common standards that support the ‘semantic’ capabilities of web-enabled appliances. In this post I want to think about ways of ‘structuring’ social media along a set of continuums/formalized networks and the role of HTML 5’s semantic possibilities in pushing past the present set of social networking environments.

Social Media as a Hub

As shown in the image to the left, social platforms are situated in the middle of a set of larger social media items; platforms are integrative, insofar as they are able to make calls to other social items and enrich the platform. Under a ‘social media as hub’ continuum, we might imagine that ‘spoke-based’ media items facilitate highly targeted uses; while MMORPGs are ‘social’, they are hyper-targeted and meant to maintain their own internal infrastructure.

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