When you spend a lot of time working in the areas of copyright, traffic sniffing and analysis, and the Internet’s surveillance infrastructure more generally, there is a tendency to expect bad things on a daily basis. This expectation is built up from years of horrors, and I’m rarely disappointed in my day-to-day research. Thus, when Wired reported that a company called Feeva was injecting locational information into packet headers the actions didn’t come across as surprising; privacy infringements as reported in the Wired piece are depressingly common. In response I wrote a brief post decrying the modification of packet-headers for geolocational purposes and was quoted by Jon Newton on P2Pnet on my reactions to what I understood at the time was going on.
After the post, and quotations turned up on P2Pnet, folks at Feeva quickly got ahold of me. I’ve since had a few conversations with them. It turns out that (a) there were factual inaccuracies in the Wired article; (b) Feeva isn’t the privacy-devastating monster that they came off as in the Wired article. Given my increased familiarity with the technology I wanted to better outline what their technology does and alter my earlier post’s conclusion: Feeva is employing a surprising privacy-protective advertising system. As it stands, their system is a whole lot better at limiting infringements on individuals’ privacy for advertising-related purposes than any other scalable model that I’m presently aware of.
Before I get into the post proper, however, I do want to note that I am somewhat limited in the totality of what I can speak about. I’ve spoken with both Feeva’s Chief Technology Officer, Miten Sampat, and Chief Privacy Officer, Dr. Don Lloyd Cook, and they’ve been incredibly generous in sharing both their time and corporate information. The two have been incredibly forthcoming with the technical details of the system employed and (unsurprisingly) some of this information is protected. As such, I can’t get into super-specifics (i.e. X technology uses Y protocol and Z hardware) but, while some abstractions are required, I think that I’ve managed to get across key elements of the system they’ve put in place.
Ole, a Canadian independent record label, put forward an often-heard and much disputed proposal to enhance record label revenues: Ole wants ISPs to surveil Canada’s digital networks for copywritten works. In the record label’s filing on July 12 for the Digital Economy Consultations, entitled “Building Delivery Systems at the Expense of Content Creators,” Ole asserts that ISPs are functioning as “short circuits” and let music customers avoid purchasing music on the free market. Rather than go to the market, customers are (behaving as rational economic actors…) instead using ISP networks to download music. That music is being downloaded is an unquestionable reality, but the stance that this indicates ISP liability for customers’ actions seems to be an effort to re-frame record industries’ unwillingness to adopt contemporary business models as a matter for ISPs to now deal with. In this post, I want to briefly touch on Ole’s filing and the realities of network surveillance for network-grade content awareness in today market. I’ll be concluding by suggesting that many of the problems presently facing labels are of their own making and that we should, at best, feel pity and at worst fear what they crush in their terror throes induced by disruptive technologies.
Ole asserts that there are two key infotainment revenue streams that content providers, such as ISPs, maintain: the $150 Cable TV stream and the $50 Internet stream. Given that content providers are required to redistribute some of the $150/month to content creators (often between 0.40-0.50 cents of every dollar collected), Ole argues that ISPs should be similarly required to distribute some of the $50/month to content creators that make the Internet worth using for end-users. Unstated, but presumed, is a very 1995 understanding of both copyright and digital networks. In 1995 the American Information Infrastructure Task Force released its Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure report, wherein they wrote;
…the full potential of the NII will not be realized if the education, information and entertainment products protected by intellectual property laws are not protected effectively when disseminated via the NII…the public will not use the services available on the NII and generate the market necessary for its success unless a wide variety of works are available under equitable and reasonable terms and conditions, and the integrity of those works is assured…What will drive the NII is the content moving through it.
Of course, the assertion that if commercial content creators don’t make their works available on the Internet then the Internet will collapse is patently false.
Shortly before Canada Day the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released their decision as to whether they were to modify the forbearance framework for mobile wireless data services. To date, the CRTC has used a light hand when it’s come to wireless data communications: they’ve generally left wireless providers alone so that the providers could expand their networks in the (supposedly) competitive wireless marketplace. As of decision 2010-445 the Commission’s power and duties are extended and the spectre of traffic management on mobile networks is re-raised.
In this post I’m going to spell out what the changes actually mean – what duties and responsibilities, in specific, the CRTC is responsible for – and what traffic management on mobile networks would entail. This will see me significantly reference portions of the Canadian Telecommunications Act; if you do work in telecommunications in Canada you’ll be familiar with a lot of what’s below (and might find my earlier post on deep packet inspection and mobile discrimination more interesting), but for the rest this will expose you to some of the actual text of the Act.
In amending the forbearance framework the CRTC is entering the regulatory domain on several topics pertaining to wireless data communications. Specifically, wireless providers are now subject to section 24 and subsections 27(2), 27(3), and 27(4) of the Act. Section 24 states that the “offering and provision of telecommunications service by a Canadian carrier are subject to any conditions imposed by the Commission or included in tariff approved by the Commission.” In effect, the CRTC can now intervene in the conditions of service that carriers make available to other carriers and the public. Under 27(2) carriers can no longer unjustly discriminate against or give unreasonable preference towards any person. This limitation includes the telecommunications carrier itself and thus means that neither fees nor management of the network can be excessively leveraged to the benefit of the carrier and detriment of other parties.
I attended this year’s Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference and spent time in sessions on privacy in large data sets, deep packet inspection and network neutrality, the role of privacy in venture capital pitches, and what businesses are doing to secure privacy. In addition, a collection of us worked for some time to produce a rough draft of the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights that was subsequently discussed and ratified by the conference participants. In this post, I want to speak to the motivations of the Bill of Rights, characteristics of social networking and Bill proper, a few hopeful outcomes resulting from the Bill’s instantiation and conclude by denoting a concerns around the Bill’s creation and consequent challenges for moving it forward.
First, let me speak to the motivation behind the Bill. Social networking environments are increasingly becoming the places where individuals store key information – contact information, photos, thoughts and reflections, video – and genuinely becoming integrated into the political. This integration was particularly poignantly demonstrated last year when the American State Department asked Twitter to delay upgrades that would disrupt service and stem the information flowing out of Iran following the illegitimate election of President Ahmadinejad. Social networks have already been tied into the economic and social landscapes in profound ways: we see infrastructure costs for maintaining core business functionality approaching zero and the labor that was historically required for initiating conversations and meetings, to say nothing of shared authorship, have been integrated into social networking platforms themselves. Social networking, under this rubric, extends beyond sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and encapsulate companies like Google and Yahoo!, WordPress, and Digg, and their associated product offerings. Social networking extends well beyond social media; we can turn to Mashable’s collection of twenty characteristics included in the term ‘social networking’ for guidance as to what the term captures: