I want to very highly recommend Barbara van Schewick’s Internet Architecture and Innovation. Various authors, advocates, scholars, and businesses have spoken about the economic impacts of the Internet, but to date there hasn’t been a detailed economic accounting of what may happen if/when ISPs monitor and control the flow of data across their networks. van Schewick has filled this gap by examining “how changes in the Internet’s architecture (that is, its underlying technical structure) affect the economic environment for innovation” and evaluating “the impact of these changes from the perspective of public policy” (van Schewick 2010: 2).
Her book traces the economic consequences associated with changing the Internet’s structure from one enabling any innovator to design an application or share content online to a structure where ISPs must first authorize access to content and design key applications in house (e.g. P2P, email, etc). Barbara draws heavily from Internet history literatures and economic theory to buttress her position that a closed or highly controlled Internet not only constitutes a massive change in the original architecture of the ‘net, but that this change would be damaging to society’s economic, cultural, and political interests. She argues that an increasingly controlled Internet is the future that many ISPs prefer, and supports this conclusion with economic theory and the historical actions of American telecommunications corporations.
van Schewick begins by outlining two notions of the end-to-end principle undergirding the ‘net, a narrow and broad conception, and argues (successfully, in my mind) that ISPs and their interrogators often rely on different end-to-end understandings in making their respective arguments to the public, regulators, and each other.
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This is a draft of the paper that I’ll be presenting at the Counter: Piracy and Counterfeit conference in Manchester in a few days. It’s still rough around some edges, but feels like a substantial piece. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Privacy operates as an umbrella-like concept that shelters liberal citizens’ capacity to enjoy the autonomy, secrecy, and liberty, values that are key to citizens enjoying their psychic and civil dignity. As digitisation sweeps through the post-industrial information economy, these same citizens are increasingly sharing and disseminating copywritten files using peer-to-peer file sharing networks. In the face of economic challenges posed by these networks, some members of the recording industries have sought agreements with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to govern the sharing of copywritten data. In Britain, file-sharing governance has recently manifested in the form of Virgin Media inserting deep packet inspection (DPI) appliances into their network to monitor for levels of infringing files. In this presentation, I argue that ISPs and vendors must demonstrate technical and social transparency over their use of DPI to assuage worries that communications providers are endangering citizens’ psychic and civil dignities. Drawing on recent Canadian regulatory processes concerning Canadian applications of DPI, I suggest that transparency between civil advocacy groups and ISPs and vendors can garner trust required to limit harms to citizens’ psychic dignity. Further, I maintain that using DPI appliances to detect copyright infringement and apply three-strikes proposals unduly threatens citizens’ civil dignities; alternate governance strategies must be adopted to preserve citizens’ civil dignity.
I’ve been watching with some interest the new Artist 2 Fan 2 Artist project, recently started up by Jon Newton and Billy Bragg. The intent of the site is to bring artists and fans together and encourage these parties to speak directly with one another, without needing to pass through intermediaries such as producers, labels, public relations groups, managers, and so on. It will be interesting to see how the dialogue develops.
One of the key elements of the site that interest me the discussion of paying artists (and other content creators); how can we avoid demonizing P2P users while at the same time allocating funds to artists/copyright owners in a responsible manner. On October 5th, this topic was broached under the posting ‘In Favour of a Music Tax‘, and I wanted to bring some of my own comments surrounding the idea of a music tax to the forefront of my own writing space, and the audience here.
I think that an ISP-focused levy system is inappropriate for several reasons: it puts too much authority and control over content analysis than carriers need, puts carriers at risk when they misidentify content, and would make carriers (for-profit content delivery corporations) in charge of monitoring content without demanding consumers that pay ‘full value’ for content moving through their networks. This last point indicates that an ISP-based levy puts ISPs in a conflict of interest (at least in the case of the dominant ISPs in Canada). Another solution is required.
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Skype 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:
- Canadian customers can now install Skype on their iPhones;
- 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:
- Make a killing on the likely data overages as early adopters shifted over to Skype VoIP in favour of Rogers’ own voice services;
- 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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German 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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For the past few weeks I’ve been working away on a paper that tries to bring together some of the CRTC filings that I’ve been reading for the past few months. This is a slightly revised and updated version of a paper that I presented to the Infoscape research lab recently. Many thanks to Fenwick Mckelvey for taking the lead to organize that, and also to Mark Goldberg for inviting me to the Canadian Telecom Summit, where I gained an appreciation for some of the issues and discussions that Canadian ISPs are presently engaged in.
Canadian ISPs are developing contemporary netscapes of power. Such developments are evidenced by ISPs categorizing, and discriminating against, particular uses of the Internet. Simultaneously, ISPs are disempowering citizens by refusing to disclose the technical information needed to meaningfully contribute to network-topology and packet discrimination discussions. Such power relationships become stridently manifest when observing Canadian public and regulatory discourse about a relatively new form of network management technology, deep packet inspection. Given the development of these netscapes, and Canadian ISPs’ general unwillingness to transparently disclose the technologies used to manage their networks, privacy advocates concerned about deep packet networking appliances abilities to discriminate between data traffic should lean towards adopting a ‘fundamentalist’, rather than a ‘pragmatic’, attitude concerning these appliances. Such a position will help privacy advocates resist the temptation of falling prey to case-by-case analyses that threaten to obfuscate these device’s full (and secretive) potentialities.
Full paper available for download here. Comments are welcome; either leave them here on the blog, or fire something to the email address listed on the first page of the paper.