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).
In 2008, ipoque released a report titled “Bandwidth Management Solutions for Network Operators“. Using Deep Packet Inspection appliances, it is possible to establish a priority management system that privileges certain applications’ traffic over others; VoIP traffic can be dropped last, whereas P2P packets are given the lowest priority on the network. Two modes of management are proposed by ipoque:
- Advanced Priority Management: where multi-tiered priorities maintain Quality of Experience (rather than Service) by identifying some packet-types as more important than others (e.g. VoIP is more important than BitTorrent packets). Under this system, less important packets are only dropped as needed, rather than being dropped once a bandwidth cap is met.
- Tiered Service Model: This uses a volume-service system, where users can purchase so much bandwidth for particular services. This is the ‘cell-phone’ model, where you sign up for packages that give you certain things and if you exceed your package limitations extra charges may apply*. Under this model you might pay for a file-sharing option, as well as a VoIP and/or streaming HTTP bundle.
The danger with filtering by application (from ipoque’s position) is that while local laws can be enforced, it opens the ISP to dissatisfaction if legitimate websites are blocked. Thus, while an ISP might block Mininova, they can’t block Fedora repositories as well – the first might conform to local laws, whereas blocking the second would infringe on consumers’ freedoms. In light of this challenge, ipoque suggests that could ISPs adopt Saudi Arabia-like white-lists, where consumers can send a message to their ISP when they find sites being illegitimately blocked. Once the ISP checks out the site, they can either remove the site from the black-list, or inform the customer of why the site must remain listed.
I worry that increasingly far-reaching and burdensome copyright laws, when combined with the analysis techniques of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), will lead to pervasive chilling of speech. I see this as having real issues for both the creation and development of contemporary culture, which depends on mixing the past into new creations (with ‘the past’ increasingly copy-written), and for the opportunities to use rich media environments such as the Internet to create and distribute political statements. Copyright isn’t just an issue for musicians and artists; it’s an issue for anyone who is or who wants to engage in digital self-expression in media-creative ways.
Given that my earlier post about this relationship between DPI and freedom of expression may have seemed overly paranoid, I thought that I should substantiate it a bit by turning to a DPI vendor’s white paper on copyright. In one of their most recent white papers, ipoque talks about “Copyright Protection in the Internet“. One of the great things about this white paper is how the author(s) have divided their analysis; they identify different methods of limiting or stopping infringement theoretically (i.e. can a technology do this?) and then provide a ‘reality check’ (i.e. can this practically be implemented without gross rights violations or technical nightmares), and end each analysis with a conclusion that sums up ipoque’s official position on the method in question. I want to focus on detecting infringing files, rather than on preventing such transfers of those file, on the basis that it is the former that really depends on DPI to be effective.
ipoque is one of the world’s leading Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) appliance manufacturers. For the past several years they have been producing detailed reports on the constitution of Internet bandwidth usage; their 2006 report was predominantly based on German data (100,000 German households’ data was incorporated into the study, versus 10,000 European households outside of Germany), whereas their 2008/2009 report takes data from Northern Africa, South Africa, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Southwestern Europe, and Germany. In short: the study’s range of participants and associated data points have increased substantially.
While the most recent report isn’t ‘comprehensive’ in the sense that it offers a perfect picture of the Internet’s global bandwidth and protocol usage during the data accumulation period, there are interesting things that we can learn from it. Perhaps most interesting, is that ipoque learned that P2P protocol usage grew far less than during the 2007 data collection period. The 2008/2009 report routinely identifies Direct Download Sites and services such as Usenet as reasons for the decline of P2P usage, as well as increasingly rich multi-media HTTP traffic. (While it is well beyond the scope of the ipoque study, it would be delightful to see if there is a corresponding relationship between content owners providing their media through web accessible portals and decreases in the growth of copyright infringement online.)