Throughout the 2009 Canadian Telecommunications Summit presenter after presenter, and session after session, spoke to the Canadian situation concerning growth in mobile data. In essence, there is a worry that the wireless infrastructure cannot cope with the high volumes of data that are expected to accompany increasing uses and penetrations of mobile technologies. Such worries persist, even though we’ve recently seen the launch of another high-speed wireless network that was jointly invested in by Bell and Telus, and despite the fact that new wireless competitors are promising to enter the national market as well.
The result of the wireless competition in Canada is this: Canadians actually enjoy pretty fast wireless networks. We can certainly complain about the high costs of such networks, about the conditions under which wireless spectrum was purchased and is used, and so forth, but the fact is that pretty impressive wireless networks exist…for Canadians with cash. As any network operator knows, however, speed is only part of the equation; it’s just as important to have sufficient data provisioning so your user base can genuinely take advantage of the network. It’s partially on the grounds of data provisioning that we’re seeing vendors develop and offer deep packet inspection (DPI) appliances for the mobile environment.
I think that provisioning is the trojan horse, however, and that DPI is really being presented by vendors as a solution to a pair of ‘authentic’ issues: first, the need to improve customer billing, and second, to efficiently participate in the advertising and marketing ecosystem. I would suggest that ‘congestion management’, right now, is more of a spectre-like issue than an authentic concern (and get into defending that claim, in just a moment).
Since the election of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world has witnessed considerable political tension in Iran. Protests over the questionable electoral results, beatings and deaths of political protestors, recurring protests by Iranians associated with the Green Revolution, and transmissions of information amongst civil- and global-actors have been broadcast using contemporary communications systems. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and mobile phone video has enabled Iranians to coordinate, broadcast, and receive information. The existence of Web 2.0 infrastructure has set the conditions under which the Green Revolution operates.
The Iranian government quickly recognized the power of cheap social coordination technologies and, in response, drastically reduced the capacity of national Internet links – the government, in effect, closed the nation’s Internet faucet, which greatly reduced how quickly data could be transmitted to, and received from, the ‘net as a whole. This claim is substantiated by Arbor Networks’ (Internet) border reports, which demonstrate how, immediately after the presidential election, there was a plummet in the data traffic entering and exiting the nation. (It should be noted that Arbor is a prominent supplier of Deep Packet Inspection equipment.)
Prior to trying to dispel the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) surrounding the contemporary Iranian ISP-surveillance system that is regularly propagated by the media, I need to give a bit of context on the telecommunications structure in Iran.
Over the past little while there has been considerable attention focused on Virgin Media’s decision to trial Detica’s CView copyright monitoring system. This system uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology to identify data protocols and likely files that are being transferred in order to generate a Copyright Infringement Index (i.e. a ‘Piracy Index’). As outlined by Detica, CView will let ISPs work with content creators to determine whether ISPs providing content through their portals lead to reductions in ‘infringing’ transfers of content through P2P file sharing.
The story about Detica’s involvement really broke with Chris Williams’ piece over at the Register entitled, “Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system.” In the piece, he recognized that the trial will encompass roughly 40% of Virgin’s customers, that the aim is to measure overall levels of filesharing rather than identify individual customers, and (at least initially) will focus on music. After I read the piece, I send some questions off to Detica and posted them (“Virgin to Use DPI to ID Copyright Infringement“) based on my reading of Williams’ piece and Detica’s consultation paper, and shortly thereafter followed up with Detica’s responses and thoughts on CView and privacy infringements (“Update to Virgin Media and Copyright DPI“). Between the posting of my questions, and the response from Detica, Richard Clayton had a meeting with representatives from Detica and posted the information they released to him over at Light Blue Touchpaper in a posting “What does Detica Detect?” The Register was also able to get face time with people working at Detica, leading Williams to produce his second piece “Spook firm readies Virgin Media filesharing probes.”
In the rest of this post, I want to pull together the information that has come to light so that we can get a better picture of what is known about CView. As such, this is very much a summary rather than an analytic post; hopefully I’ll have time to delve the information more critically in the near future.
Recently, I’ve heard back from Detica about CView and wanted to share the information that Detica has been provided. CView is the copyright detection Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) appliance that Virgin Media will be trialling, and is intended to measure the amount of copyright infringing files that cross Virgin’s network. This index will let Virgin determine whether the content deals they sign with content producers have a noticeable impact on the amount of infringing P2P traffic on their network. Where such deals reduce infringements, then we might expect Virgin to invest resources in agreements with content producers, and if such agreements have no impact then Virgin’s monies will likely be spent on alternate capital investments. I’ll note up front that I’ve sent some followup questions to seek additional clarity where the answers I received were somewhat hazy; such haziness appears to have been from a miscommunication, and is likely attributable to a particular question that was poorly phrased. Up front, I will state that I’m not willing to release the name of who I’m speaking with at Detica, as I don’t think that their name is needed for public consumption and would be an inappropriate disclosure of personal information.
The key question that is lurking in my own mind – if not that of others interested in the CView product – is whether or not the appliance can associate inspected data flows with individuals. In essence, I’m curious about whether or not CView has the ability to collect ‘personally identifiable information’ as outlined by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in her recent findings on Bell’s use of DPI. In her findings, the Commissioner argues that because Bell customers’ subscriber ID and IP address are temporarily collated that personal information is being collected that Bell does collect personal information.