Deep Packet Inspection: What Innovation Will ISPs Encourage?

InnovationAll sorts of nasty things as said about ISPs that use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). ISPs aren’t investing enough in their networks, they just want to punish early adopters of new technologies, they’re looking to deepen their regulatory powers capacities, or they want to track what their customers do online. ISPs, in turn, tend to insist that P2P applications are causing undue network congestion, and DPI is the only measure presently available to them to alleviate such congestion.

At the moment, the constant focus on P2P over the past few years has resulted in various ‘solutions’ including the development of P4P and the shift to UDP. Unfortunately, the cat and mouse game between groups representing record labels, ISPs (to a limited extent), and end-users has led to conflict that has ensured that most of the time and money is being put into ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ technologies and tactics online rather than more extensively into bandwidth-limiting technologies. Offensive technologies include those that enable mass analysis of data- and protocol-types to try and stop or delay particular modes of data sharing. While DPI can be factored into this set of technologies, a multitude of network technologies can just as easily fit into this category. ‘Defensive’ technologies include port randomizers, superior encryption and anonymity techniques, and other techniques that are primarily designed to evade particular analyses of network activity.

I should state up front that I don’t want to make myself out to be a technological determinist; neither ‘offensive’ or ‘defensive’ technologies are in a necessary causal relationship with one another. Many of the ‘offensive’ technologies could have been developed in light of increasingly nuanced viral attacks and spam barrages, to say nothing of the heightening complexity of intrusion attacks and pressures from the copyright lobbies. Similarly, encryption and anonymity technologies would have continued to develop, given that in many nations it is impossible to trust local ISPs or governments.

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Review of “Making Technology Democratic” by Richard E. Scolve

One of the central issues facing democratic societies is that technology is outpacing the regulatory powers of politics and ethics. Ethicists are involved towards the end of product design – they are used to evaluate how to ‘spin’ ethical implications rather than developing normative frameworks that ensure that only ethical technologies are developed. Ethics, in this situation, identify something that is good, rather than something that is right. Politics act as a terminal regulatory point – while they legislate laws that are intended to guide the kinds of technological research, as politics are subjugated to money their ability to legitimately influence research diminishes

Scolve, writing in the mid-90s, recognized that a series of challenges stood before technologically inclined societies. In particular, he was concerned that if new technologies’ social effectswere not taken accounted for productivity would likely increase and be supplemented with corresponding declines in “political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorce from nature, individuals purposelessness, and expanding disparities of wealth” (87). In the face of these damaging political effects we must broaden technological agendas to account for technologies’ possible effects on social and political fields – we must ultimately situate long-term democratic publicity ahead of fulfilling short-term economic objectives.

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