Net Neutrality Could Actually Help ISPs

23 11 2010

CEO of Diffraction Analysis Benoît Felten released a blog post on Nov. 18th arguing that Internet Service Providers actually have more to lose from net discrimination practices than they have to gain.

Felten believes that his ISP clients have never “looked at the economics” behind net neutrality, and assert that the major cardholders are the biggest online content providers: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. This comes as something of

Benoît Felten, CEO of Diffraction Analysis and advocate for an open Internet.

a surprise, given that ISPs have actually attempted in recent years to assert their First-Amendment rights to charge for prioritized access.

Felten defends his logic by saying, “if Google was to refuse a toll to access the AT&T network and discontinued its services over the AT&T network as a consequence, who would suffer the most? I think it would be AT&T, and I think it would have very quick effects on their customer churn.”

He says of the net neutrality debate, “Net-discrimination is a typical case of a lose/lose scenario: network operators have nothing to gain, content and application providers have nothing to gain, and customers have everything to lose. Defending net neutrality is important for a lot of reasons, I just wish that those opposing it knew how little net-discrimination will serve them.”

Felten’s YouTube channel, like his blog, is “fiberevolution;” here he is discussing how “open access makes economic sense:”




Free Expression Has Its Limits On Xbox Live

23 11 2010

We champion our First-Amendment right to free speech as a protection of our right to be who we want to be. Our choices reflect our values, and manifest themselves physically as representations of who we are.

Call of Duty: Black Ops allows its players to do just that; using a new feature called the Playercard Editor, users can choose between 480 images which can be layered on top of each other, with the options of coloring, moving, rotating, flipping, or resizing each image to create a unique and individualized graphic emblem.

Some of the many emblems Black Ops players can choose from to make their individualized playercard.

I’m frankly surprised that it took this long since the game’s release (two weeks) for someone to invoke Microsoft’s wrath on the subject of offensive emblems. Twitter user “JohnJohnson39923” questioned Xbox Live Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse whether or not it would be alright to use a swastika as a Call of Duty emblem “not to offend,” but because he/she “like[s] the design.”

Toulouse replied via Twitter, “Seriously dude?,” going on to say that any users using a swastika as an emblem will be banned from the Xbox Live network. Unfortunately for Toulouse, this statement brought out a caravan of the Internet’s anonymous warriors for free speech, citing what Toulouse referred to on his blog as “contrarian” viewpoints on the swastika and other well-known symbols.

Toulouse said the commentators suggested he should “apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox Live” because under “niche interpretations” symbols such as the Star of David and the Christian cross can be considered as vile as the swastika.

It’s too bad for those “Internet pundits” that Xbox Live is not a community to which United States free speech laws apply; it is a virtual community owned and operated by Microsoft Inc. It is therefore this organization that sets and enforces the rules by which members of the Xbox Live community abide.

Toulouse considers the policy “fundamental respect,” rather than political correctness. While he believes it’s “great” to have society reevaluate the swastika symbol, he wrote on his blog, “Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is not the right place to do that.”

The New Meaning of Networked TV

24 10 2010

This post by Andrew Baron on TechCrunch details the integration of web content into television technology. Over the last couple of years, many major television manufacturers have been building Internet applications into their televisions. However, the newest Apple TV model and the release of the Google TV have transferred a whole new degree of content accessibility from users’


Both the Apple TV and Google TV are examples of web-based content permeating the home entertainment experience.


computer monitors to their televisions.

These devices allow users to stream, rent and purchase content to be watched on their televisions simply with an Internet connection; no computer is necessary. Accessing content has never been easier, with both platforms’ on-demand distribution system. And since Google is looking to make its device “open,” it is unlikely there will be a mandatory pay-per-view system similar to Apple’s.

Unfortunately for Google, ABC, NBC, and CBS have managed to install Internet protocols blocking Google TV users from accessing their free online content (mostly archived episodes of older shows and recent episodes of current shows). I personally find this procedure painfully redundant; usually when I watch free online network programming it’s through my laptop, connected to my television as a monitor.

While the networks might prohibit Google from allowing users to stream content on their product, Baron points out in his post that this phenomenon stems from cable providers bullying the networks into making sure that cable stays the primary means of content distribution; in short, they’re scared of the capabilities these devices have (as they damn well should be).

There are many contingent factors that come into play in determining the degree of success these devices will have. One can be sure though that judging by potential and the dramatic increase of web-accessible content, these are no trendy fad set-top boxes, but rather the predecessors to the future of content delivery.

The End of Internet Trolling?

17 10 2010

Online message boards and comment threads have long standing reputations as being Thunderdome-like verbal war zones, with slanderous bombs and spiteful attacks lobbed in all directions on any variety of subjects. We can trace this behavior, often referred to as “trolling,” to online anonymity; the idea that users are not required to disclose any information regarding their identity in the cybersphere. But in the way that the evolving web often tends to, the vicious and offensive behavior of Internet trolls has seeped out from cyberspace in into reality.


Formula for an Internet Troll


Separate legal actions have been taken against Google by a model and a Columbia Business grad student to seek out the identities of online attackers, in efforts to bring their respective trolls to justice under defamation charges. While both “victims” used litigation to have Google provide the identities of their attackers, their cases diverge in terms of context.

The model, Liskula Cohen, squeezed the identity of blogger Rosemary Port out of Google after Port asserted on her account that Cohen was a “psychotic, lying, whoring… skank.” While a New York court sided with Cohen and forced Google to provide Port’s information, Julie Hilden believes Google “betrayed clients” by not siding with Port’s right to freedom of speech.

Hilden, a Yale Law graduate specializing in First Amendment litigation, admits that while the comments technically fall within defamation statutes, one must also question, “Could any reasonable person have read this material and truly believed, with any degree of confidence, that Cohen was literally psychotic, or truly a liar? Or, would they have read it in the way that that the blogger ultimately urged the court to read it – as an out-of-control, spewing rant expressing nothing but anger and dislike? I think the answer is the latter.”

Anne Salisbury, the lawyer that represented Port in this legal fracas brings up the notion that taking this type of legal action could stifle free expression online. She references a case in California in which a developer is suing Google to obtain the identities of journalists that wrote stories about a bribery scheme in which the developer was involved. She said, “Google has taken the position that unless it receives a written “motion to quash” the subpoena, it will release the information to the developer’s attorneys. Many people in the free speech community are alarmed at this potentially dangerous incursion, because of the belief that vigorous, honest discourse will be stifled by fear of retribution if personal, identifying information can be so easily obtained.”

There has to be a line drawn between legal frivolities such as Cohen’s battle against “skankblogging,” and more serious cases such as the one in California, and former model and Columbia Business grad Carla Franklin’s case against a cyberstalker.

Franklin asserts that in addition to anonymous harassing behavior including unwanted phone calls and emails, she had to deal with multiple YouTube “shrines” dedicated to her, using unauthorized video footage and photographs. According to her, the last


Carla Franklin has taken Google to court to bring her cyberstalker to justice.


straw was an anonymous comment posted on one of these YouTube videos, calling her a “whore.” A Manhattan judge ruled in her favor, ordering Google on Friday (10/15) to come up with the identity of Franklin’s attacker. Franklin has since posted her case at the online forum Free Speech Version 3 to promote online harassment awareness and argue for legislation protecting individuals from such violations.

The cases of Cohen and Franklin outline some of the issues we must now face in the era of completely anonymous global communication. While it has taken society centuries to arrive at the free speech standards we enjoy today in reality, we must begin to contemplate what restrictions, if any, should to be applied to the Internet. Hilden’s suggestion that the “reasonable person” would have known to take Port’s comments with a grain of salt shows recognition that people understand that the Internet is not meant to be taken as a solid source of information, just like Wikipedia is not to be taken as a solid source of information in writing a research paper. However, the rising trend of cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment have to fall into their own area of the law, not a legally inapplicable gray zone, to protect those who cannot fight trolls hiding behind anonymity.