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:”




The Data Cold War Gets Colder

9 11 2010

As TechCrunch chronicles the growing embitterment between Facebook and Google, users are left to ponder the future of contact data exportation.

Wait, what?

It’s so much more ridiculous than it sounds. When you sign up for Facebook, it allows you to import contact information (namely email addresses) from another web networking client (Yahoo!, Twitter, etc.). In the case of Gmail, Google decided to no longer allow Facebook to import contact data when a user signs up for a new account, in retaliation to Facebook’s policy against exporting its own user contact data into other services.

So, Facebook will accept other client’s data exports, but won’t export its own, and Gmail is pissed, and stopped exporting its contact data to Facebook. Especially after Digital Trends told him  in the cafeteria that Facebook was making out with Bing in the parking lot after the pep rally. The whole situation is high school, really.


And at this point, Google’s whole data blocking maneuver is useless. Facebook managed to create a loophole allowing Gmail users to upload their contacts via way of CSV file, making Google sad (in its own passive aggressive way).

To make this situation sound more mature (and I suppose it should, these are largely important entities in the expanse of cyberspace), TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has referred to it as a “data war.” Given the dry exchange of banal antics between the two digital superpowers, I’d call it a data cold war (in Rocky terms, I wonder which one gets to be Drago).


"If he dies, he dies."


In all seriousness, I find this chain of events surprising, frankly. Google is the alleged champion of the open Internet, yet it is the one stifling users’ ability to communicate data. While this particular instance is a relatively unimportant conflict of policy, it casts a shadow of doubt on whether these titans of industry will continue to get along in the future. Judging by the outcome here, it will only be making life more difficult for the users.

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.

The Filter Bubble

11 10 2010

While some first took it as alarming, many of us are now used to Facebook and Amazon providing us with targeted advertisements and product recommendations, based on interests we’ve indicated through web search queries. Now, Google and Yahoo! are doing the same things to our search results, according to an interview with board president Eli Pariser. states in its About page that it is a cluster of organizations that “work together to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn is a service — a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” One of the goals of Pariser, a renowned Internet activitst, is the passage of net neutrality legislation. He also wants to promote awareness of the problem created by customized search results, an issue he calls “the filter bubble.” Board President Eli Pariser


Pariser describes the filter bubble in his interview with news and entertainment site Salon: “Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo! doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the “filter bubble”: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.”

Pariser explains that while these personalized search filters serve a purpose in helping us navigate through the vast amounts of information available online (an issue I delved into in one of last week’s posts), they’ll provide us with a plethora of information on the subject of search query, but nothing else. He says, “There’s a looping going on where if you have an interest, you’re going to learn a lot about that interest. But you’re not going to learn about the very next thing over. And you certainly won’t learn about the opposite view.” This results in a “feedback loop” creating an informationally-restricted environment: the filter bubble.

Pariser suggests a reasonable legal alternative to prevent this from becoming a locked-in part of social media SOP: that web sites become required to have users design their own privacy agreements. Rather than have users “read” pages of legal disclosures then agree to become a site member, Pariser suggests ” a standard format by which customers can have their own policy for how they want their data used.”

Implementing this, along with the success of net neutrality legislation, will prevent the Internet from becoming dominated by a few major media corporations, a disappointing trend of every telecommunication technology of the last century. This, Pariser claims, “is the project of the next couple of years.”

Pariser discusses the filter bubble at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum:

Should We Let Google Aggregate Our Lives?

3 10 2010

In a September 28th piece by Venture Beat, Google CEO Eric Schmidt made bold claims about the future of Google and its applications in our everyday lives. He believes that modern technology will force us to reconcile with the sheer vast amounts of information we must handle on a daily basis, and that the best way to do so would be through Google products and services. He said, “Computers will clearly handle the things we aren’t good at, and we will handle the things computers clearly aren’t good at.” While that leaves open an immensely gray area of definition, he mentions, “It’s amazing that people drive cars, computers should be the ones driving cars.”

The most recent life “augmentation” Google has implemented is the Instant search feature, which updates results in realtime as the user adjusts his or her search query. This, among other time and energy-saving facets such as Google Alerts, Maps, Shopping, and News are the kind of tweaks that make life just a bit easier (especially for a Chrome user, such as myself).

Still, one grievance I’d like to air is the disappearance of discovery. Google News’ ability to customize users’ content aggregation lets them read exactly what they want, determined by preferences for topics, tags, even sources. This is fantastic when we have about fifteen minutes to catch up on the daily news, and more specifically, what kind of news might be relevant to the user (I myself am partial to New York City local, business, and technology). Still, this eliminates other content we might potentially find interesting; I’ve been prone to wander into the business or arts section of a physical newspaper, but online it’s difficult for me to come across that kind of information unless I specify that I want it.

It doesn’t stop at Google News; Facebook sets up banner advertisements based on user interests, links, and other types of activity. Google has recently come under fire for allowing Android apps share user information with third-party advertisers. While this is not a breach of contract (every Android user accepts Google’s terms and conditions before installing a phone app), it’s so far buried under the fine print of the terms and conditions that users don’t realize what they’re agreeing to. This kind of “deceptive marketing” brings up the possibility that Android might be handled in the same fashion as All potential illegalities aside, this method of customizing advertisements is yet another way that Google (among other web giants, including Yahoo!, Facebook and Amazon) is discreetly customizing our lives.

Schmidt said that while Google’s ultimate goal was to begin indexing most personal information in our lives (granted, of course, with clear and reaffirmed permission of the user), the next “logical step” is mobile phones. The idea of “indexing” has already been implemented; the iPhone has for some time offered a search bar that brings up every piece of data on the user’s iPhone that is relevant to the search query. While this might scare some, especially those that incorporate damn near all of their personal information into their smart phones, I’ll admit (as an iPhone user) that it makes searching for obscure pieces of data easier.

Is letting Google take over personal information management crazy? Yes. But is it helpful? Absolutely. Considering the wonderful things Chrome and Android allow us to do in terms of discovering, sharing, and managing information from all walks of life, it’s not absurd to think that letting Google handling EVERYTHING is the worst idea ever. Still, sharing our lives online has made the public sector scary enough. I don’t know if we’re ready to share with the private sector.