December 30, 2007

Harbinger of 2008: ISPs Plow Forward with Internet Intrusion Plans

Greetings. If the public brouhaha over the revelations here regarding Rogers' testing of third-party Web pages interception and modification (Google Hijacked -- Major ISP to Intercept and Modify Web Pages -- and linked updates) led you to believe that they'd be backing off from these plans, you'd be sadly mistaken.

Word is that Rogers is still moving forward towards full-scale deployment of the system, even though they feel that it would have been a simpler sell to the public if not for the "uncontrolled" manner in which we all learned of the Internet intrusions that the ISP has planned.

They still firmly believe that their scheme is sound. Their only really significant mistake -- Rogers supposedly now thinks -- was that in retrospect, their slapping the Yahoo! logo onto test Rogers messages being inserted onto other parties' Web pages was a sure way to attract unwanted early attention from, for example, Google. Oops!

But Rogers is nothing if not resolute, and they've reportedly got some propaganda tricks up their sleeve to try convince their subscribers -- and the world -- that inserting messages and perhaps much more into other people's Web page data is just a grand idea.

Rogers after all has strong roots in the cable TV industry, and apparently may argue that their inserting messages into private Internet connections is no worse than rolling a severe weather warning crawl at the bottom of TV channels. And in an attempt to bring a "third rail" issue into the mix, "Amber Alert" (missing children) messages might be inserted as well -- allowing Rogers to argue that anyone opposed to *that* sort of Internet insertion must obviously be some sort of antisocial, uncaring pervert -- or worse.

But Rogers also reportedly has not ruled out using this same insertion technology for running their own ads on unaffiliated Web pages, which is of course the primary application that the equipment vendor, who is so heavily involved, publicly and loudly promotes.

This all tends to brand the whole of Rogers' arguments regarding this entire topic as merely faux public spiritedness at best.

Don't make a mistake about this. 2007 has been the year that the smiling public relations faces of the big ISPS have begun to reveal some sharp fangs indeed.

ISPs have been playing a "shell game" with subscribers for years, promising "unlimited" Internet services over grossly under-provisioned network facilities, based on increasingly false assumptions about how subscribers will actually be using their Internet connections. As users absorb increasing bandwidth for a range of popular (and, I might note, completely legal) new applications, ISPs have invoked vague or oblique clauses in Terms of Service agreements, in an attempt to rein in those customers that the ISPs have arbitrarily defined as "abusers" of one sort or another.

As ISPs move away from being the "mere" conveyors of data toward a potentially much more lucrative and intrusive role as the arbiters of everything that we do (unencrypted, anyway) on the Internet, the warning signs during 2007 were obvious for everyone to see.

We saw AT&T announce plans to monitor their network for "pirated materials" -- definitions and means still unclear -- and calls from some in the entertainment industry for all ISPs to do the same. Comcast got caught lying about directly interfering with file sharing protocols by forging data packets, and of course we have this current Rogers story.

The handwriting is very much on the wall. 2008 is likely to be a watershed year for arguments regarding network neutrality, and in the determination of the Internet's future directions and fundamental operating philosophy. Whether or not ISPs will be permitted to remake the Internet to match their own often warped and selfish vision hangs in the balance.

However, the ultimate decisions about the future of the Net -- if we're up to taking a stand with our wallets and laws -- are actually ours to make as Internet users (both consumers and businesses) and as legislators who create the ground rules under which we all must play -- and pay.

Sitting on our hands any longer is simply not a viable option.

Let's use the next year to help make sure that the Internet is and remains open, transparent, competitive, and nondiscriminatory -- in the best interests of all its users.

And all the best to you and yours for 2008!


Posted by Lauren at December 30, 2007 12:29 PM | Permalink
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