August 26, 2010

Google, Verizon, and Getting Real

Greetings. Reactions to the Verizon-Google Legislative Framework Proposal have been splattering around the globe ever since the two firms announced the plan earlier this month.

The proposal has some clearly worthwhile elements, yet is problematic in other aspects. Much more on this in a moment.

To date I have mainly noted my distaste for the many rude and basically "over the top" reactions that have dominated media coverage of the announcement.

These reactions have been nothing short of wacky in some cases. A small group of protesters dropped in on the Googleplex, singing off-key protest songs ("Hands off the Internet, It Must be Free!"), creating some fodder for newscasts around the world, and some laughs for Jon Stewart (who, in the same segment also featured out-of-context clips of Google's Vint Cerf).

And the Net has been ablaze with postings, articles, and a wide range of rants calling Google evil, illustrations adding horns and a pointed tail to the Google logo, and otherwise raking Google over the coals for the supposedly reprehensible act of jointly proposing an "open Internet" plan with Verizon.

"Oh Google, why hast though forsaken us?" cry the accusers, sometimes phrasing their protestations both impolitely and with vile tone.

Meanwhile, few if any protests have been aimed at Verizon, Google's partner in this proposal, perhaps because (as Dr. Sidney Schaefer notes in the classic 1967 film The President's Analyst) pretty much everyone already hates "The Phone Company."

For those parties who have falsely accused Google of being a "monopoly" -- on the basis that it has become large and dominant in various aspects of Internet services -- the joint proposal demonstrates the true nature of monopoly power -- and this has nothing whatever to do with Google, which has built its business fair and square, without monopoly advantages bestowed by governments.

Not so the now dominant ISPs. Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner -- all have created their empires upon the foundations of what were originally government-sanctioned monopoly telephone or cable services. Even today, many of those same monopoly-era facilities are in use by these firms. DSL-technology services (including AT&T's U-verse) are routinely deployed over copper pairs that have provided basic telephone services for almost half a century or more. Conduits, poles, tunnels, cabinets, pedestals, and vast numbers of buildings both large and small were built with monopoly advantages and now provide the infrastructure for broadband deployments by these same firms in new incarnations and combinations.

These telecom giants have used their vast resources, including lobbying expertise and monies that dwarf those of firms like Google (in the case of the telcos, more than a century of such expertise) to maintain privileged positions for themselves.

Meanwhile, these same telecom companies have carefully controlled broadband deployments, often cherry-picking the most lucrative areas for high-speed Internet, and in some cases even breaking deployment promises that had been made with local and state governments, essentially penalty free. Even now, Verizon recently announced that it was ceasing most new FiOS expansions to instead concentrate on increasing "market share." Such market share battles don't get new broadband to people without it, rather they shuffle pie slices among the existing players in any given locale.

While much of the world has created true broadband competition by requiring the sharing of physical broadband facilities among competing firms, in the U.S. the dominant ISPs have successfully fought such reasonable requirements with tooth and nail.

All of this is important to keep in mind when thinking about the Verizon/Google proposal, because it's obvious that Verizon entered the ring from a position of far greater power both now and in their earlier discussions with Google that eventually led to the framework announcement.

Google may have access to user data for Google-related services, but Verizon controls every bit, every byte of user data for every site -- including Google -- that Verizon's customers wish to access on the Internet.

The dominant telco and cable ISPs have successfully "managed" their goals within the current toxic political environment to assure that the sorts of regulatory focus and overhaul that Google is known to support -- often subsumed under the label "Net Neutrality" -- are likely impossible to accomplish in a comprehensive manner, with the FCC increasingly appearing as largely impotent in terms of positively affecting these issues.

Where does this leave Google? Where does it leave us?

The status quo is not indefinitely tenable. My interpretation of Google's motivations in this matter is that Google desperately wants to at least get the ball moving within this sphere, with the understanding that even a suboptimal proposal -- and remember, that's all it is, a proposal, a starting point -- is better than nothing, and can serve as a catalyst for further positive change moving forward.

The nature of the framework proposal itself reinforces this analysis.

The plan is sufficiently general that there is little within to seem threatening to most existing Internet-related business models or applications, certainly when compared to the current essentially regulation-free laissez-faire situation.

But that same generality creates something of an "empty vessel" effect where observers can easily project their own hopes and fears into the missing details of the document.

What are lawful applications? How will reasonable network management decisions be made? How to avoid unreasonable restrictions on wireless services as wireless broadband increasingly competes with wireline services on a performance basis? The list of potential questions is a long one.

And while the document suggests mechanisms for making these sorts of determinations, the devil is always in the details, and it is not unreasonable to have concerns that if such mechanisms are not forthcoming or prove unsuitable to the task, the risk is real that even more problems could be in the offing.

Two quick examples of why details matter so much. There's no way to determine from the current proposal whether the common ISP practice of banning (through terms of service and/or port blocking) most subscribers from operating well-behaved, legal servers of whatever sort they wish. Such bans have often been used as a wedge to push users upward toward more expensive service tiers.

Nor is it clear what sorts of services would qualify for the "additional or differentiated services" offerings (that is, not part of the public Internet per se) proposed by the framework plan. Verizon's CEO, during the conference call announcing the proposal, specifically mentioned "entertainment services" and 3D television -- but these seem among the more problematic examples -- especially given the rapid advances in video encoding technologies (including related to 3D).

This spotlights a pertinent concern about differentiated services in particular -- the risk that the existence of non-neutral differentiated services tiers might suppress the development of technologies that could have performed the same functions successfully on the public Internet, where greater bandwidth and capabilities could be deployed in a more competitive manner to benefit a larger community of users.

Still, the lack of such details should not be used to condemn the proposal itself, since by its very nature such a proposal couldn't reasonably be expected to contain such levels of specificity.

And though I do personally feel that Verizon's power and monopoly history have helped to create a severely uneven playing field, and that a strong regulatory approach to net neutrality and open Internet issues would be both appropriate and desirable, the reality is that this is increasingly unlikely to be possible in the short term at least.

I am fundamentally a realist, and while slogans, protests, and wishful thinking may all have their place, I don't feel that they're well suited for dealing with complex technology policy matters.

It is inappropriate to condemn Google for assessing the current telecom, regulatory, and political landscape, and coming to the quite reasonable judgment that a very general joint proposal with Verizon carried not only the potential for positive movement related to long-stalled Internet and broadband issues, but would also certainly stimulate renewed public discussion and consideration of these important matters.

Rather, this is an attitude that should be congratulated as completely realistic and appropriate given the circumstances that we must deal with, like 'em or not.

Scorched earth, take no prisoners, no compromise positions are the surest path to continued deadlock and the perpetuation of the current limbo -- with little hope of useful forward motion to prepare for the new classes of broadband issues that are bearing down on us very rapidly indeed.

The Google/Verizon proposal, despite its flaws and necessarily inherent lack of details -- or perhaps even because of them -- has provided a necessary "kick in the pants" to all stakeholders in the Internet arena who are concerned about where the Internet and broadband services are headed, and how we will formulate the complex policies that must drive, control, and nurture these vital technologies into the future.

Google -- and Verizon -- both deserve our thanks for getting this show back on the road.


Posted by Lauren at 01:20 PM | Permalink
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August 23, 2010

"Ground Zero Mosque" - Ron Paul vs. Sanjay Gupta on CNN

Greetings. This evening, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Congressman Ron Paul regarding the controversy surrounding the proposed building of the Cordoba House community center and mosque ("Park51") in New York City.

It's hard not to feel somewhat embarrassed for Dr. Gupta, who seemed to be trying to (unsuccessfully) antagonize Paul in the face of Paul's convincing and well-stated arguments.

Ron Paul: +1 for this interview. Very much worth watching in its entirety (eight minutes).


Posted by Lauren at 09:33 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 20, 2010

Half a Century: The "NYC Mosque" and "A Raisin in the Sun"

Greetings. Earlier this week, in Google Buzz Meets the New York City Mosque Controversy, I noted how Google Buzz was proving invaluable in discussing the controversies surrounding the New York City Cordoba Community Center and mosque project. That thread, which I began last Saturday, has now grown to over 260 comments, the vast majority of them very substantive. The thread continues to grow.

A recurring theme in this saga is the concept -- proposed by detractors of Cordoba -- that the project should be built elsewhere as a matter of "courtesy" simply because there are persons who are uncomfortable with the project being two blocks away from the the site of the World Trade Center. In passing, I'll note that the mosque operating at the Pentagon, itself a target on 9/11, has been fully functional for years, reportedly without any complaints or problems. [Addendum (August 21, 2010: News stories calling the facility at the Pentagon a "mosque" are actually referring to a nondenominational chapel regularly used for a variety of services, including by Muslims. This was built over the rubble of the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon, and as previously noted there have been no reported issues or problems with Muslim prayer activities taking place in the facility. More details.]

In any case, New York's Governor Paterson has apparently proposed swapping some state-owned land in an attempt to move the project elsewhere, and the "if you're not wanted in an area you shouldn't move there" theme has been picked up by many politicians (especially ones looking over their shoulders at the upcoming midterm elections, and wanting to promote the perceived "populist" view regarding this matter).

But haven't we been through all this before? We have indeed, and Sidney Poitier's classic 1961 film A Raisin in the Sun portrays a stunningly similar -- and equally obscene -- view from a half century ago (still very much alive in some parts of this country today, unfortunately).

Watch this scene from the film, as the pleasant, well-dressed gentleman from the homeowners' association politely tries to dissuade a black family from moving to a new home and "upsetting" the residents in the area.

The parallels with the NYC Cordoba situation, with Governor Paterson and other politicians ironically taking on the role filled in the film by John Fiedler, are all too obvious, all too shameful, and deserving of the same repugnance that I hope we all feel when watching that celluloid scene.

The more things change, the more they stay the same? It doesn't have to be that way. That's up to us.


Posted by Lauren at 09:04 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 16, 2010

Google Buzz Meets the New York City Mosque Controversy

Greetings. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I'm using Google Buzz more and Twitter less. An ongoing thread in Buzz, on the topic of the controversial Muslim community center and mosque to be built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks, demonstrates the vast superiority of Google Buzz for actually carrying on meaningful discussions that go far beyond 140 character Twitter "headline" messages.

I initiated the discussion last Saturday regarding the controversy surrounding the NYC project.

Various Buzz users who regularly "follow" my postings -- and other users drawn to the specific posting through the social sharing mechanisms of Buzz -- began commenting, and a rather long and lively debate has resulted (which is continuing). Some of the comments are logically oriented. Some are highly emotional. You may disagree with a significant amount of material that you see on the thread (perhaps including various of my own statements).

But the point is that trying to carry out a discussion like this on Twitter would be essentially impossible in a practical sense. The 140 character Twitter message limit would reduce individual comments to the status of quick shouts -- hardly a way to foster useful discussion on important topics. And without the threading that Buzz provides, following the sequence of comments in a reasonable way would be a mess both for the participants and onlookers alike.

I don't expect our Buzz discussion to create full agreement among the widely varied points of view associated with such a highly charged issue, but three cheers to Google Buzz for providing the platform that has made this discourse so seamlessly possible in the first place. I am very impressed with Buzz's ability to host a multiuser dialogue in a highly professional manner.

You are of course warmly invited to visit or join the discussion. It's rather intense, but I believe worthwhile. You can also directly access my Buzz account if you wish.

Take care, all.


Posted by Lauren at 12:59 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 15, 2010

Competition vs. Net Neutrality

In today's New York Times, Eric Pfanner suggests, in essence, that vibrant broadband competition can obviate the need for Net Neutrality per se.

In fact, it's basically axiomatic that widespread, effective competition -- of the sort that dominant ISPs have actively battled against in the U.S. for many years -- could minimize or perhaps even eliminate most net neutrality concerns.

But the history of the U.S. Internet includes such examples as ISPs cherry-picking deployments -- note that Verizon has now essentially ceased new geographical deployment of FiOS, explicitly saying that they will now concentrate on increasing market share in existing or already planned FiOS areas. This may be an entirely rational business decision on Verizon's part, but does nothing to help get fiber to currently unserved areas.

Other examples include ISP promises made to states or local governments for high speed deployments in exchange for legislative protection against municipally-owned Internet systems -- ISP deployments that often never appeared. Yet the same ISPs still proclaim that municipal systems would be unfair competition.

Few would argue against the proposition that effective competition of the sort available in other parts of the world -- and that means competitive in terms of performance and price, not just "simple" availability -- could render many net neutrality-related concerns moot.

But we're seeing consolidation in the U.S. ISP market in terms of major players, not the sort of competitive expansion that would be useful to most consumers. The Google fiber project will no doubt demonstrate technical feasibility, but getting from there to widespread deployments beyond relatively small test beds is an entirely different exercise.

Also -- and not mentioned by Pfanner -- the competition available in other parts of the world has in large part been enabled by direct government involvement, either in terms of basic broadband infrastructures or requirements for sharing of physical Internet access resources by competitors. These are both concepts that appear to be anathema to many in Congress and that trigger bogus (and well orchestrated, mostly "astroturf") screams of "government takeover of the Net!" or "government censorship of the Net!" whenever proposed for the U.S. telecom environment.

So it's not a question of whether or not we need real competition. We do.

The question is, how are we going to actually accomplish this?


Posted by Lauren at 11:59 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 14, 2010

"You Can't Always Net What You Want" - With Apologies to Mick And Keith

Greetings. Now that the recent Google/Verizon proposal has moved the spotlight firmly back onto Network Neutrality and Open Internet issues, with reactions that are -- to say the least -- running on high, I feel inspired to present -- oh no! -- another of my occasional (and perhaps infamous?) "topical" song parodies.

So without further ado:

"You Can't Always Net What You Want"

To the tune of "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
(With apologies to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards)

Lyrics Copyright © 2010 Lauren Weinstein
All rights reserved.

I saw her trying to get some reception,
A shiny new iPhone in her hand.
I knew she couldn't get a connection,
Cellular service here is far from grand.

You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You might find,
You Net what you need.

I'm too far out for D-S-L.
My cable modem often goes real slow.
I pray for Fiber-to-the-home here someday.
But FiOS won't be coming, that I know.

You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
Well you just might find,
You Net what you need.

The FCC's caught in the middle sadly,
Network Neutrality debates grown shrill.
Politics framing broadband issues badly,
It's enough to make one feel pretty ill.

Google and Verizon tried get things moving,
They proposed a brand new plan for review.
But rather than discuss calmly what's doing,
Many opponents went berserk and blew.

You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find,
You Net what you need.

[London Bach Choir Bridge]

You Net what you need ...

Internet status quo is not an option.
Everyone's going to have to take some lumps.
A reasoned middle ground is the solution.
Hardball positions set us up as chumps!

You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
You can't always Net what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find ...
You just might find,
You Net what you need!

- - -

"If you liked the show, go home and tell your friends.
If you didn't like the show, don't go home!"


Posted by Lauren at 02:52 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 12, 2010

Civility, Neutrality, and Google

Greetings. It's now four days since Google and Verizon published their joint policy proposal for an open Internet. Today, Google posted an additional document, addressing what they view as the misconceptions being promulgated in various negative reactions to the plan.

I am extremely disappointed.

However, my disappointment is not with Google, nor Verizon. I applaud the willingness of both firms to put forth their public proposal.

Rather, I am disappointed -- no, that's not a strong enough word -- I'm mortified -- by the level of vitriol, obnoxiousness, obscenity, and emotionally-laden, hyperbole-saturated rhetoric that is characterizing many of the negative responses to the proposal.

Most of this abuse appears to be heaped on Google, not Verizon -- perhaps reflecting the fact that most pro-Net-Neutrality groups have not held ISPs in particularly high esteem to begin with.

So Google is attracting the lion's share of attacks related to displeasure over the proposal. Calls of "They sold us out!" -- "They've gone evil!" -- "Google joins the Dark Side" -- and so on -- are mild compared to various of the obscenity-laced tirades that have been appearing in some venues.

I'm about as solid a proponent of Net Neutrality and Open Internet concepts as you'll find anywhere. I like some aspects of the Google/Verizon proposal, but I do have significant disagreements with aspects of the plan, particularly relating to elements associated with the suggested handling of wireless broadband and new differentiated online services.

As I noted a couple of days ago, it's clear that the Google/Verizon proposal -- and that's all it is -- concepts for consideration -- is largely the result of completely understandable, prolonged frustration at the dangerously vacuous status quo in the U.S. Internet broadband universe.

As far as I'm concerned, this policy debate -- regardless of where you personally stand regarding the specific issues themselves -- is well served by straightforward public proposals like the one from Google and Verizon. The reasoned discussions that such proposals can foster are likely to be among the most important key components of any real, positive progress on these crucial matters.

But if the reward for publicly putting forth such concepts in good faith is mostly characterized by malevolent histrionic reactions -- rather than logical consideration of actual technical and policy effects -- we risk relegating broadband, Internet policies to the same virulent cesspool of political gamesmanship that has paralyzed the U.S. on other important issues ranging from immigration to civil liberties.

We must approach these matters with our brains, not our hormones -- with civility, not vulgarity. The former approaches may feel viscerally satisfying for a short time -- but they can generally be depended upon not to lead us toward solutions, but rather to march us right off the cliff.


Posted by Lauren at 03:08 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 10, 2010

Some Perspective on Reactions to the Google/Verizon Joint Policy Proposal

Greetings. Unless you're living under a rock (and perhaps even then) you no doubt are aware of the many rather strident reactions to the Google/Verizon joint policy proposal that the firms announced yesterday during a conference call (and that I blogged about shortly thereafter).

Over on the Network Neutrality Squad (and to a much lesser extent on my PFIR and PRIVACY Forum mailing lists), I've been sending through links to articles I've found around the Net responding to the proposal.

In those postings, I am endeavoring to provide a broad cross section of reacting opinions. If it appears that most coverage is critical of the proposal in at least one aspect or another, this is not the result of selective editing on my part, but is -- at least as far as I can tell -- representative of the universe of articles that I'm finding. I have in fact been actively searching for independent materials that enthusiastically support the proposal in its totality, so far to no avail. If you know of any such articles or essays, please send me the associated links so that I can promulgate them appropriately.

I still plan to publish my own more detailed analysis of the proposal, but frankly, I'm taking my time collecting information and pondering not only the proposals themselves, but also the possible positive and negative second-order effects. While it obviously has been easy for some observers to dramatically jump on elements of the plan with "sky is falling" pronouncements, I am not convinced that such quick and encompassing reactions are appropriate given the complex nature of the issues involved.

And in fact, we do have time to think this all through. The Google/Verizon concepts in question are not a fait accompli, a dictatorial edict, or even at this point a legislative proposal. They are, I suspect, largely the result of prolonged frustration by both firms, who increasingly feel constrained by the stifling regulatory limbo that has become part and parcel of the toxic U.S. political environment. That both firms wish to find some way to shift out of "neutral" and move forward is completely understandable, even as we argue the merits of the particular approach that they have articulated.

If nothing else, even if no elements of the proposal see formal enactment as U.S. policy, the fact that Google and Verizon have put forth this very public conceptual statement -- presumably knowing full well that it would trigger significant criticisms -- will hopefully serve to finally get the ball really rolling again in this contentious policy arena -- and even that alone would be very useful and welcome indeed.


Posted by Lauren at 12:21 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 09, 2010

Quick Summary and Thoughts on Google/Verizon "Net Neutrality" Conference Call and Announcement

Greetings. A joint (very short notice) conference call between the Google and Verizon CEOs has completed. Very brief nutshell from my notes:

1) The firms vigorously deny that they made any carriage or related deals. They declared recent reporting to the contrary to be totally wrong.

2) The firms set forth a "Joint Policy Agreement" including seven principles that they would like to see broadly implemented.

3) Of the seven principles, I personally view five of them as entirely noncontroversial.

4) Principle #6 on different handling of wireline and wireless data invokes some issues that need to be discussed.

5) Principle #5 on the creation of "non-Internet" differentiated services (which Google's CEO pledged not to use) appears significantly problematic in a number of respects, and was (appropriately) the focus of virtually all questions on the call.

Google has posted the principles on their main Policy Blog.

I'll write up my thoughts on all this in more detail as soon as possible.


Posted by Lauren at 11:53 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 08, 2010

Google, Net Neutrality, and Fairness

Greetings. In Evil or misunderstood? Google and net neutrality posted earlier today, David Megginson speculates that a key issue in the now widely-known (but little understood) recent "secret" meetings between Google and Verizon might have been discussions regarding giving particular types of content differing priorities -- what I'd call Quality of Service (QoS) -- rather than negotiations about giving priority to any particular content providers per se. David also argues that content-based priority (e.g., giving video priority over e-mail) may make technical sense but is still a bad idea.

I have mixed feelings about all this. Theoretically, given sufficient bandwidth and well-behaved applications, QoS shouldn't really ever have to be an issue. After all, QoS is fundamentally a mechanism to manage scarcity. In the presence of abundance, QoS basically should be unnecessary.

Of course in the real world we have bandwidth limitations, bottlenecks, and the reality that not all Internet-based apps are necessarily well-behaved in their data usage -- so the concept of QoS probably needs to be on the table for discussion at least.

But it also seems clear that QoS (especially relatively straightforward implementations) has a number of potential problems -- some of which David discusses.

There are fundamentally two ways to do QoS -- either you analyze the traffic (based on actual content, traffic patterns, or both, perhaps using DPI - Deep Packet Inspection) -- and/or you base your QoS decisions on flags generated by content providers themselves.

What makes this all so complicated is that we must assume the presence of "bad actors" on the Net who will attempt to game any QoS system inappropriately.

Also, moves toward pervasive, ubiquitous encryption by default -- a concept for which I'm a strong proponent -- could significantly interfere with "automatically determined" QoS, putting more reliance on accurate tagging of data by content providers. Even traffic analysis can be fooled via various techniques.

The upshot of all this is -- gosh darn it! -- these issues are anything but trivial, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either misinformed or being purposely misleading.

Small wonder then, that trying to discuss these issues publicly, with all the money and emotions tangled up in the topic, tends to have a comfort level similar to that of sticking your hand down deep into the blades of a running blender.

While I don't presume to offer any magic wand solutions to these dilemmas, issues of content prioritization vs. Internet data content types are ignored at our peril.

If we do end up moving toward QoS systems of some sort, the real challenge will be finding ways to implement such mechanisms that do not interfere with users' ability to make full use of encryption, are as minimally vulnerable to unfair manipulation as possible, and that do not create distortions resulting in anticompetitive or other unfair behaviors.

A tall order.

And that's the truth.


Posted by Lauren at 06:44 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 05, 2010

New Comments by Google's CEO Eric Schmidt Trigger Privacy Concerns

Greetings. I have enormous respect for Google's CEO Eric Schmidt. Among his various positive attributes is his ability and willingness to openly speak his mind on controversial topics.

Occasionally though, Eric's remarks (which of course do not unilaterally represent Google official corporate policy) stray into regions where they can possibly be misinterpreted in the absence of full context, leading some observers to characterize them in such cases as perhaps being a bit "shot from the hip" -- and triggering some consternation among the public (and, I would suspect, sometimes within Google itself as well).

During a CNBC interview late last year, when Eric suggested that, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place" -- there were loud condemnations from many quarters. But at the time I pointed out that in full context it was clear that he was referring to criminal and other obviously inadvisable acts. (If you're 12 years old, posting photos of your boozing party on Facebook is probably a really bad idea.)

In any case, some new public comments by Eric -- most of which -- with one major exception -- I tend to agree with, seem to be triggering a new firestorm.

Fundamentally, his recent Lake Tahoe speech suggested that, by and large, the public as a whole isn't really ready for the implications of the ongoing technology and information revolution, especially in terms of the vast quantities of user-generated data that is now filling disks around the world. This is undeniably true and a matter of major continuing concerns.

Eric also noted (perhaps with a small dose of hyperbole) how the convergence of digital imagery and artificial intelligence techniques were yielding the ability to produce potentially invasive predictions about people and their movements. This is also definitely a realistic scenario -- now in some cases, and even more so in the very near future.

But it was these new comments by Eric that have triggered the most reaction:

"The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it."

This is where my disagreement comes into play, as regular readers will have guessed by my previous statements in Why the New Federal "Trusted Internet Identity" Proposal is Such a Very Bad Idea, Saving Internet Anonymity -- The Struggle is Joined, and other discussions.

It's important to parse Eric's words pretty carefully. He doesn't explicitly endorse the Federal Identity proposal which I (and many others) have so strongly criticized. But his call for a verified name system suggests his possible support for what is generally called "pseudo-anonymity." As I noted in the essays referenced above, the ability of such systems to be "unwound" to reveal true identities -- for purposes both ostensibly laudable or genuinely evil, are of significant concern, as is the vulnerability of most identity systems to be "gamed" by criminals for their own purposes, to the potential serious detriment of innocent parties. The development of systems that cannot be so manipulated is an area of continuing (and fascinating) research.

Even given that anonymity can indeed be abused, regimes encompassing the goal of "no anonymity" signal the death knell for open political criticisms, whistleblowers, and all manner of other legitimate speech and civil rights.

I trust that Eric Schmidt did not actually mean to suggest that an Internet devoid of all anonymity in all circumstances -- with the array of major negative aspects that this would imply -- is actually his preferred model.

But I do hope that he clarifies his statement on this topic, and I of course welcome dialogue with him or anyone else on the complex issues of anonymity, pseudo-anonymity, identity systems, and associated matters -- as relates both to the Internet and beyond.


Posted by Lauren at 12:38 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

Google, Verizon Deny Deal -- and Why I Have No Comment (For Now)

Greetings. A lot of people (including various media) have been banging on my inbox and phone wondering why I haven't so far specifically commented on the New York Times Google/Verizon Internet Deal story (and similar articles in other publications), and have been asking me for immediate comments.

First, let's note here that as of this morning, Google has said that the Times story is wrong, and Verizon has published a similar statement denying the reported deal.

In a previous note I acknowledged the usefulness of private discussions in some related situations (so long as full transparency is forthcoming), and my concern that the track record of many "agreements" related to telecom is poor enough to engender understandable skepticism in some quarters.

While I will continue to send through pointers to relevant news items on the current Google/Verizon/FCC "Deal" accusations and denials, I will have no substantive comment on them or the associated implications (one way or another) until we actually have solid facts about what is or isn't going on.

I do understand that it has become something of de rigueur for analysts and commentators to write their essays before all the key facts are available -- and we're already seeing some "End of the Internet" stories blasting around related to this current controversy.

I'm really very uncomfortable with that approach, and in this case we have essentially zero confirmed facts regarding the substance of the talks in progress. If some observers wish to argue that the private talks shouldn't be taking place at all that's one thing -- though as mentioned above, I don't necessarily agree with that view.

I will comment when the facts are in.

But before any declarations of Internet Armageddon associated with this story, I'd recommend that we at least wait until we know what the hell we're talking about.


Posted by Lauren at 10:16 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein