Big Telco wants to ream you with "deep packet inspection"

Big Telco wants to ream you with "deep packet inspection"

Summary: You may experience mild discomfortThe extremist "free market" crowd wants to toss hundreds of years of common and public law in the toilet so a few near-monopolies can maximize their profits and minimize your choices. Should you care?

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You may experience mild discomfort The extremist "free market" crowd wants to toss hundreds of years of common and public law in the toilet so a few near-monopolies can maximize their profits and minimize your choices. Should you care? Only if you use the Internet.

"We don't care. We don't have to." That was AT&T's unofficial motto back when they were a regulated monopoly. For decades you could buy a phone in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

Attach a fax machine at home? Oh no! It could damage the network!

Buy a handset from a low-cost supplier? Oh no! It could be incompatible! Just rent ours in perpetuity. Much better - for our bottom line.

Telecommunications is the backbone of the information age And it can't be handed over to the "(un)free market" for care and feeding. In the US we did that with cellphone standards and after enormous investment we've ended up with a patchwork of incompatible networks and services that lag the rest of the world.

It took an act of Congress to get cell phone number portability and the telco's dragged their feet as long as possible implementing it.

Why? So they could lock you in for a little bit longer. How can anyone trust these people to act in the public interest?

The latest abuses Today's Wall Street Journal - subscription required - reports on new gear that allows ISPs and telcos to track your Internet usage to provide ads based on the sites you visit. It is a fast-growing business. Per the WSJ:

The newer form of behavioral targeting involves placing gear called "deep-packet inspection boxes" inside an Internet provider's network of pipes and wires. Instead of observing only a select number of Web sites, these boxes can track all of the sites a consumer visits, and deliver far more detailed information to potential advertisers.

According to Wikipedia:

DPI devices have the ability to look at Layer 2 through Layer 7 of the OSI model. This includes headers and data protocol structures as well as the actual payload of the message. The DPI will identify and classify the traffic based on a signature database that includes information extracted from the data part of a packet, allowing finer control than classification based only on header information.

A classified packet can be redirected, marked/tagged (see QoS), blocked, rate limited, and of course reported to a reporting agent in the network.

The "reporting agent" could be with the FBI, a divorce lawyer or maybe just someone with a grudge and access to a National Security Letter.

Getting privacy right means transparency and legal sanctions The history of US government abuse of police powers to coerce, embarrass and control people is long and sordid. Nothing has changed. Give people power and they WILL abuse it.

We have Martin Luther King Jr. day now, but 45 years ago he was just another un-American agitator in the FBI's view. They used phone taps to gather information to smear and discredit him.

Corporations are hardly better. General Motors sent detectives after Ralph Nader in the '60s and HP sent detectives after their own board members just a couple of years ago. Comcast's packet forging is just par for the course. Along with a "technical requirements" argument.

The Storage Bits take With proper safeguards, DPI can extend advertising-supported infrastructure with broad benefits for many people. But hoping won't make it so.

This service needs a legal framework that includes a prohibition on tracking or reporting visits to sites of a medical, religious, sexual or political nature. Information that ties surfing records to your name, address, age and the like needs to be kept separate. Government access must require warrants, not just subpoenas.

DPI will no doubt be abused no matter what the rules are. Which is why there must be criminal penalties for abuse. Stiff ones.

And net neutrality.

Comments welcome, of course. What other kinds of personal information should be protected?

Update+ Readers, thanks for flagging the missing *law* in the first sentence. AFAIK, us ZDnet bloggers are not edited. When we screw up, it is our own fault.

Topics: Mobility, Browser, Hardware, Networking, Telcos

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23 comments
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  • You just don't get it

    What's good for AT&T is good for America. Internet traffic isn't the only potential gold mine, by the way: monitoring your telephone calls has vast potential for revolutionary new services.

    For instance, if you call an auto mechanic you can get information about new cars. If you call a plumber, realtors may have new houses that interest you.

    The beauty of this is that the legal ground has already been cleared. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that there is no right of privacy regarding the list of who you call; there's no need for a finding of probable cause for the Government to get a list of who you call.

    With voice recognition ("deep packet inspection" for a different protocol stack) you could even receive extra servicing, such as information on new drug products for the condition you discussed with your physician.

    It's a gold mine!
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Never happen

      All that'll never happen-- attorneys will cross sue for decades on various issues and bury companies in endless litigation.
      kckn4fun
      • Rogers cable is already...

        using deep packet inspection and inserting content into customers web pages they download.

        This was on Inquirer, Eweek and several other news sources two days ago. Google is especially irate with Rogers for doctoring up search results from googles search engine.
        bjbrock
        • Where do I sign up?

          So if Roger's Cable is embedding ads in content, I suppose that this is a free service, paid for by advertising, right?
          crackez406
  • "Deep Packet Inspection"... the new euphamism for "Domestic Spying."

    Track your Internet usage to provide ads based on the sites you visit... and if you believe that, I have some prime ocean front real estate in Colorado I'd like to sell you.

    Another pathetic attempt to hijack control of the Internet without anyone knowing the truth.
    Mr. Roboto
  • RE: Big Telco wants to ream you with

    Right in capital letters. ATT as a monopoly exhibited all the wonderful characteristics of Keep It Like It Is - I'll Make Changes When I Want To. And government, too, stays the same. Police and investigative agencies draw people to them who like to, well, police and investigate. That's fine much of the time, but without proper oversight, transparency, and framework of law, we who are potentially being policed and investigated, are toast. Eternal Vigilance is not required only of democracies towards their external enemies, but inwardly towards the perverse combination of monopolies - that thrive on governmental neglect - and the governments who are only too happy to neglect them.
    dhopp@...
  • Invasion Of Privacy

    Cell-Phone GPS to target you with ads in a Mall. Illegal Wire Taps in a Post 9/11 world. Illegal search and seizer because Airport Security has no probable cause or search warrant. State Police walking around Airports like they have always done in Russia before and after the fall of Communism. Did I die and go to WWII Germany with Communist Regime Overseers? My private information is exactly THAT!!!!! - Private! I hope someone from Comast is surfing the Blogs for "Potential Customer Attitudes". - Because to you I say cancel my Broadband account and I am glad I am paying you for anything else. Time for me to go back to working and communicating the old fashioned way. Who needs a Web-Site anyway. That's coming down too! - And for my computer?... It's now up for sale or going in the trash! Thomas Jefferson said it best, "Those that seek a little safety at the expence of Liberty; deserve neither."!
    The Rifleman
  • Make up your mind...

    First you say that the corporations can't be trusted to act in the public interest.

    Then you say:
    [i]The history of US government abuse of police powers to coerce, embarrass and control people is long and sordid. Nothing has changed. Give people power and they WILL abuse it. [/i]

    Yet you seem to want to turn things over to the government. You can't have it both ways.
    cornpie
    • Make up your mind

      When the Corporations and the Government are the SAME people, then they CAN have it both ways. Thats the situation here in the US.
      robert@...
      • Remind me again...

        ...what Mussolini's and Hitler's definitions of fascism and national socialism (respectively) were? "Everything for the State, everything within the State, nothing against the State"? "The total unification of government and large corporations"? Remind me why we fought two world wars, a Cold War, and a boatload of brushfire wars to make sure that sort of thing never happened in the US of A?

        Those of us in thrall to those who have never studied history (pretty much the entire world and North American GovCorp interests, respectively) are doomed to repeat it. So says Santayana. Ben Franklin had a few quotes applicable to similar situations.... and I'm afraid we are near, if not at the point of watering the tree of liberty.
        jeffdickey
    • It is a balance of power argument

      Most people in corporations or the government will try to do the right thing. It is the
      bad actors who get us into trouble.

      At least with the government we can vote the jerks out. With corporations? Even
      stockholders have little luck.
      R Harris
  • DPI sounds like a good reason to strip common carrier protections.

    If ATT wants to look at the information in the packets, then they become responsible for monitoring what's in the packets. It's really no different than if they monitored every phone call.
    Letophoro
  • BitTorrent Message Stream Encryption

    When MSE is used, the best that DPI can do is infer that you are engaged in P2P activity--but that is as far as it goes.

    MSE protects your privacy and Telcos/ISPs cannot determine what is encapsulated in TCP data envelope.

    Also, another method to address P2P throttling is to use ssh to tunnel port forward,

    If you discount the fact that any kind of technology can be potentially abused, there are two issues which revolve around BitTorrent:

    1) Network Neutrality
    2) Right to Privacy

    P2P BitTorrent has many legitimate uses and is a good technology as much as Skype (P2P encrypted/STUN capable VOIP) is a good technology.
    D T Schmitz
  • Common and public what?

    You're missing a really important element: A subject in your first sentence. What's common and public that is getting thrown in the toilet???
    aureolin
    • . . .what

      ZDnet has got some of the most interesting topics, but with some of the sloppiest editing on the net.

      Constant distractions of missing and misused words, line-out text edits left in posts, etc.

      It ain't enough to say 'it's only a blog.' Not with 12-20 ads per posting of a few paragraphs.
      wp2008
  • Because, of course,

    we all know that government is incorruptible and inviolate
    and always acts in the pure public interest.

    Give me a freaking break.
    frgough
    • Quite the reverse

      See my Dec 7 post.

      But at least with government we have some direct control - we can vote jerks out.

      With corporations, good luck.
      R Harris
  • RE: Big Telco wants to ream you with

    As long as king bush is running the country, you can bet your rights will be infringed at EVERY opportunity.
    bharris0@...
  • write your congresspeople, write the fcc, show up in person

    Don't let the telcos win this battle of greed. Make yourself heard
    and if possible, seen by your representatives in congress and the
    FCC. Tell them however you can, that you don't want what the
    telcos are lobbying for. Otherwise, the only people they see and
    hear are telco lobbyists and execs.
    Htalk
  • You're paranoid...

    RE:
    "Getting privacy right means transparency and legal sanctions. The history of US government abuse of police powers to coerce, embarrass and control people is long and sordid. Nothing has changed. Give people power and they WILL abuse it...Corporations are hardly better... "
    Stuff and nonsense! Yoiur paranoia overwhelms you!

    Sure the FBI and some corporations have stepped over what we see today as the line...but..there are thousands of corporations, and the FBI has operated for 100 years. You mention three examples of 'abuse'..where's the long and sordid history, how about another three hundred examples that would support such an exagerated statement?

    It may make you feel good to think that the poswers-that-be are out to get you, but that doesn't make it true.
    Sailingfool