Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Big Brother is Watching, Listening, and Reading... for Bootlegged Britney

In a potentially light-weight return to blogging, I would like to call your attention to this Slate article about AT&T's apparent desire to start monitoring all their electronic traffic from their customers for illegal content.

In what may end up being nothing or may end up being, as author Prof. Wu calls it, the beginning of a privately-run police state (though likely without a young Red Forman heading Detroit crime syndicates under the table for OCP). He rightly points out:
No one knows exactly what AT&T is proposing to build. But if the company means what it says, we're looking at the beginnings of a private police state. That may sound like hyperbole, but what else do you call a system designed to monitor millions of people's Internet consumption? That's not just Orwellian; that's Orwell.

This may be nothing, as I think Wu's right that it would be corporate disaster for AT&T: "AT&T's new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&T's fiduciary duty to its shareholders." But as the sole poster as of 10 minutes ago points out, AT&T was known as The Death Star among telecom peeps in-the-know in the old days. "Mandycat" goes on to point out: "They persistently and diligently bought up well-run and profitable companies like NCR and proceeded to destroy them. They even took the extra precaution of changing NCR's century-old name to something idiotic like "GIS" just in case there was any residual goodwill left intact. It was like a sickness."

Hmm... a plausible explanation has popped up here, claiming that perhaps this is just a pretext for remaking the internet hierarchically so that they can indeed get around network neutrality and discriminate service quality between high-payers and average joes and joanns (guess who gets higher quality). Seaturnip says: "I don't think AT&T at all wants to analyze HTTP connections for pictures, as you suggest. That would indeed be horrendously inefficient. They are probably mainly interested in stopping bandwidth-guzzling movie piracy via peer-to-peer protocols such as BitTorrent."

What say you, oh people of the internet? Is the idea that AT&T will go through with what it announced last week, that "it is seriously considering plans to examine all the traffic it carries for potential violations of U.S. intellectual property laws" indeed, as Wu says, "[A] prospect ...too totalitarian for my tastes"? One would think, but of course, I would've said not too long ago that a different prospect would be too totalitarian for most Americans' taste: "AT&T [is] already accused of spying on our telephone calls."

J. Edgar Hoover, eat your heart out.

(ps: what the hell is "eat your heart out" supposed to actually MEAN, anyway?)

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