The end of privacy on the Internet?


CCTV Cameras

A number of recent events occurring over the Internet prompted me to write this article. What were these events about? Well, if you want to know, they are about privacy decreasing over the Internet. Most users think that while they are online, they are nameless and faceless; One among the millions or billions of users and that they can do pretty much what they want.

Guess again buddy! In fact, I’d go as far as to say you are never anonymous over the Internet. Why? There is always your IP address. Hide it via a proxy you say? Your ISP still has your record, and if ever your proxy is not totally reliable, then you could easily be found.

I’ll be talking about the decreasing levels of privacy. “The Internet is an unregulated network with free-flow of Information”, or so the definition says. Is it really true? Not according to me. Do you consider bandwidth regulation schemes, commonly known as “bandwidth capping” to be unregulated flow of information?

You are not allowed to use some services at some times of the day, by some ISPs. That’s a lot of some’s, but it’s there. P2P throttling is becoming increasingly common among ISPs who are seeing their bandwidth being swamped with P2P traffic. This violates the basic philosophy of a free-flow of information, right?

But let’s see what the Japanese have to say when it comes to how they use the Internet.

We know that the Japanese are very good when it comes to high-speed Internet, with something like 100Mbps available at around $45 per month. We also know that Fair-Usage Policies were introduced by Orange in Mauritius, giving you a download-capping of around 10GB a month, or so we guessed. Guess what the Japan ISP, NTT did. They implemented an upload-capping of (!!) 30GB per day! Downloads, of course, are still unlimited. Ok… *shocked* Read more here.

Now for the decreasing privacy topic. Starting with the most recent now, let’s see flagrant cases of what I’d call “invasion of privacy” but which authorities seem to consider “normal”. You be the judge.

In a recent case, Viacom sued Google/Youtube because of illegal videos being uploaded to their servers. By illegal, I mean things like music clips and the similar. Media that are copyrighted, but were nevertheless uploaded. Viacom was asking for quite a few things, namely the legendary Google/Youtube searching algorithm, the new VideoID algorithms, a database of every video ever deleted from Youtube for whatsoever reason, a video of every video ever hosted/viewed on Youtube and finally, private videos. For your information, VideoID is Youtube’s way of filtering copyrighted content by matching uploaded videos to a database of copyrighted videos, and singling out suspect ones for human intervention.

Fortunately for Google, they will not have to hand their algorithms which are considered to be trade-secrets. BUT! They will have to hand our the deleted videos and the database of hosted/viewed videos. This is bad for you, particularly the last one. That database contains IP addresses of hosters and viewers alike (or so it seems). That’s around 12TB of personally-identifiable information (they can find your location and your details using this information) now laying in the hands of Viacom in the form of logs. I bet folks who have been uploading a lot of Viacom’s stuff will be getting infringement letters soon. That’s a big punch in the face of privacy huh? A good news is that the private videos will not be handed over.

You can read more about the above case at ArsTechica. Again, ArsTechnica also has this interesting article about BPI and Virgin sending infringement letters to “educate” people about illegal downloading. How do they know these people were downloading illegal stuff? Well, probably by monitoring them.

You want more? Here goes. In Sweden, a rather controversial law was passed by the Government to allow wiretapping of phones and monitoring of email usage without a court order. What does this mean? They can spy on you when they want.TorrentFreak has a very elaborate article on the matter. I quoted a section here:

On Wednesday evening the Swedish parliament voted yes to a bill that allows FRA, National Defense Radio Agency, to monitor all phone traffic and e-mail traffic in the name of national security. Unlike the police, FRA can listen in on anyone for any purpose without a court order, bringing the level of personal integrity in Sweden to an all-time-low.

As you may guess, there was widespread protest there by the public and the notorious torrent tracker, Pirate Bay. I doubt there will be any changes though. Let’s wait and see.

Edit: Oh, by the way, the Americans will be doing it too shortly.

Better yet! I recently saw this article on Slashdot. It says that Bavarian police can install a “Remote Forensic Software” on a suspect’s and the suspect’s contacts’ computers. In other words? They can install a Trojan on your machine, and see what you are doing. You will probably need to be connected to the Internet I believe. You know what a Trojan is capable of, right? Monitoring what you do, change or delete your data, allowing remote control of your machine, uninstall programs or install other programs without you knowing and restrict your usage of a computer, among many others. Some trojans can even go as far as controlling your webcam, thereby giving authorities a shot at your face. There it goes: you are no longer a faceless, nameless Internet user after that! As some Slashdot users commented, hopefully their Trojan or Remote Forensic Software, as they call it, will not work on Linux.

Now, not particularly related to privacy in itself, but I found this article pretty interesting and thought it fitted well. The CEO of Sandvine, a company that makes a living out of making traffic shaping system for ISPs says “net neutrality is laughable” as written here on ArsTechnica.The following section of the article makes a good read:

Without traffic management, especially of P2P, the idea is that prices would either go up or congestion might reach truly terrible new heights, and Caputo believes that most users would rather just throttle P2P; let it work, but slowly and in the background, so that ISPs don’t need to make expensive infrastructure improvements and everyone can continue eating at the buffet for $30 or $40 a month. We might also see tiers emerge that allow P2P users free rein for, say $70 a month, while non-P2P users could keep paying lower prices. Caputo insists, “it’s going to be laughable in the next two or three years that people used to say all packets should be treated equally.”

Of course, it’s probably no accident that Caputo’s vision of a tiered Internet where throttlers are the good guys just happens to need his products in every network. And while his vision has a compelling logic too it, it’s a logic that only makes sense in a truly competitive environment where ISPs can’t simply install such tools as a way to artificially hike per-bit prices and pick “winners and losers” on the ‘Net.

This again comes to regulation of information over the Internet, controlled by Sandvine-created products. But, do you really think that “most users would rather just throttle P2P”? I don’t know, but I’m not sure I’d want my traffic being capped without my knowledge, or even seeing my traffic being monitored, but is also important to get traffic if you have a website, so using a Web design for Tradesman can be useful if you want to improve the marketing of your business. Can’t blame the CEO who is only marketing his products with help from Digital Shift.

Also, check out this article, about the state of broadband market in the U.S. which also suggesting that a state of “market saturation” is going to come soon.

Lastly part, which particularly shocked me: I’ve been on the Internet for around 10 years now. That’s a small number compared to many of you, but I’ve always been told, and always read that “Nobody controls the Internet”. This is relatively true till now, although I could argue that ISPs control the Internet, and what you can do on it.However according to this Rasmussen report, 49% of the U.S people surveyed say that the federal government must regulate the Internet, as it does for radio and television. This totally violates the “nobody controls the Internet” idea! Just imagine the amount of censorship there might be, if Governments worldwide started regulating the Internet! I don’t discuss politics on GeekScribes, so I will stop this debate here, leaving you to your conclusions.Well, that was my attempt at showing you that the Internet is no longer a safe, private haven for us. There is increased monitoring, increased regulation and even less privacy online now. Also, remember that our local ISP, Orange, mentioned about monitoring usage? Big brother is watching us, my readers. Now, let’s see your comments.

  • man, support eff.
    don’t just donate, join eff to fight for civil liberties in this crappy digital world.

  • I’ve been following this “Internet privacy degradation” since quite some time & each year, it’s just getting worst. ๐Ÿ˜

    If Google had decided to anonymize user data, this would never happened. Everyone should boycott them – the only solution to stop them recording IP addresses.

    Big disappointment for the Japanese… 30GB to them is like 100MB to us! ๐Ÿ˜›

    UK p2p users are receiving letter bombs now? LOL ๐Ÿ˜› At least, since UK is “not” in Euro zone, they wont be affected by Sarkozy’s plans. His 3-strikes plan being rejected in France… he has decided to apply it across Europe! ๐Ÿ˜€

    The future of the Internet & how to stop it…a great read into how the Internet is being doomed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Speaking of 3 strikes, check out:

  • Pingback: User links about "trafficshaping" on iLinkShare()