Privacy Concerns Over Net Neutrality: Which Side Are You On?

Our new Intern Blogs series is brought to you by Sgrouples‘ very own college internship program! Today we have a post on Net Neutrality from Sarah Clews from Bournemouth University.

Net neutrality is a tale of two halves. Those who want to keep cyberspace a public arena of free speech, and those who don’t. Why should we be bothered about who owns what on the Internet? It depends: how much of your personal data are you willing to sacrifice?

To proficiently explain net neutrality, you can explore how capitalism and the ownership of a typically “free-good” has been managed throughout history. For example, during the 17th Century when capitalism expanded into the high seas and the EU states were competing for ownership of the trade routes to the East Indies, with products such as silk, cotton and tea, they created monopolies called the East India Companies. The Dutch version known as the VOC was created to rule over the routes they had discovered. However, in their eyes, both the competing companies and native merchants were considered pirates. You might ask why is this?

From the states point of view, anyone who was caught not respecting the standards imposed by the ruler, was known to be a pirate. So NetNeutrality_660piracy became a matter of perspective and those in power tended to impose their own perspective on the rest of the world. Much the same can be translated through to the major suppliers of our Internet content. With a major dispute over whether a two-tiered service should be enforced and the likes of Google and Verizon in talks over providing a ”private” internet for those who wish to pay premium for faster content, will we be opening up an opportunity for our choice of sites to be decided by the big rulers of the net?

Continuing with the high seas narrative, this is why the Dutch saw nothing wrong in 1603 when attacking a Portuguese ship along the spice route. In fact, the Dutch government sanctioned the attack by providing a letter of marque and reprisal, authorizing an attack on the enemy. Those given this authority were known as frontiers or corsairs. What the Portuguese considered acts of piracy, the Dutch saw as a valiant move in enforcing control of a sea route they claimed to own. As the internet is a seemingly intangible good, large conglomerates fight over the boundaries of what they believe to be “their” internet with profit being the main motive. It is not uncommon to learn of multi-national companies such as Xbox imposing a private line for gamers to engage, such as the Xfinity on-demand service which is available without adding to the gamers monthy data cap. According to the Trefis Team, “Comcast could be trying to take away subscribers’ share of viewing time, which is limited, and get them hooked to its own service.”

Many people believed the high seas to be a public good which is to be used freely for the benefit of everyone who had access to them, similar to how people view the internet. But in unchartered territories, it is unclear who the legitimate owners are and who the pirates are.

It becomes evident that history repeats itself when Capitalism expands. Much in a similar way that contesting powers fought over sea, they continued to fight over the airwaves in the early 20th Century, until the popularity of offshore radio made the government in the United Kingdom re-evaluate the rules of broadcasting and since ended the monopoly of the BBC in 1967. The airwaves were now completely free of censorship and treated as a public good.

Today the issues of net-neutrality in cyberspace echo the struggles of freedom in the seas and airwaves.

Common arguments for net-neutrality include: control over data, cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter internet content without court order. It ensures the Internet remains a free and open source, accessible by everyone. As well as creating an open playing field for innovators and competitors to continue creating products and services that are profitable in the long-run. After all, this is what led to Google’s popularity. So why would they want to change it? Because there is money involved of course, even Google would not turn down billions of extra dollars in their account if it were possible! The editors of the “National Review” explain that, “After a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided last year to deregulate the broadband market, giving telecommunications companies the (still theoretical) freedom to charge Internet companies different rates for different levels of network service…The advocates of the proposed regulation argue for the principle of “net neutrality” — that is, they want the telecom companies to provide broadband access that treats all Internet content the same.”

Arguments against net-neutrality suggest that cable companies can charge higher payments for faster and more efficient services to those who can afford it. Also government legislation could prevent Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) from preventing e-mail spam and Denial of Service attacks. Which is where the privacy of your content that you share among your friends and family, could be at ultimate risk. In an article by Greg Slabodkin, he recognizes where Anna Eshoo (U.S. Representative for California’s 18th congressional district) explains that, “Consumer protection should be one of the basic tenets of any telecommunications policy or regulation. First and foremost, this means preserving the basic rules of the road that the FCC adopted to ensure a free and open Internet.”

In 2001, the Chinese government authorized 10,000 cyber pirates turned cyber-corsairs to attach American targets in reprisal for a US drone intrusion. Since then US and China have been tracking cyber-pirates online to offer them jobs as cyber corsairs. Using cyber-weapons such as STUXnet and Flame viruses. Cyber corsairs fight for control over cyberspace – a strategic space in which so many industries depend. How would we manage with restricted use on sites we rely on, because they cannot afford the private tariffs the cable companies would like to impose? Now it becomes a matter of whom should we trust to control the content we choose to view and should this be regulated at the expense of our Internet privacy?

If so, who should we trust with our data? Profit-driven organizations such as Google, who are at times backed by the National Security Agency? Not-for-profit organizations such as Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which are often supported by US government? Or a collective of cyber activists such as Anonymous and Reddit?

At present, we have the ability to choose freely between what we are able to view on the internet. We owe multiple pirate organizations over the centuries for their view of the high seas as a common good, unleashing the beauty that is broadcasting and defending net neutrality. But with capitalism now entering a new age of expansion, will we be able to fight to remain victorious over who owns what is delivered and seen on screen? David Rosen believes that Verizon, AT&T and ALEC will end this charter soon. With the unchartered territories of the 21st Century yet to be fully explored, where will you be storing your content to ensure it is accessible by the people who you want to see it?


Image from: http://scienceprogress.org/2011/12/who-gets-to-innovate/