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Stunning new filtering plan contradicts its “Your World” marketing campaign

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson confirmed that the telecom and internet giant is “very interested” in a “technology based solution” to monitor data passing through its networks for rogue peer-to-peer traffic.

“It’s like being in a store and watching someone steal a DVD,” said Stephenson. “Do you act?”

Such a move would affect more than just AT&T’s subscribers, as the company’s network investments represent a sizable chunk of the internet’s backbone – which results in almost all Internet data passing through its network at some point. Given that AT&T has, so far, been pensive about the scope of such a project, many are assuming the worst.

More importantly, AT&T may forfeit its end of the deal in what Slate’s Tim Wu calls “the grand bargain of common carriage:” legal immunity from whatever claims might arise from data its network transports, in exchange for offering network service to anyone in a nondiscriminatory fashion. “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,” writes Wu.

In an absence of any official word on why AT&T wants to implement such a project, many people think that the primary motivator is an alarmed response to the growing percentage of traffic attributable to P2P activity; various surveys claim that anywhere from 30 to 90 percent of all internet traffic is P2P related. Lately, ISPs both large and small have been testing the waters with a variety of traffic-shaping initiatives, including Comcast, which last year found itself in the middle of a scandal over how it handles BitTorrent traffic.

According to AT&T – as well as anecdotal reports and commentary from other ISP employees – Internet users should expect a more managed Internet experience in the near future, as technology is finally becoming sophisticated enough to allow for such large-scale projects.

“We recognize we are not there yet but there are a lot of promising technologies,” said AT&T executive James Cicconi, “but we are having an open discussion with a number of content companies … to try to explore various technologies that are out there.”

If anyone has the expertise to deploy such a large filtering project, it would be AT&T: the company was already caught red-handed with powerful data-mining hardware, which it used to gather information on the nation’s web traffic for the NSA.

“The volume of peer-to-peer traffic online, dominated by copyrighted materials, is overwhelming. That clearly should not be an acceptable, continuing status,” said NBC Universal’s general counsel, Rick Cotton. “The question is how we collectively collaborate to address this.”

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RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By tehfire on 1/26/2008 4:00:20 PM , Rating: 2
IMO, the internet has always been a public sphere. As such, I do believe that the public sphere is subject to the scrutiny of others, and this may very well infringe in some way or another on privacy.

If you are serious about the claim that the main problem with what AT&T is planning on doing is that they are suspecting you of a crime and therefore watching you, what makes this not apply to police officers? They shoot radar guns at cars not suspecting a priori of their guilt. My explination for this is that because it is in the public sphere, it is subject to scrutiny.

The gov't is not allowed to enter your home unless it has just cause or some other qualifications (in theory, anyways). The gov't is allowed to make sure you're not speeding, pat you down if you're entering a stadium or other highly public place. Since P2P is very much a public activity, I do believe that there are some limitations to privacy.

I'm not saying that everything on the internet should be subject to scrutiny. Emails or other non-public entities should still be provided the same level of privacy protection afforded in the real world (afaik the gov't cannot monitor your mail without a warrant or something...I could be wrong). Public activities, however (P2P, forums, (non-personal) chat roomsm etc.) should be.

RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By DigitalFreak on 1/26/2008 7:12:27 PM , Rating: 4
LOL. Ok, you can look at my P2P packet, but not my e-mail packet. It's not going to work that way.

RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By winterspan on 1/26/08, Rating: -1
RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By eye smite on 1/26/2008 11:41:17 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure the real issue here is we're all fed up with being persecuted before they can even prosecute us. To hell with their money grubbing greed. It's easier to just walk in walmart, cut the dvd open in the cloth and crafts section, put the dvd in my back pocket and head out. Ethics you say, for walmart that has no ethics? This is not the country I grew up in, new times, new crap that they're allowed to get away with, so fukem, I'll just adapt my own rules.

RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By JoshuaBuss on 1/27/2008 11:20:34 PM , Rating: 1
it doesn't really matter what you 'think' the internet is. it's a bunch of private networks that just happen to be connected. it's not 'public' really in any sense of the word.

your internet bills are a direct result of that fact. if it was 'puplic', the entirety of it would have to be provided by some government or group of people.

the internet's a truly strange beast.

RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By mallums on 1/29/2008 1:57:02 AM , Rating: 2
That turns out not to be the case. The internet is de facto a common carrier for all intents and purposes. Even if you are running a VPN over it. Else why go international, and form the ICANN to administrate it?

The fact that we pay a bill for the connection and bandwidth is irrelevant.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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