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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 ebakke on 1/26/2008 5:19:54 PM , Rating: 5
It seems that no matter what is implemented by AT&T (or Comcast, or anyone else), P2P technologies will adapt. Encryption, extra garbage packets, etc. will be used, and ironically, the effect will be more traffic, and a slower internet. Exactly the opposite of AT&T's claims.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By mendocinosummit on 1/26/2008 8:31:47 PM , Rating: 5
When they should be spending all those millions increasing bandwidth.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By Christopher1 on 1/27/2008 5:21:58 AM , Rating: 1
That is the blunt truth here: they should be focusing on increasing bandwidth instead of moaning about people actually using the unlimited service that they give them.

Same thing with the movie, music and game companies: stop turning to DRM to solve a problem that is more because you are making poor quality games or are charging too much for a good quality game.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By RonLugge on 1/27/2008 5:21:52 PM , Rating: 2
A good point only reinforced by the fact that Stardock Games -- responsible for Galactic Civilization and GalCiv II, and publishing Sins of a Solar Empire -- does extremely well selling games with no DRM. The only "DRM" involved is the need for a valid CD key to download patches.

The other half of their success is the fact that most torrent sites (they have specifically named Pirate Bay as being the exception) remove pirated copies of their games when asked. Most companies just throw a fit, they don't bother asking.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By masher2 (blog) on 1/27/2008 10:21:45 PM , Rating: 3
> "Stardock Games...does extremely well selling games with no DRM."

Stardock is a tiny 30 man company, with most of their revenues deriving from business software. Their best-selling game is a port of an old 1993 turned-based title that's sold all of 75K copies...about 1/100 of what a hit like COD or Halo does. And, quite frankly, it's not something that's going to appeal to those who typically pirate games anyway.

Trying to claim they've done "extremely" well by selling DRM-free games isn't a very realistic comparison.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By hedron on 1/31/2008 2:18:36 PM , Rating: 1
That's one good side effect of piracy. Is that cloned crap like Halo and CoD doesn't sell well. I'm an avid PC gamer and am tired of descent games drowning in a sea of over-hyped and over-produced FPS. Maybe one day the retail industry will collapse and the casual gamer will stick to tetris and the hardcore community will go underground.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By jconan on 1/27/2008 3:16:58 AM , Rating: 4
I agree. However on a different note. Can ATT decrypt packages legally without a search warrant? E.G. people's private communications like skype and VPN for telecommuter's (the future working class tend to be more of the commuter type) - wouldn't ATT be snooping/spying on company secrets if they did? Just by running a filter is technically like eavesdropping or spying?


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By jconan on 1/27/2008 5:49:55 AM , Rating: 2
doesn't the filtering technique work on the same principles as keylogging or wiretapping even though they are 2 separate techniques. (they are not working off a closed data but are actually tapping onto customer's line and gathering data without permission) keylogging storing information based on filter sequences and wiretapping listening or receiving communication signals from a voice/data device based on particular streams?


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By Shoal07 on 1/29/2008 11:12:51 AM , Rating: 2
The government needs warrants. The Bill of Rights only protects you against the government and government actions. Corporations can do whatever they like, especially on their own networks, they just suffer when people no longer choose to use their services. Too many people think their protections in the Constitution are universal but they're only enforceable against the government.

Just like DailyTech could delete all of your posts, or all of the pro-sony posts, or anti-MS, whatever... You can't sue them for violating your First Amendment; they have no legal requirement to guarantee or provide you anything, unless you enter into a contract.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By thisguyiknow on 1/29/2008 7:54:30 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, they can, actually, because they're (supposedly) not the government but a private company with which the user has entered into a legal contract--after checking the "I have read and agree to the terms and conditions of service" box.

They'll have different contractual terms with fellow corporations--maybe explicitly permitting encryption, since you're right: legal departments would never allow their boards to expose company secrets wholesale. I'm starting to think that individuals who use encryption may start to get in trouble with the NSA someday.

I'm also thinking maybe the analogy is that every time you walk into a store some guy appears and sticks with you everywhere you go, keeping a really close eye on your hands and occasionally checking to be sure you're not palming something.


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By MAIA on 1/30/2008 9:55:14 AM , Rating: 2
On the contrary: Can you send encrypted files using P2P ?

It all boils down to the meaning of "cryptography export". You actually need a license to use cryptography and be able to communicate globally.

Read this:
http://rechten.uvt.nl/koops/cryptolaw/cls2.htm#us


RE: Wrong analogy, AT&T
By MAIA on 1/30/2008 10:00:08 AM , Rating: 2
About the usage of cryptography in the US:

1. Certain mass-market encryption software may be released from EI controls after a one-time review.
2. "Data recovery" crypto (meaning that government can access keys or plaintext with a lawful warrant) will be eligible for an export license to non-embargoed countries. The procedures for data-recovery licenses were simplified in September 1998, when also "recoverable products" were released for export (a recoverable product means that an operator can access plaintext without the user noticing).
3. After a one-time review, (up to) 56-bit cryptography can be granted a six-month export license, provided the exporting business commits itself to incorporating a data recovery feature in its products within the next two years. This provision was changed in December 1998, when all 56-bit crypto was released for export after a one-time review, with no requirement of data recovery.
4. All other encryption items may be eligible for encryption licensing arrangements; items not authorized under a licensing arrangement will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
5. Encryption "technology" may be licensed for export on a case-by-case basis.


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