Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
I get many questions that deal with the ability of ISPs and others to monitor, track, or trace what we do on the internet. In the case of ISPs the answer has always been "well, they certain have the technology, but you're just not that interesting to spy on".
And for the most part I still believe that's true.
However apparently you might be interesting enough to advertise to.
This week one ISP started testing something that highlights the incredible power they have to muck about with what we do on the internet.
Rogers, a large ISP in Canada, started testing technology that allowed them to insert ads into the web pages you view. The example that's appearing in the news outlets is a screen shot of the Google home page with ads for one of its competitors, Yahoo, plastered across the top - something Google would certainly never do.
The ads were inserted by the ISP.
"Network neutrality" is the concept at play here. Network neutrality, in layman's terms, means that the providers of the network that is the internet should keep their paws off the traffic that flows over it; they should remain neutral.
Neutrality can be violated in several ways. Until now, the most common fear was that an ISP who also happened to provide telephony, be it voice-over-ip or one of the existing telephone companies, could use its network hardware to make competitive services perform worse or simply fail. We've also heard reports of ISPs attempting to block or depreciate certain kinds of traffic entirely: most notably peer-to-peer traffic.
In these cases the ISP is imposing its own value judgments on the type of traffic that flows across its network.
That's decidedly not a neutral position.
And now we come to content insertion.
Adding ads under some circumstances to what you see is annoying, but that's about as bad as the current scenario gets. Let's face it, over the years there have been ISPs and other services who've built there entire business model around providing free or low cost access in exchange for showing you ads. At least they were up-front about it from the start.
What's more concerning here is how this act highlights the incredible power and ability of ISPs and network providers to stick their fingers into your internet experience. I know I'm bordering on some uncharacteristic paranoia, but imagine an ISP that doesn't just block or slowdown content, but perhaps modifies search results or other web pages in ways beyond just adding ads.
What's needed is a clear adherence to network neutrality principals.
And for that to happen it's probably time for more people to understand exactly what it means.
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 12082 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
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