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The other day I spilled fruit punch on my shorts because I was caught off guard by yet another discriminatory action perpetrated by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). At first I decided to let it slide, but then I realized these incidents are starting to pile up. Is the Internet on the brink of becoming a privately controlled resource? How many more stains will I have to endure? Keep reading to find out.
Since its conception, the Internet has been under constant attack by ISPs and companies developing programs that filter content for one reason or another. Most people have probably heard the drum beat of parents concerned about the lewd content permeating the web, just one click away from being seen by their children. At first, programs were designed with word-based filtering criteria. But this was too broad. Nowadays, these programs have become so advanced there are debates over whether they cross the line in terms of freedom of expression.
The situation was contentious enough when employers were using these programs to monitor their employees' Internet behavior as if they were children. At least this could be justified with reasons regarding a company's bottom line. But now there are ISPs experimenting not just with content filtering, but also content substitution software, where a system message is attached to a web page.
A recent post in Lauren Weinstein's blog notified readers of how Rogers, Canada's largest provider of high-speed Internet access, modified Google Canada's search page -- with a Rogers-Yahoo customer service message, no less. Rogers plans to implement this data substitution method, which places its own content on the web pages its customers visit, starting next quarter. As for the test message, it notifies its customers that Rogers is drawing near their data cap limit for the month and offers a link providing information on how to upgrade their account.
The message does offer a way for customers to cancel any future status messages, but the damage has already been done. And sites, like Google, can use this example for net neutrality legislation. Weinstein had this to say in an interview:
This is what Net Neutrality is about ... it's not just making sure that data is handled in a competitive and non-discriminatory manner, but it's also that the data that's sent is the data that you get ... that the content is unmodified, not with messages that are woven into your data stream [from third parties].
The only response from Rogers is that they have no standard customer notification procedure to inform customers of bandwidth limitations. And there is debate on how serious this situation really is. After all, they're only sliding the page down a little and adding a message, not necessarily modifying the page's content. But there are other instances besides this one, and I will be going over them in the following sections.
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