Filter This! - Deep Packet Inspection
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The technique most likely to cause concern for Network Neutrality enthusiasts is deep packet inspection (DPI). It is a more thorough form of packet filtering, commonly referred to as firewalls, which examines network traffic and determines whether users may pass through to their destination. Instead of merely checking the header portion of a data packet, it goes through almost all data and content, classifying statistical information for its users. ISPs generally use it to appropriate bandwidth according to how much traffic is running through the network.
It's when ISPs use DPI to collect individual user activity data or modify the user's Internet experience that the neutrality of DPI is called into question. An instance occurred recently when CenturyTel Inc. started monitoring the Internet activity of its customers. The company that provides the equipment for this system offers online advertisers a chance to advertise based on the information collected on its customer's Internet activity. There is a difference between this sort of activity and ad placements on web sites with the approval of a web site operator. In fact, a recent patent application could exacerbate the problem.
Try to imagine a more tangible example where you're in line at the grocery store and some pimply faced teen (no, I don't work at your local supermarket) starts rummaging through your cart and replacing items with products made through the store. And to top it off, they stuff your bag with more advertisements on your way out. You voluntarily chose to patronize the store, but is this violating your rights as a customer.
This makes it easy to see the rift this situation might cause between ISPs that provide conventional Internet access and their customers. Perhaps if the user somehow initiated or agreed to having their activities monitored, or if the user had some kind of free WiFi access, then these methods might have a chance at being deemed admissible by the general public. But as Weinstein puts it, "even then only with full and complete disclosure and ironclad privacy protections ... for the collected transactional data."
The next section will get into a specific case of BitTorrent content filtering. DPI technology allows ISPs to pinpoint P2P file sharing. Please keep reading to find out more.
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