AT&T Decides To Start Throwing Money Away By Attempting To Filter Copyrighted Content

from the good-luck-with-that dept

AT&T says that now that it's in the cable TV business, its interests are "more closely aligned with Hollywood", and as such, it plans to begin filtering traffic for copyrighted material that's being illegally shared. The inanity of the move is obvious, mostly because these sorts of things never work, but also because it's not particularly clear why the company would want to do something that will do little more than annoy its customers. The problem isn't so much that it will stop piracy, but that it will create all sorts of false positives and block all kinds of non-infringing uses. For instance, CBS now makes its copyrighted content available from a wide range of sites other than its own. To a system looking for copyrighted content, will legitimate traffic from Joost or AOL look any different than infringing streams from other sites? How will it know which YouTube videos have been authorized by their owners, and which are "illegal"? The likely answer is that it won't -- and if AT&T's in bed with the MPAA and RIAA, it won't likely care, either, since they continually try to undermine fair use.

Furthermore, it's worth wondering, what's the business case here? Did AT&T's new friends in Hollywood threaten it with a lawsuit, or promise it a better price on content? There must be some reason that the company would decide to go to the trouble and expense of implementing some fingerprinting and filtering system, then throwing more money at it in a futile attempt to make it work, pissing off their paying customers all the while. Whatever the motivation, the company's opening up a giant can of worms with significant legal and privacy implications. Perhaps if nothing else, this illustrates the point that pro-net neutrality groups don't need to make things up about AT&T and its executives; they do plenty of egregious things on their own. It also underlines that the issue of net neutrality is one of competition. If there was real competition in the broadband market, AT&T could never get away with a move like this, as it's basically a reason for customers to change providers. But given the lack of a truly competitive market, it can, and it will.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Zapfire, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 5:58pm

    ISP

    I believe that there are enough broadband services out there, There are a few small ISP's that are reliable and do not really care what is downloaded or what contents you visit. People just need to look around and stop doing what the masses are doing.

     

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  2.  
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    ehrichweiss, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 6:28pm

    common carrier

    As was noted at slashdot in this same topic, AT&T will open themselves up to litigation by doing this because by actively filtering they will give up their common carrier status. So the first time someone finds kiddie porn, illegal movies/mp3's, etc. on their computer they can sue the hell out of AT&T because they were supposed to be filtering for illegal content.

    Ain't life grand.

     

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  3.  
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    ehrichweiss, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 6:32pm

    encryption..

    I forgot to mention.. They'll find themselves over their heads anyway because the P2P developers will simply move to encrypting the packets and frequently rolling the ports so that it is next to impossible to tell the difference between bittorrent and a VPN.

     

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  4.  
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    ScaredOfTheMan, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 6:43pm

    This is how they will get to charge more

    Folks, ATT is not stupid, everything they do, they do for one reason, profit.

    Maybe this is how they will justify uping their rates, or maybe they will expect content providers to pay them to play traffic cop. Maybe this is their beach head into circumvent net neutrality. I am sure there is more to this, than ATT out of the blue deciding they will turn into a big brother (a little late for the metaphor but you get it)

     

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  5.  
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    mortsahl, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 8:17pm

    Let's see how many ...

    Let's see how many people are really upset about this ... how many of you will boycott the iPhone? If you want to vote with your pocketbook and make a statement to AT&T, there is no better way. I'd be willing to bet that most people will say, "AT&T sucks, but I gotta have my iPhone".

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 8:31pm

    Re: encryption..

    P2P developers will simply move to encrypting the packets and frequently rolling the ports so that it is next to impossible to tell the difference between bittorrent and a VPN.
    Some ISPs already have an answer to those kinds of things. They just ban any encrypted traffic with any site not on a "white list" and they don't care if it's bittorrent or a VPN or whatever.

    Personally, I think that ISPs that advertise full "internet access" but then only deliver a walled garden should be prosecuted for fraud.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 8:44pm

    Re: Let's see how many ...

    I'd be willing to bet that most people will say, "AT&T sucks, but I gotta have my iPhone".
    Nah. Most people don't like to admit to that kind of behavior so they'll just suddenly convince themselves that AT&T doesn't suck so they won't feel bad about blowing their cash on the iPhone. From then on whenever someone says that AT&T sucks they'll get all offended and ride to AT&T's rescue.

     

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  8.  
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    Collin, Jun 13th, 2007 @ 10:22pm

    Back when I had Comcast, they filtered out Limewire and Torrents.. And then when I encrypted the torrents my internet would shut off for a few hours. Which I thought was pretty strange. But then I got fiber optic internet through Mstarmetro (local utah thing I think).. They let encrypted traffic through. When Comcast started limiting how I use the internet, I just stopped using it. Which is what a lot of people will do with ATT, I'm sure.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 12:10am

    Re:

    When Comcast started limiting how I use the internet, I just stopped using it. Which is what a lot of people will do with ATT, I'm sure.
    I doubt that many people will because not many people have much of a choice.

     

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  10.  
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    donkey skills, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 3:15am

    abusing your semi-monopoly is bad business. as soon as verizon ran some fiber optic up my street i switched on principle over various issues i've had with mediaone/comcast/att over the years. people may not have other options now but it never helps to annoy your customers.

     

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  11.  
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    The infamous Joe, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 4:31am

    Comcastic.

    Odd, I've never had a problem with Comcast in that department, I've used Limewire and Torrents, I even tried out that encrypted program (I wasn't impressed and I'm sure that loser will push his product on this post soon, if you don't know what I'm talking about)-- but Comcast has never seemed to limit what data I can and can't send.

    In any event, just like DRM-- those that want to get around this will figure out a way, and the 'honest' customers will become horribly inconvenienced and have to suck it up.

    At what point does a business become so big that it completely forgets how to run a business? Is there some critical mass (so to speak) that it spontaneously happens at, or is it a conscious decision?

     

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  12.  
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    takeaswag, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 5:20am

    go ah4ead and switch - they don't care

    AT&T, with it's large collection of ILECs (the baby bells) really doesn't care if you go with a different DSL service because they will still get their nickel out of it by leasing the line to your new provider. Sure, there are other alternatetives to DSL in some places (more all the time), but for now in most places it is either copper or coax.

     

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  13.  
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    ehrichweiss, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: encryption..

    Any ISP that banned encrypted traffic would have its customers leaving in droves the moment they couldn't connect to their bank, check email, etc. because there will always be tons of services and sites that they forgot or didn't know about. You should check into that a bit better because blocking that traffic would cause them far more problems than they might want to handle.

     

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  14.  
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    OKVol, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 6:20am

    How do you tell one bit from another?

    Isn't Universal Studios going to sell movies by torrent distribution? How can you tell what is purchased from illegal?

    I've dealt with SBC before (AT&T is just a shell name, folks.) I know their technology level. If you read the DSLReports blog post, they haven't designed the technology yet.

    Either this is a smoke and mirrors ploy to make happy with the movie/TV industry in Hollywood, or they are just going to do port blocking, like they already block port 25 for "spam prevention".

     

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  15.  
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    DCX2, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 8:13am

    Is AT&T really throwing money away?

    Think about it...the US Government paid for AT&T to get a bunch of Narus STA 6400's for the warrantless wiretapping program. Maybe the Narus equipment is so powerful, they can use it for content filtering and spying on your traffic, at the same time!

    AT&T CEO: "You mean that thingie the government made us put in a secret room can stop piracy, too? Get to it!"

     

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  16.  
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    AllOver, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 9:53am

    "I believe that there are enough broadband services out there, There are a few small ISP's that are reliable and do not really care what is downloaded or what contents you visit. People just need to look around and stop doing what the masses are doing."

    While what you say may be true for where you live, there are still places in the US that only have dial-up as an option to them. There are even more places where there is only one high speed provider in the area.

     

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  17.  
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    GoblinJuice, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 10:32am

    Psst. Don't tell anyone....

    This is being done, with the tacit approval of the government, for two principle reasons:

    1) to limit, restrict and license encryption

    2) to collect and monitor Net usage

    Think about it. Maybe you'll figure it out. :-)

     

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  18.  
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    Tux, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 11:42am

    What about legit data

    Anyone want to wager on torrent traffic for Linux will get filtered? Oh and most traffic may flow through some of ATT backbone somewhere so if those spiffy boxes are at the junction where it enters/leaves their network, it will get stopped. Doesn't matter if you do not use them as your ISP.
    Record so far.
    1) spy on citizens for NSA
    2) allowed to merge to be the largest company again(more will follow just wait for it, Ma Bell will be back together whole)
    3) Filter internet traffic for the government, content and software industry.

    Anyone want to speculate what is next? I fear for the future of the non elite people of the country.

     

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  19.  
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    My name is Steve Jobs, Jun 14th, 2007 @ 2:07pm

    I know the answer...

    One word - iPhone

     

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  20.  
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    OKVol, Jun 15th, 2007 @ 6:08am

    Re: Is AT&T really throwing money away?

    Those Narus STA 6400's are probably fed property on site at AT&T. The feds would rather bury that equipment than turn it over to private enterprise.

     

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  21.  
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    Just_Me_Folks, Oct 3rd, 2007 @ 3:43pm

    The Fascists, STA 6400's, Torrents & All Else...

    It is of course inevitable that things will get fairly Draconian where all this stuff is concerned. The Pirate Bay has sounded a resounding slap across many faces and it isn't too difficult to envision, the industry pull-together (and with unlikely new allies to boot! i.e., AT&T, as well as the U.S. government) and come up with something on the order of "Shock & Awe" tactics of the Neo Cons, to hit us with. At least historically speaking, the pirates have all met a grisly end…

    My only "hope" in this arena is the loyalty and creativity of the "few good folks" who actually work in the technical areas of the Fascists. (For example, it took "help" to make Media-Defender leaks occur and I for one would love to offer a high-five, to the honorable soul who found it in his/her heart, to help make those leaks possible! Oh, the source-code thing too was just heart-warming, to say the least!

    As for the “warrant-less-tapping” thing; folks, please don’t be surprised to hear that there’re far worse “predatory” hardware and software out-there and believe you-and-me, we’ve only glanced the tip of the proverbial ice-berg, thus far. No I am not wearing a tin-foil hat, as I sit typing these words and I would like to think that I’m a reasonably-well grounded individual, over-all. I’ve also served in Signal Intelligence & Electronic Warfare components of the U.S. Army and have a bit of “first-hand” experience in how “my Uncle” goes about doing certain things.

    Firstly, the person who earlier suggested that STA 6400’s would solely be guarded/controlled by your Uncle and mine, is only partially correct! There’d be more likelihood of “additional activities” under certain circumstances. I’m reminded of the time when there used to be significant (and very secret and illegal) infusion of U.S. Army cash into the CIA (etc.,) entities, during the 1980’s. Essentially, CIA overstepped “checks-and-balances” into their controlled budgets & spending by bringing the U.S. Army Intelligence Community into some of their operations. The Army handled the funding issues (unlike the CIA, the Army could legally utilize accountants, etc., to make tracing of their own “black-funds” neigh-near impossible!) and it was a “happy marriage” until someone “blew the whistle!” Then it erupted into a scandal and well, the Congress too, was not very happy for having been circumvented, in such a blatant fashion!

    Why do I mention this? (I shift in my seat and better-seat my tin foil hat, hehe) Well, the government folks directly in use, with this technology, will have “bonded” in some fashion or another with the private sector folks (i.e., AT&T) they come in contact with, in the implementation of this program and of course some of these government folks also have “aspirations” that go beyond mere civil service! At times too, in technical co-operation situations, the supervisors can be left out-side of the knowledge-bubble (in other words, the supervisors could be supervising technical folks and programs, they’re ill-equipped to understand!) I remember also being in such a situation, where our battalion commander actually had less of a clearance than we did and consequently did NOT know what we did, how we did it, etc. He used to somewhat joke about it but, it wasn’t too difficult to “read-between-the-lines,” to understand his “real” feelings concerning the matter. So, it isn’t difficult at all, to envision “situations” where, “additional” activities too, occur, in addition to the warrant-less eavesdropping.

    Folks, worse will follow (note to self: switch to Reynolds aluminum wrap, to fashion a new tin foil hat, this generic stuff just isn’t cutting it! Hehehe). Currently, it isn’t so bad, after all. In the future, things will change and I would imagine, some very Draconian “punishments” scheme will be rolled-out by the Congress (do I need to clarify the special-interests influences on the U.S. Congress?) to accompany the currently fledgling technology. This filtering thing is very much in its infancy. Give it some time… After all, we’ve demonstrated, over-and-over again, that we’re perfectly willing to roll-over-and-play-dead, when the government gets into questionable practices. I can actually envision anti-terrorist measures being employed (selective and creative enforcement of anti-terrorism laws) in dealing with folks, who’re at the more active spectrum of this whole downloading business. Do you think that this is unlikely? How many of us are aware that anti-terrorism means/laws/technologies/etc., are utilized against the mob, etc., currently? Sure I have no sympathies for the mob and other “evil” entities but, the utilization of anti-terrorist means in this way also makes me think that “everyone else” too will be a fair-game, in this fashion. Why stop with the mob? Why not target “illegal file sharers” too, in some such fashion? Imagine if Elmer Fudd had napalm and bunker buster bombs in his disposal? What would be Bugs Bunny’s chances of getting away? Is this an extreme and silly example? Sure, but it gets-across the point? (Would it have been better to use Wiley the Coyote vs. the Road Runner?)

    It doesn’t surprise me either, that questionable methods were utilized against The Pirate Bay entity. What surprised me was the ineptitude of the folks engaged in this activity. (It still required “internal-help” to surface the matter, let us never forget that!)

    At any rate, all I can do is to simply switch providers, if things get too intrusive and inconvenient. Even this may not help as AT&T has a fairly strong grip, on internet traffic, in general. Perhaps I’m being too bleak and I should be more confident in the abilities of the “new” generation, in getting around the counter-measures that are now in use and are likely to be in use, in the future. However, when laws change and things get “severe” enough, the “cuteness-factor” goes right out of the window and things get serious in a quick-way… I don’t know how many folks would be likely to “tinker” with things, if a hefty fine and a serious (perhaps terrorism related) prison sentence were to follow. Sure I’m aware that folks still try and hack into government computers but, it isn’t like the “old-days” at all. (Please do not include into this, the intelligence activities of the Chinese, etc., which occur under the umbrella of Intelligence Warfare!)

    Folks, please consider this: until such a time, we, the public, in the U.S., become more “enlightened,” things are likely to get more restrictive, intrusive and down-right scary! Our collective “enlightment” is the only truly effective counter-measure we could ever hope to discover or implement! Switching ISP’s, whistle blowing, etc., are only partial measures that are doomed to fail, in the long run.

    Please forgive the lengthy posting.

     

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