McAfee Patents System To 'Detect And Prevent Illegal Consumption Of Content On The Internet'
from the that'll-work dept
As a post on the French site Numerama reminds us (original in French), the department responsible for implementing the three-strikes plan known as HADOPI was also supposed to provide Internet users with information about technical solutions to reduce infringement. That never happened — instead, the body has preferred to send out warning messages on a massive scale and to seek convictions, even of those who are innocent. But in the meantime, the US company McAfee seems to have obtained a patent on just the kind of thing the French law originally had in mind:
Disclosed are systems and methods for preventing (or at least deterring) a user from inadvertently or directly consuming illegal content on the Internet. For example, determine when a user might visit a site distributing illegal content (i.e., material in violation of a copyright or otherwise inappropriately distributed) and presenting a warning to the user prior to navigating to the identified inappropriate distribution site.
Of course, there are a couple of big issues here. First, who determines whether content is illegal? As Techdirt has reported many times, the only people who can give a definitive answer are judges: anything else is likely to be plagued with errors and arbitrary decisions. Since an ad-hoc system would naturally err on the side of caution, this would inevitably lead to perfectly legitimate sites being miscategorized and thus starved of visitors.
Secondly, even leaving aside that issue, how will the McAfee system “determine” when a user might be visiting a site distributing allegedly illegal content? The patent application describes one particularly dangerous approach:
Various embodiments, described in more detail below, provide a technique for performing a check of a distribution source prior to allowing its content to be downloaded. The implementation could utilize a “cloud” of resources for centralized analysis. Individual download requests interacting with the cloud need not be concerned with the internal structure of resources in the cloud and can participate in a coordinated manner to distinguish potential threatening “rouge hosts” and “authorized distributions” on the Internet.
As that makes clear, the proposed system would basically spy on everything you type into your Web browser, sending off full details of your requests to the cloud for analysis, where they would be checked in some way — for example, against blacklists or whitelists. The results of that check would be sent back to your system, which might then place suitably dire warnings on your screen about the dangers of proceeding.
Clearly, that is a gross violation of privacy, with huge potential dangers. For a start, the centralized analysis system that the McAfee patent speaks of would be the perfect place to check up on everything that a person was doing on their computer, since all Internet requests would be routed through it. That makes it even easier than it is today for the authorities, who would no longer have to go to several Internet service companies in order to spy on users without the latter being aware of the fact.
Naturally, such issues of censorship and surveillance wouldn’t worry the copyright companies in the slightest. If such a system were available, they would doubtless push hard for ISPs to adopt it — perhaps on a purely “voluntary” basis, just like the new “six strikes” system in the US. Indeed, I’d be surprised if they aren’t already having discussions with McAfee on how they can work together for their mutual benefit here.