If Net Neutrality Dies, Comcast Can Just Block A Protest Site Instead Of Sending A Bogus Cease-And-Desist

from the comcastic dept

It appears that a vendor working for Comcast sent a totally bullshit cease-and-desist letter regarding a pro-net neutrality site: Comcastroturf.com, created by our friends over at Fight for the Future. The Comcastroturf website was set up as a tool to see if someone filed bogus FCC comments in your name. As you probably recall, there is a bot that has been flooding the FCC comment site with bogus anti-net neutrality comments, filed in alphabetical order. Reporters contacted some of the individuals whose names appear on these comments, and they had no idea what it was about. People are still trying to track down who is actually responsible for the bogus comments, but Fight for the Future set up this neat site to let you check if your name was used by whoever is behind it.

And, of course, the name “Comcastroturf” is pretty damn clever, given the topic. Kudos to Fight for the Future for coming up with that one. It is, of course, totally legal to use the domain name of a company that you’re protesting in your own domain. There are numerous cases on this issue, normally discussed as the so-called “Sucks Sites.” There’s clearly no legal issue with Comcastroturf, and any reasonably informed human being would know that. Unfortunately, it would appear that Comcast hired a company that employs some non-reasonably informed humans.

The cease-and-desist letter was sent by a company called “Looking Glass Cyber Solutions” (no, really), which used to be called “Cyveillance” (only marginally less bad). We’ve written about Cyveillance twice before — and both times they were about totally bogus takedown requests from Cyveillance that caused serious problems. The most recent was the time that Cyveillance, working for Qualcomm, filed a bogus DMCA notice that took down Qualcomm’s own Github repository. Nice move. The earlier story, however was in 2013, and involved Cyveillance — again representing Comcast — sending a threatening takedown demand to some more of our friends over at TorrentFreak, claiming (ridiculously) that public court filings were Comcast’s copyright-covered material, and threatening serious legal consequences if it wasn’t taken down. Eventually, Comcast stepped in and admitted the cease-and-desist was “sent in error.” You’d think that maybe this would have caused Comcast to think twice about using Cyveillance for such things. But, nope.

The rebranded Looking Glass Cyber Solutions has told Fight for the Future that “Comcastroturf” violates Comcast’s “valuable intellectual property rights” and that failure to take down the site may lead to further legal action around cybersquatting and trademark violations. (Update: Turns out it wasn’t a “rebranding” but Looking Glass bought Cyveillance…).

Of course, there’s no way that Comcast would actually move forward with any legal action here. In fact, I’m pretty sure it already regrets the fact that the numbskulls at this vendor they hired to police their brand online just caused (yet another) massive headache for their brand online. Maybe, this time, Comcast will finally let Cyveillance/Looking Glass Cyber go, and find partners who don’t fuck up so badly. Meanwhile, the fact that Looking Glass Cyber can’t even figure out that Comcastroturf is a perfectly legal protest site makes the company’s website — which is chock full of idiotic buzzwords about “threat mitigation” and “threat intelligence” — look that much more ridiculous. The only “threat” here is Looking Glass/Cyveillance and their silly cluelessness sending out censorious threats based on what appears to be little actual research.

Of course, without true net neutrality, if Comcast really wanted to silence Comcastroturf, it would just block everyone from accessing the site…

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Companies: comcast, cyveillance, fight for the future, looking glass cyber solutions

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Comments on “If Net Neutrality Dies, Comcast Can Just Block A Protest Site Instead Of Sending A Bogus Cease-And-Desist”

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58 Comments
orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

“Looking Glass Cyber Solutions” How quaint, how 1991.

Valuable intellectual property rights… really, one might thing Comcast would just rebrand, like someone else did, and let everyone play with their thoroughly muddy name until they forgot where the word originally came from. In ten or fifteen years people could write short articles explaining to the younger crowd that the root word “comcast” was actually the trademark of a real corporation.

Of course their new name would be equally recognized as attached to a horrorshow of bad service in short order, but rebranding apparently works to confuse enough people enough of the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: DNS

While I guess Comcast could do some kind of blocking at their own routers, or their own DNS system, how would they block someone with a VPN or who used Googles’ DNS, or Open DNS, or some other? I don’t doubt they would try, just, how successful could they be?

Assuming they stay on the North side of the ethics boundary (so no DNS poisoning or anything nefarious like that), they could block the IP addresses of those servers. While it wouldn’t be perfect they would still be very successful.

Comcast wouldn’t be able to stop everybody, but they would be able to prevent ~24 million people from using their service to access sites they don’t like.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: DNS

Exactly. They don’t have to block 100% of everybody for the effect of censorship to be effective, and most of their customers aren’t going to be aware of the existence of the block, let alone the options to bypass it. The people who know enough to do this are not the people who the blocked site is trying to educate in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

While the name “Comcastroturf” is obviously such parody as to itself show the request was scummy, the Ars article on this has an update with a statement from Comcast that says the site was registered May 14, and the C&D letters started to be sent on the 17th, at which time Comcast claims the site did not yet have any content.

Anonymous Coward says:

” if Comcast really wanted to silence Comcastroturf, it would just block everyone from accessing the site… “

Comcast could theoretically block access to a particular site and/or domain, however – that would be limited to their customers. I imagine that collusion among ISPs is already common so they would just develop a black list for all to block. This would heralded among the internet illiterate as the best thing since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Eventually this corruption and abuse of monopoly power would make its way through the court system and possibly end up in SCOTUS where the light of day may …. nah, they will enshrine it and make everyone kneel.

My_Name_Here says:

You see disaster. I see retribution.

The truth is that most Americans don’t care about net neutrality, but Techdirt makes a huge deal of it because it means the pirate sites they love so much could be easily blocked. This is revenge for SOPA, Masnick, and it’s long overdue.

But go on and hide my messages. It won’t be long before Shiva takes your entire pirate cesspool down, and I’ll be laughing long and loud.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: You see disaster. I see retribution.

most Americans don’t care about net neutrality, but Techdirt makes a huge deal of it because it means the pirate sites they love so much could be easily blocked

The possibility does exist that “pirate sites”—however you define that nebulous term—could be blocked by ISPs if Net Neutrality were to be dismantled. But that is not the only possible consequence.

If Net Neutrality is dismantled, ISPs could…

  • …throttle or outright block traffic to any given site, thus determining what sites that customers can access.
  • …install explicit data caps, then tell customers that going to “zero-rated” sites (i.e., sites that the ISPs approve of or own) will not count against the caps and thus keep customers from incurring a “you used the Internet in a way we don’t like” tax (i.e., overage charges).
  • …use the points above to help shape the Internet into a cable TV-style service where accessing certain sites at normal speeds (or at all) will cost customers an extra fee for that site’s specific “tier”.
  • …use all of that power listed above to all but blacklist any website that does not “play nice” with ISPs and skew the Internet’s surfing habits toward specific sites chosen as “winners” by the ISPs instead of Internet users.

In other words: Comcast could block you from ever seeing Techdirt on the basis that it disagrees with everything Techdirt has ever written about the company, which means all your trolling would be stopped unless you paid extra to access the “unfiltered” Internet—if Comcast even offered that as an option, that is.

…huh. Maybe we should rethink that whole Net Neutrality thing…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You see disaster. I see retribution.

FTC.

Each of the actions you list would be anti competitive especially with a monopoly or a duopoly. Quite simply it would be an illegal business practice.

So before you go off consider that the US has more than 1 law and 1 set of rules.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You see disaster. I see retribution.

Each of the actions you list would be anti competitive especially with a monopoly or a duopoly.

Yes, and? The major ISPs could argue that, since they all compete with each other on a national level, none of their actions would technically be illegal—even though lots of places in the United States are served only by a single ISP. Those corporations also have shitloads of lawyers on hand to make arguments such as those in front of judges and juries and (most importantly) politicians.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You see disaster. I see retribution.

Not a really good argument. The FTC can quickly move to squash such moves and get injunctive relief while completing the case.

None of the major companies would be stupid enough that might lead to anti trust issues and potential forced breakup or network sharing.

Rob Speed (profile) says:

A pretty basic fact slipped past you.

It is, of course, totally legal to use the domain name of a company that you’re protesting in your own domain.

That would be true if Comcast had been indicated as the source of the comments. So they aren’t actually protesting Comcast with that site.

And honestly, it doesn’t make any sense to implement an astroturfing campaign in such an absurdly obvious way unless it’s a false flag.

David says:

"Block a protest site"?

You apparently have a lack of imagination regarding worst-case scenarios without net neutrality.

"Oh, you haven’t been able to sign up to Google Fiber on the Internet? Because its site is dead-slow and only intermittedly available if at all? Well, sounds like you are lucky to have noticed in time before ditching your Comcast service."

This is going to become one cesspool of competition.

Chuck says:

Waste of Money

“There’s clearly no legal issue with Comcastroturf, and any reasonably informed human being would know that. Unfortunately, it would appear that Comcast hired a company that employs some non-reasonably informed humans.”

Really? Why? Comcast is packed to the ceiling with non-reasonably informed humans already. Why would they bother outsourcing this when they could just have everyone pick a number or draw straws and save a boatload of money?

I mean, I guess if you’re Comcast you have money to blow, but still. So wasteful!

Steve D says:

Private censorship

What exactly is the difference between Comcast shutting down a site it disapproves of and a blog banning someone they disapprove of? In both cases someone is using their superior power to silence disagreement. The time has come to call BS on private censorship. It violates free speech no less than government censorship.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Private censorship

“What exactly is the difference between Comcast shutting down a site it disapproves of and a blog banning someone they disapprove of?”

Several major, fundamental differences. Firstly, a blog is a single platform for publishing content, that provides a method to comment. If the owner of the blog decides to remove the ability to comment, you are still able to view the blog you’ve simply been asked to not participate in the comments. You’re free to discuss elsewhere, even if the platform owner has asked you not to do so on their premises. You have many, many other blogs to choose from, and other ways of communicating., Furthermore, the ability of a blog owner to decide to remove toxic participants from a conversation is as much an aspect of free speech as the ability for the troll to comment in the first place. They have as much ability to remove bad actors from their site as a coffee house does to reject people causing trouble on their premises.

The ISP provides you access to millions of such services. Them having specific control over which ones you can access gives them a greater control over your speech than any single blog owner can do. Not happy with that? Well, many Americans don’t have a choice so cannot move to a more acceptable competitor. They will also be able to restrict access to competitors’ content, something that I believe many site owners wish they could do, but none can.

“The time has come to call BS on private censorship. It violates free speech no less than government censorship.”

Absolutely incorrect. But, even if you buy that, then surely you must wholeheartedly approve of net neutrality? That’s the mechanism to prevent carriers from censoring you, after all.

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