Deep Packet Inspection Puts Open Internet at Risk

The uncertainty surrounding Net Neutrality has given rise to a technology known as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) that offers Internet service providers unprecedented control over Internet content, according to a new paper released today by Free Press. Deep Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It? argues that the use of DPI technology by Internet service providers should raise serious concerns for both users and lawmakers.

“Potential abuses of Deep Packet Inspection put the Internet as we know it at risk,” said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press and co-author of the paper. “Allowing the industry to continue down this dangerous path will open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences that could spell disaster for the free market online. At this critical crossroads, policies are urgently needed to protect Internet users and innovators from discrimination.”

The paper asserts that the emerging DPI business model, marketed for its ability to monitor, control and ultimately charge subscribers for every use of an Internet connection, poses a major threat to the open Internet. In just one of many examples, DPI manufacturer Allot describes how its DPI product “enables service providers to project potential revenues and profits from setting up a tiered service infrastructure” and allows providers to “reduce the performance of applications with negative influence on revenues (e.g. competitive VoIP services).”

DPI technology has played a central role in recent controversies surrounding Net Neutrality and online privacy. When Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, was caught secretly using DPI to block peer-to-peer applications, it was met with overwhelming public opposition and ultimately ordered by the Federal Communications Commission to stop the practice. And after advertising startup NebuAd, in partnership with several ISPs, used DPI to secretly monitor users’ Internet traffic and insert unwanted advertising, the company was investigated by Congress, dropped by its ISP partners and forced to abandon the business model.

Cox Communications is the latest ISP to receive public scrutiny for its use of DPI technology. The cable company is conducting trials of a new system that uses DPI to prioritize traffic from online applications it arbitrarily deems “time sensitive.” Cox has a history of DPI usage: Research by the Max Planck Institute in Germany last May indicated that Cox was engaging in the same blocking practice as Comcast.

“The Cox trial, coupled with other DPI abuses, is setting the alarming precedent that Internet service providers can pick winners and losers online,” said Chris Riley, policy counsel for Free Press and co-author of the paper. “DPI-enabled discrimination will reduce consumer choice and diminish the innovation at the edges that makes the Internet valuable. No short-term benefit can outweigh these long-term harms.”

Read Deep Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It?:…

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the Free Press.

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