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How Facebook, Google will kill small websites under the blanket of Net neutrality

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By Harshmeet Singh

Of the few remaining things in the world that do not discriminate among people, Internet occupies the top spot. Net neutrality lies at the very framework of the Internet. In raw terms, net neutrality simply means that all your websites or data would be treated equally by the ISP, without giving any special preference to a particular website or service.

What’s the harm in taking away net neutrality?

Imagine a scenario where your internet data pack is only applicable to a few websites, and you are required to shell out an extra amount for the data consumed on YouTube and Skype. As absurd as it may seem, this is what some major companies are vouching for.

Forms of net neutrality in developed nations  

In most of the developed nations, where internet speeds are considerably higher and consistent, net neutrality is about all the websites and apps being equally accessible, without any special treatment being given to anyone. The opposition to net neutrality is backed up by a number billion dollar companies who can afford to pay the ISPs to ‘fast-track’ their websites in comparison to their competitors. For instance, only those shopping websites would be given the ‘fast lane’ by the ISP which have paid an extra fee. While all the other competitors would be pushed towards ‘slow lane’. This could lead to market monopoly and shrinking of options for the customers.

Net neutrality in India

In countries like India, where internet speeds are comparatively slower, there are no ‘fast lanes’ as such. Here, net neutrality takes the form of extra charges for select services. For instance, in December last year, Airtel floated a plan to charge extra for Viber and Skype calls, refusing to accommodate the data usage from these apps into the usual data packs. After facing strong reactions from the consumers as well as the Government authorities, Airtel decided to defer its plans. Surprisingly, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) is yet to frame any laws against violation of net neutrality.

Who’s supporting it anyway?

It isn’t difficult to decipher who would be the biggest gainer if net neutrality is taken away. The major ISPs, such as AT & T are pulling together all their resources to trash net neutrality. Why? Because they stand a chance to earn a fortune after the demise of net neutrality! The big ISPs would be treated with millions of dollars from the companies to fast-track their apps and websites.

The major online companies, who have the capacity of shelling out money to kill the competition from newer competitors, also favour the campaign against net neutrality. It would give them a set platform to make good use of their money power and gain monopoly in the market.

Whose idea is it though?

The Chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, first came out with an idea of trashing net neutrality and giving internet into the hands of major ISPs such as Verizon and AT & T. After strong nation-wide protest across the US, the FCC, in February 2015, upheld net neutrality, with Wheeler saying “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept.”

 

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Google, Facebook Secretly Tracking Your Porn-viewing Habits

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers

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Google, smart compose
The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

If you think watching pornographic material in the “incognito” mode will not let anyone know, you are mistaken. Google, Facebook and even Oracle cloud are secretly tracking the porn you watch even when you switch on the “incognito” mode on your laptop or smartphone.

A new joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania that investigated 22,484 sex websites using a tool called “webXray” revealed that 93 per cent of pages track and leak users’ data to third-party organisations.

“Tracking on these sites is highly concentrated by a handful of major companies,” said the researchers who identified 230 different companies and services tracking users in their sample.

Of non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74 per cent of sites, Oracle 24 per cent and Facebook 10 per cent.

Porn-specific trackers in the top 10 are exoClick (40 per cent), JuicyAds (11 per cent), and EroAdvertising (9 per cent).

“The majority of non-pornography companies in the top 10 are based in the US, while the majority of pornography-specific companies are based in Europe,” said the study.

The researchers – Elena Maris, Microsoft Research; Timothy Libert, Carnegie Mellon University; and Jennifer Henrichsen, University of Pennsylvania – said they successfully extracted privacy policies for 3,856 sites, 17 per cent of the total.

“The policies were written such that one might need a two-year college education to understand them. The content analysis indicated 44.97 per cent of them expose or suggest a specific gender/sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user,” said the study to be published in the journal New Media & Society.

The team created a hypothetical profile named “Jack” who decides to view porn on his laptop.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
FILE – In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Facebook stickers are laid out on a table at F8, Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, Calif. The Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy announced in May that Facebook is building a… VOA

Jack enables “incognito” mode in his browser, assuming his actions are now private. He pulls up a site and scrolls past a small link to a privacy policy. Assuming a site with a privacy policy will protect his personal information, Jack clicks on a video.

“What Jack does not know is that incognito mode only ensures his browsing history is not stored on his computer. The sites he visits, as well as any third-party trackers, may observe and record his online actions,” the researchers noted.

These third-parties may even infer Jack’s sexual interests from the URLs of the sites he accesses. They might also use what they have decided about these interests for marketing or building a consumer profile. They may even sell the data.

Jack has no idea these third-party data transfers are occurring as he browses videos.

“His assumption that porn websites will protect his information, along with the reassurance of the ‘incognito’ mode icon on his screen, provide Jack a fundamentally misleading sense of privacy as he consumes porn online,” wrote the researchers.

The above hypothetical scenario occurs frequently in reality and is indicative of the widespread data leakage and tracking that can occur on porn sites, they added.

Also Read: Instagram to Now Alert Violators Before Deleting Accounts

In 2017, Pornhub, one of the largest porn websites, received 28.5 billion visits, with users performing 50,000 searches per second on the site.

Statistics vary as to the amount of overall porn activity on the internet, but a 2017 report indicated porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and that “30 per cent of all the data transferred across the Internet is porn”, with site YouPorn using six times more bandwidth than Hulu.

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers. (IANS)