The Neutrality Myth

Last year, the internet broke out in conversation over proposed rules by the FCC to regulate Internet Service Providers to fight for so-called ‘net neutrality‘. The concept of net neutrality is that those that provide access to the internet should not have the ability to alter traffic speeds in order to favour certain sites over others. The significance behind this is that the internet was born out of freedom and openness. This allowed countless businesses, legitimate or otherwise, to have a great chance of success with millions of people. Out of this freedom, we have spawned eBay, Amazon, Facebook and Google – as well as innumerable others.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the past, have tried their best to capitalise on our never-ending consumption of online services, by trying to monetise them in, often nefarious, ways. One of these such ways is to introduce a tiered system, which would see consumers paying more for faster access to certain websites or services. For instance, AT&T considered introducing advanced QoS rules that would favour content from certain sites over others by increasing bandwidth to those sites.

One big player in this debate all along has been the video-streaming service Netflix. While Netflix have publicly been big proponents to the introduction of rules enforcing net neutrality, they have been accused of hypocrisy by entering into a deal with Australian ISP iiNet which would provided preferential treatment to data sent to and from Netflix’s servers to iiNet’s customers. The real controversy around this is that while it may be good for Netflix’s customers, it is not good for users of rival streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video or Now TV. Those services will receive unfavourable bandwidth limits, and thus consumers will flock to Netflix instead.

Now that is out of the way, you may be wondering what has been done about this. At least in the U.S., consumers are protected against this by legislation introduced by the FCC, which labels all ISPs as Type-2 service providers. This ruling means that ISPs are not authorised to alter traffic that they are providing. While this is all well and good, similar legislation is yet to be introduced in most other countries. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. The real purpose of this article is to inform you about a new form of favouritism which is compromising Net Neutrality. I’m talking about Digital Assistant, like those built into all modern smartphones.

While this may not be immediately obvious to you, these digital assistants are designed from the ground up to keep you locked into the developer’s online ecosystem. Some of the most popular digital assistants are: Apple’s Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. As you can tell, all of these are created by a company which already has an existing online ecosystem, usually including productivity apps, media apps, operating systems and shopping apps. The problem with this is that using these digital assistants daily makes you reliant on that service’s application ecosystem. For instance, Google Now only gives me weather recommendations, Calendar appointments and Travel info based on my usage of Google’s Calendar, Mail and Maps applications. If I use any other email or calendar provider, I’m simply out of look. It isn’t an easy task moving your data into or out of one of these monopolised ecosystems.

While it may seem like a small detail, but our reliance on technology as opposed to humans makes us more likely to be coerced by something showed to us by our smartphones. Not only do these digital assistants give us the low down on our itineraries, they also show us daily news. When we have giant companies picking what we see and what we don’t, who’s to say that they won’t be bias toward their political standpoints, or to their own news as opposed to those about a competitor?

Adam Galloway
Adam Galloway
Programmer and Project Supervisor. Lover of tea and witticisms, the typical British stereotype. Adores cryptography, privacy and human rights.

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