Netflix

Privacy As Currency

Privacy As Currency

Arguments for and against the use of "Big Data" to tailor services and advertisements litter the blogosphere, but one thing is certain: Without this data, many of the tools society depends on would be inconceivable. However, these revolutionary tools aren't without consequences.  In one prolific example, captured by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, the national retailer Target predicts the pregnancy of, and sends relevant advertisements to, a teenage girl at such an early stage of her pregnancy that her family, friends, and boyfriend had not yet been informed of the new development. The situation caused such an uproar among privacy advocates and those against general 'creepiness' of the situation, that Target artificially diluted the accuracy of its algorithms in order to prevent alienating future customers. 

While companies like Target grapple with the nuances of using this data, break through technologies have emerged that enable us to turn our unused rooms into mini-hostels, prevent food shortages in Philadelphia, and create insanely popular TV shows like Luke Cage. Unfortunately, these technologies face the same privacy concerns that Target once grappled with, and the privacy debate continues to evolve.  This evolution must continuously be refined as society and technology advance, or the political, legal, and ethical frameworks it helped create will no longer provide much protection. Unfortunately, while this debate has evolved around the safety of consumers and the protection of data, there has been little discussion about the economic security of consumers and their data.

Just as countless technological innovations were made possible throughout human history by capitalizing on previously wasted byproducts, data must one day cease to be treated as happenstance, and be understood for the value it possesses. It's not enough for the government to protect the only physical safety of its citizens, it must enable its citizens to be educated and capable enough to fight for their economic security in light of a booming industry. It's only in doing so that consumers will be able to understand the true cost of their consumerism.

 

Star Wars: An Abridged History

Star Wars: An Abridged History

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens hitting theaters this week, it'll be a helpful reminder to know about where we are in the Extended Universe.  I'll be covering canon, non-canon but legitimate, and retconned material that's simply too good to ignore in a brief synopsis of Star Wars history.

It's worth noting that since we don't yet know the plot of The Force Awakens I can't accurately portray events beyond the destruction of the Death Star, so I'll only be covering three eras of Star Wars history:  The Old Republic, The Rise of the Empire, and The Rebellion.  Each of these eras have a date associated with them annotated in BBY or ABY, which stand for Before (or After) theBattle of Yavin.  Within these eras, I've outlined the books, games, movies, and animated series in chronological order; however, there is a significant amount of overlap in some areas of the franchise, so the order may not be precise.

So, without further adieu, let's get you spun up on Star Wars history so you can fully enjoy the face melting awesomeness that awaits us next week!

Hang on, I'm Saving the Internet

Hang on, I'm Saving the Internet

By now, it's pretty self-evident that I spend a lot of time blogging about issues that could have a direct, negative, impact on the Internet as we know it: SOPA (et al), PRISM, and the new Net Neutrality issues.  To our credit, the collective will of the Internet has been heard to prevent, reform, or significantly alter all of these issues (PRISM is in progress) and Net Neutrality is no different.

Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies; but all that could change.

Peering and Net Neutrality

There's been a lot discussion over the last few weeks after the Federal Communications Commission's "Net Neutrality" regulations were over turned and allegations of throttling for content heavy providers ensued.  These allegations are a lot more complicated than they would first appear, and it's not as simple as "Verizon is throttling Netflix."  In fact, the way that internet traffic is exchanged between multiple internet service providers (ISP), like Sprint and Verizon, is a bit complicated under a concept known as peering which is explained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation below:

 

Connections between web service providers, web sites, and ISPs depend on agreements to exchange Internet traffic with each other, or “peering” links. Operators of backbone and web services make peering agreements with ISPs about how to exchange Internet traffic so that data can be carried efficiently from one part of the Internet to another.

 

Mitch Wagner explains how this works with a little less jargon:

 

Two networks of comparable size will exchange traffic for free if each is sending roughly the same amount of traffic to the other. However, when the relationship is disproportionate, the network that sends significantly more traffic will often write a check to the receiving network to cover the costs. It's kind of like if everybody is going to a potluck dinner. If everybody brings the same amount of food that they eat, that's OK. But if one person habitually eats more than he brings, everybody else might ask that person to pay some money just to keep everything fair.

 

Peering agreements were traditionally handled at the ISP level (Comcast and Sprint, for example) where ISPs would agree what, if any, fiscal compensation was required to level the data transfer requirements, and typically these negotiations are transparent to the customer.  However, as Cogent and Sprint users might remember from 2008, they can spiral out of control enough to cause traffic outages.  Furthermore, ISPs have been known to withhold critical infrastructure upgrades to gain leverage in peering negotiations to the detriment of their consumers.

  

However, for all of the faults that we've seen as a result of peering, it has been overwhelmingly in our benefit.  Take Africa and South America for example; these continents are notorious for ISPs competing with one another and refusing to peer. As a result, the internet connectivity in these regions is astonishingly poor (maps).  So for all of the negative publicity that peering has gotten over the last month, it's worth remembering that it has ushered in a new era of high speed connectivity and globalization.

 

So what does this have to do with Netflix?  The prolific Comcast and Netflix deal signifies a shift from ISP - ISP peering to ISP - Product peering agreements.  Some pundits stipulate that this could signal a downward spiral of internet innovation as the ISP market increasingly collapses to a smaller number of superpowers where the peering burden is increasingly placed on the product owners.  While this is absolutely a possibility, we still have a few more steps before internet innovation is harmed.

  

Most notable among these steps is to prevent anti-trust abuses of ISPs and to ensure that while barriers to entry remain high, they are not artificially fabricated by the oligarchy of ISP superpowers. Unfortunately, this can be a little tricky to navigate as ISPs and city governments have a history of shady courtship prior to installing new infrastructure.  Similarly, as we've seen in politics at the federal level, lobbyists of superpowers can be difficult to ignore, making the free market more difficult to maintain.

  

So where does that leave your average consumer?

  

Potentially screwed.  The free market only operates at equilibrium if everyone acts in their own self interests.  If you are waiting for legislation to force companies to act in your self interest, you are going to be sorely disappointed. So if you find yourself giving your business to a company that isn't furthering your own interests (be it Wal-Mart, Verizon, or General Motors), change companies!