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Castrated Internet on April11th?

(by Andreas Schiffler)

Many of us that maintain websites are (hopefully) aware of the upcoming "ActiveX D-Day" courtesy of Microsoft, Eolas and US patent law. You can read more about it here. So better get your HTML code in order soon ...

In short - the HTML <object><embed></embed> tags that render multimedia content will be effectively disabled in InternetExplorer - at least from a usability perspective - by a software update that will be pushed out on April 11th. This affects anyone who happens to run the automatic update service for Windows (i.e. just about anyone) or downloads the latest IE after April 11th. Once installed, this patch will interfer with any multimedia content on a website (Flash, MediaPlayer, Quicktime, etc.) and HTML changes "of the 3rd kind" are required on any webpage using these technologies to get everything working again.

While the Microsoft page on the issue creates utter confusion even for programmers like me (that's why everyone has avoided the issue in the first place I think) - see MSDN Article - our friends over at Apple have a helpful page detailing what to do in order to get your pages to continue working as usual with IE.

To get embedded Flash content - one of the most common formats on the web - ready for "D-Day", I have prepared a little helpful JavaScript file that should make it very easy to update a website: get the documented version which includes usage instructions or a minimized version with the same functionality at half the size.

Update 04/04: The following article has another solution, that allows one to keep the object tags in place.

By aschiffler | March 30, 2006
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eBay’s Effect towards Luxury Brands

Since the behemoth eBay has taken stronghold of investment auctioning online, many luxury brands are feeling the counterfeit crunch. With minimal screening for products posted online, the counterfeit market found a perfect place to move products in a virtually anonymous way. This is mainly due to the vastness of eBay’s reach. Sellers can come from literally anywhere in the world, making them nearly impossible to locate and even harder to prosecute. 

Recently in the US courts, the iconic fashion mogul Tiffany Co. filed a lawsuit against eBay Inc. for promotion of illegally produced items reflecting their brand name, in other words, trademark fraud. Following an investigation focused in 2004, Tiffany Co. will try to prove that 73% of 186 products offered on eBay where in fact counterfeit. The case has yet to go to court, but if the judgement is in favour of Tiffany Co., you can be sure that many other powerhouse brands will follows suit.   

Luxury items have long been the target of counterfeit. Amongst the most popular to be mimicked are Rolex and Gucci, to name a few. If lawsuits like these successfully pass through the judicial system, counterfeit methods of the 21 century could be stopped dead in their tracks.   

By IC-Academy | March 30, 2006 | News & Trends
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Growing Internet Usage = Increase in Online News Consumption

(By Lucas Roze, IC-Agency)

With the recent increase of Internet users switching from the dial-up format to the more efficient broadband, not only are users surfing a lot more but they are also gathering more news information. In a recent report published by Pew Internet & American Life Project (March 22), they highlight that "some 50 million Americans turn to the Internet for news on a typical day". They also polled 3,011 adults to determine that 1,931 are Internet users and 1,014 have broadband Internet access at home.
The report also stated that overall, Internet penetration rose from 58% to 70% in the past four years. This dependence on the Internet is in direct correlations with the increase of online computers in the workplace and the sheer mass of the population reliant for essential daily commodities and luxury items of all kinds.
Interestingly enough, broadband users are twice as likely to gather news information from the Internet as their dial-up counterparts. The reason for this could be that feeds take longer to load on dial-up and people are not willing to wait for the content to load, or, they simply prefer getting information from traditional vessels (i.e., television, newspapers).
Also, a new classification of users was determined by the study appropriately called “high-powered” users. These high-powered broadband users are labeled in such a way to reflect their online tendencies, which are much more active than the average home user. Furthermore, it was proven that they are better educated and earn a higher income. The 25% increase in daily online news gathering since 2002 is directly attributed to the growth of in-home broadband adoption and high-powered broadband usage.   
The way we gather information is critical and most times selective. Using free Internet tools such as alerts, which filter information based on keyword searches, allows us to focus on relevancy of interest. It also allows us to diligently gather news information that is pertinent to the user with little effort. It was said that 19% of all Internet users have set-up news alerts (23% of online readers and 61% of broadband users).
The increase in news gathering leads to a very positive spin-off for the economy and our world in general. Better educated individuals tend to make better social-economical decision and are more aware of their surroundings. Furthermore, the actual gathering process can save time and is based on un-biased sources throughout the Internet domain. Finally, Internet news gathering is much more environmentally friendly, for there is no physical waste once you empty your virtual trash bin.

By IC-Academy | March 28, 2006 | News & Trends
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Some Observation about Internet2, DRM and Personal Privacy

(by Andreas Schiffler, IC-Agency)

Some reports say that the routers of the upcoming Internet2 will execute a new generation of Digital Rights Management (DRM). Others claim that Internet2¹s routing protocol IPv6 can easier identify and locate P2P file sharers (they call it "identity and access management"). So, should we be concerned that our personal privacy is going to be under attack and DRM will rule our media world?

Let's have a quick look at the glossary entry for "digital rights management" (DRM) on Microsoft's site:
"Any technology used to protect the interests of owners of content and services (such as copyright owners). Typically, authorized recipients or users must acquire a license in order to consume the protected material—files, music, movies—according to the rights or business rules set by the content owner."
(from http://www.microsoft.com/security/glossary.mspx)

There are the two named components for DRM in this definition:
1. the material must be protected
2. the recipient must be authorized

The first part is easy to explain. An encryption algorithm is used to scramble the bits. One needs to know/have the key to unscramble the data. Once scrambled however, nobody - not even an I2 router - can know what the content is unless it is at least partially decrypted. Actually the last statement isn't entirely correct ... an I2 router cannot unscramble the data IF the sender and the receiver have the choice of algorithm.

The second part is the core of DRM. It usually means that the recipient must have a sufficiently hard to break physical permanent key or a temporary key that is usually acquired via a network. There are variations on these schemes (key hierarchies, public keys, etc.) but it always boils down to a permanent-physical or temporary-dynamic key.

An example for type1 key distribution would be the current DVD encryption model (CSS) which is part of a software or inside a chip in a DVD player. Another good example of this will be the upcoming High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) use which encrypts/decrypts digital video content flowing between players and PCs into screens. Again the core is a physical device with a key and algorithm inside.

An example for the type2 dynamic keys, would be the iTunes login. It generates a per-user key which is used to unlock the received content. This method is currently a favored approach by many - including Microsoft for its MediaPlayer DRM - as it allows the right to be remotely managed (i.e. revoked if necessary) and monitored. This feature is for example used to allow a user to "burn" an iTunes song onto a CD N-times from within the iTunes software. It also allows for extensive tracking of content use and typically requires a permanent network connection for content to be consumed.

The "permanent connectivity" is where we are headed in my view. Currently, we are dependent on power to consume digital content. Many devices require already a "back-haul" to enable digital content to be accessed. Satellite PPV in Canada and the US uses a phone call to retrieve the key. The cable companies already have a digital network to provide Internet services which can be used to unlock OnDemand PVR programming. So basically, we are heading into a world where we are dependent on connectivity to consume digital content. Currently, the HD distributors play down such a requirement for their HD-player hardware ("no it will never happen") without mentioning that this only applies to first generation HD content and future content might well require a network connection.

Of course Microsoft likes this very much as they are the provider for networked devices (Windows on the Desktop or Devices) and key-managers (Windows on the Server). That's why they were so avidly engaged in pushing their view for the new HD standard and formats like WMV.

Back to the Internet2 connection with this: Remember the first stipulation on decryption of the data - only if the protocol (or algorithm) is controlled and a standard, does I2 have a chance to snoop on the data flowing over it. So what implications does this have for the I2 control over content?

While an I2 routers primary job is to send data around, it could be used to filter data packets more efficiently. IPv6 has provisions to facilitate this more than the current IPv4 does through a larger address space and some special bits. Also the infrastructure is currently being designed. While the old ARPA Internet was build to "just work" and filtering was added more an afterthought, the new I2 hardware can be designed with particular filtering features right from the start. This is where the "encryption" of part 1 comes in ... there are several algorithms that provide more than one key to decrypt data. Such a secondary key could then be used to snoop in data that is considered safe. Again however this highly specific to the content being transported - so if I pull out my PGP program and encrypt a movie that I want to send to my friend using a 2048 AES scheme, no I2 router in the world will know that is transmitted. Of course my friend will have to get the key using good old sneaker-net ...

The more likely approach will be to hook into the second part of DRM ... the key exchanges. This is technically easier since keys are small and will also be required for many content accesses. While key management is typically the domain of the key-server, the I2 infrastructure could be used to track and filter key exchanges independent of the key-servers. Again, similar to the encryption snooping above, this requires that the key exchanges are standardized in some form so the I2 hardware knows what is being exchanged is a key. Again I could pull out my PGP program and encrypt my the key for my friend plus embed it into an image (steganography) and send it via email entitled "Fun Stuff". By the time the I2 router has find the key in the data, I am done watching the movie.

Now as for P2P control - this is an easy one. I2 will simply make is easier to control via better blocking capabilities down to the port level.

But there is a problem - the Internet providers. Currently most P2P and VoIP activity of home users is legally in the gray-zone. Most providers stipulate in their usage agreement document that running a server at home is forbidden (go check your contract). Sure enough, when I had more uploads one month than downloads, by provider Cogeco send me an email asking me to disable my "server" (I had just received some uploads from a friend). So why do they bother with metering and not just turn off my uploads. Fortunately for us, most data exchange programs including any P2P client and VoIP stuff like Skype are really little servers. Skype for example uses P2P technology and possibly YOUR PC (if it directly connected to the Internet) to connect two users behind NAT firewalls which would otherwise not be able to talk or send files. This is the staple of all providers - the way they make money and upsell you to the latest High-Speed service. In fact they are the group who are currently between the MPAA and - for example - Canadian P2P downloaders.

Again we hit I2 here ... because an Internet Provider is itself being provided by - you guessed it - the I2 network (in the future at least). So if the local provider isn't filtering, his upstream provider will. So if a local provider does not want to risk being shut down, filtering becomes possibly a necessity at the provider level. But there is one more factor: providers can lower their cost dramatically with I2 - their main cost right now is the per Gigabyte bandwidth charges to their upstream provider. I2 will not just make everything faster, but foremost lower the per Gig cost for local providers. This is a goldmine for the providers which will keep the prices high for the consumer (the carrot will be a doubling of speeds or bigger bandwidth allowance) - I foresee that they will embrace I2 and at the same time implement a more strict P2P filtering in the future. They can do that with I2, because they can afford to loose 10-20% of customers (the downloaders) and offset the losses through the lowering of bandwidth costs through I2. Makes perfect business sense ...

Where does this leave free information flow? I2 will certainly aid in the implementation of filtering mechanisms at all levels for good and not so good purposes. Future DRM will prevent "ripping" of content into non-DRM formats. The Internet community at large will always work around it (i.e. envision my PGP example above fully automated) - so at the moment, consider all current DVD material out thare available for sharing and all future HD stuff locked away. The I2 powers at work will always try to shut down "illegal activity" but at the same time play catch up with the current protocol of the day. The P2P downloaders will have to live with a reality of being tracked and lower efficiencies of their protocols (i.e. onion-routing). And remember, "never underestimate the bandwidth of a jumbo-jet full of floppy disks!"

A few months ago it was reported that "The recording industry (RIAA) and hollywood (MPAA) are keen on figuring out I2. They quickly sued students over i2hub." Note that there is nothing I2 specific in this, other than I2 was used to transfer bytes. Since the perceived damage goes up with download speeds which are very high on I2, it was of course targeted by the watchdogs right away.

All of this feels a bit "big-brothereske" - so, what can we do? I think there are a few things that actually might keep future I2 and DRM scenarios less monopolized. One is to promote open standards and to limit use of closed schemes. The idea of an "digital ecosystem" that is rich in open protocols is appealing. Maybe don't use Microsoft's WMV stuff if you don't have to. And don't get too used to the conveniences of DRM-embracing services like iTunes. Maybe stick with the good'ol DVD standard for now until the DRM wars on the HD front have proven to protect the consumer.

To finish off this article, I want to share a few "finds" related to "bandwidth management" on _todays_ internet. Interestingly enough, Canadas ISPs - which seemed relatively bening on the P2P front as compared to the US and European ISPs - are involved in some secret "network optimizations" of their own. Regadless of these developmens, I2 deployment will likely make it easier and more efficient for all players in the Internet infrastructure to "manage" (i.e. filter) traffic flows, sicne raw network filtering is really nothing new and protocol level proxying which puts your websurfing through _their_ servers is in common use already today.

Links: Limiting P2P

In the p2p arena, providers seem to cap bandwidth usage - on the forums, the talk was that the new residential VoIP service was impacted by heavy p2p users prompting a filtering of the p2p ports at these providers. Since almost all providers worldwide are having some VoIP plan, I expect to see this kind of restriction to become very common.

Shaw secretly limits BitTorrent uploads

Rogers Bit Torrent Cat & Mouse

Links: Limiting VoIP

Since VoIP is a new cash cow for ISPs and they control their networks, filtering the competition out of the datastream seems like a typical business trend. We'll have to see what the regulators have to say ... especially contentious, since most broadband connections are operated by the traditional Telcos which, while regulated heavily, seem to have a bigger stake than all to retain voice communication customers at all costs.

Cable Companies: We'll Kill VoIP

Links: Australian ISPs

Australian ISPs seems to keep a keep a layed back approach for now - but then a 10G cap is meager pickings (I get a 102G/month cap) which will probably not satisfy users in the years to come (its the bandwidth needed for a daily 1.5h VoIP call). Plus the p2p police is not far ...
   Big three ISPs say peer-to-peer OK

Australian ISP raided in BitTorrent crackdown

Links: China's Firewall

Of course we enjoy still a relatively unobstructed dataflow compared to other countries. Interestingly enough, I2 might become more irrelevant for the bulk of users from China, as this massive country prepares its own Internet - likely complete with content filters integrated at every edge of the network infrastructure. With that in mind, Google's recent debacle on search filtering seems like a reasonable business decision to me after all. They face sineo-irrelevancy with a decade in my view anyhow.

Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China

China Prepares to Launch Alternate Internet

By aschiffler | March 27, 2006 | News & Trends
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