Google and net neutrality: researching ISP traffic blocking
January 28th, 2009

(Thanks to Adam Tolnay for the link)

Reuters reported today that Google will be extending efforts to study possible service delays and blocking by service providers such as Comcast and Cox:

The scheme is the latest bid in the debate over network neutrality, which pits content companies like Google against some Internet service providers.

The ISPs say they need to take reasonable steps to manage ever-growing traffic on their networks for the good of all users. Content and applications companies fear the providers have the power to discriminate, favoring some traffic over others.

Of course, although Google sides with many net neutrality advocates in undertaking this research, Google also stands to benefit from keeping internet traffic as free and accessible as possible:

Google has a business interest in keeping users’ experiences fast and efficient, said Google policy analyst Derek Slater, who reserved further judgment until he could learn more about the new Cox policy.

“Our ability to innovate still depends on end users being able to use their broadband connections to access Google. To the extent that consumers are having problems doing that, that can directly hurt Google.”

I think this also raises some interesting questions about what kind of information this research will uncover, in terms of how service providers manage traffic — and about who is pursuing the research, and where they focus their efforts. What might be other applications or uses of these methods, and are there any additional ethical or privacy concerns regarding this kind of data?

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