With great power, apparently, comes little responsibility, and much wiggle room. At least that’s what transpires from the behavior of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the EU – the way it’s described in a letter signed by 45 academics, NGOs, and companies.
At the heart of this is the old story: the EU drafts decent guidelines, but the way the bloc is structured means it’s a struggle to actually implement them as rules on the ground, in all 28 member-states. And another thing that’s nothing new: the powerful role of ISPs in the internet industry food-chain, their full awareness of it, and willingness to bypass, reinterpret, or just plain ignore many rules.
Among those are net neutrality rules the EU adopted recently, which Techdirt says were an even better idea than the now overturned 2015 FCC regulation in the US.
The EU’s idea is to ensure net neutrality by prohibiting blocking, throttling, and other restrictions aimed against competitors, and also protect competition by legislating against zero rating schemes.
Something that ISPs in Europe have been caught doing red-handed, according to the letter, is using deep packet inspection to effectively undermine the concept of net neutrality, rather than that thing they are allowed to use the technology for: improving network traffic by examining it.
In fact, the letter said, ISPs are using this method to bring to life their zero-rating plans, i.e., identify traffic from specific applications to then assign different billing plans to them – or otherwise, throttle or give them an advantage on the network, as the case may be.
“IAS providers are increasingly using DPI technology for the purpose of traffic management and the differentiated pricing of specific applications or services (e.g. zero-rating) as part of their product design. DPI allows IAS providers to identify and distinguish traffic in their networks in order to identify traffic of specific applications or services for the purpose such as billing them differently throttling or prioritizing them over other traffic.”
Techdirt observes that in the US, ISPs are using deep packet inspection to track users and make money off the data gathered this way. This is not something much talked about, even in digital rights and privacy circles, who seems squarely focused on personal data abuses happening on Big Tech platforms – but ISPs are actually those entities who have the most data about internet users. And, they appear increasingly willing to make money from it.
Meanwhile, opting out of using an ISP is not exactly an option for an internet user like, for example, quitting Facebook.