Monday, October 31, 2011

Net Neutrality and the Amazon Fire

It could be said that the nature of technological development and the nature of government regulation are diametrically opposed. One is constantly evolving and enthusiastically pursued at an unprecedented rate; the other a system of compromises begrudgingly instituted after months of fettering debate. It’s unsurprising, then, that the speed of legislation pales in comparison to the speed at which tech companies are able to develop new, better and different products. In recent years, attempts made by the government to protect the media consumption and expression rights of its citizens have often been thwarted by Internet service providers that are incredibly motivated to direct the flow of online traffic to suit their interests.
In fact, the current batch of FCC rules regarding net neutrality, instituted just last year, are already being sidestepped by new technologies. Amazon’s newest toy, the “Fire” tablet (an offshoot from their “Kindle” line of e-readers), has become the target of criticism regarding its browser’s processing system. The Kindle uses a new browser technology dubbed “Silk,” which allows for faster page load times on the tablet computer. Although this new browser technology would usually be seen as an improvement, complaints have surfaced about the browser’s potential to serve as a gatekeeper for certain web sites.  

In 2010 the FCC banned ISPs from employing this very practice. Unfortunately, with the way the FCC has defined the term “ISP,” Amazon may be able to escape any enforcement of its rule by arguing that they are not technically an ISP.  Until the FCC can modify its definition of ISP to include mobile devices like the Fire, manufacturers of these products will be able to escape regulation that protects the freedom of expression and consumption its users are entitled to via net neutrality rules.

What’s more, because the Fire is designed around the oft-touted cloud technology, Fire users face a risk that the new device may violate their privacy rights. This is because the cloud system of computing stores user data in off-device locations, which can then be farmed for consumer data at any time. Concerns have been raised that this technology would allow the corporation to collect web-browsing data on any of its users. 

In a world where the web has replaced television as the most popular news delivery source, it is clear that we need to protect our citizens’ rights to free consumption and expression on the Internet. It follows, then, that our government must adapt its practices to account for the unprecedented pace at which technologies are developing and altering the landscape of media consumption in this country. 

Ben Cukerbaum

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