They may call it “fingerprinting,” but they are after your ass:
- For months, the digital equivalent of a postal censor has been sorting through virtually all file-swapping traffic on the University of Wyoming’s network, quietly noting every trade of an Eminem song or “Friends” episode.
The technology, provided by Los Gatos, Calif., company Audible Magic, isn’t yet blocking individual file trades. But that’s the next step. As the company begins testing its service with more universities, corporations and small Internet service providers during next few weeks and months, this peer-to-peer monitoring and blocking technology threatens to open the next front in the online piracy wars.
With the capacity to look inside every bit of data that flows over a network–whether it’s part of a song being illegally traded or a personal e-mail–this new generation of antipiracy technology is sure to prove controversial. But some administrators at universities and corporations–deluged by peer-to-peer traffic that continues to overwhelm their networks–say they’re ready for this sweeping step.
“I don’t really want to be looking that closely at what people are doing, and you’d probably just as soon not have me looking either,” said Brad Thomas, a network specialist at the University of Wyoming who is helping manage the Audible Magic project. “But it’s getting to be the only way to control our bandwidth.”
….Audible Magic’s tools are among the first of a new generation that threatens to go much deeper inside the data stream, allowing a network operator to see exactly what files are being transferred.
The software lives inside a router or gateway to the broader Internet. As it is currently configured, it creates a copy of all the traffic flowing past, identifies those bits that are using FTP (file transfer protocol) or the Gnutella technology, and then re-creates those files to identify them.
The resulting reports have given Wyoming a look at what its students are actually trading and in what quantities. In one 24-hour period, for example, the most popular file traded using the Gnutella network was an MP3 by rap artist “Big Tymers,” which passed the network monitor 188 times.
Audible Magic is taking the program to a next round of beta tests with another university, a corporation and a small ISP during the next month, CEO Vance Ikezoye said.
The next step for the technology is actually blocking songs and other content, instead of just monitoring–much the same way that Napster wound up filtering songs under court order in the waning days of its service. Audible Magic has a music “fingerprint” library that it says can reliably identify more than 3.5 million different audio files. In theory, songs could be blocked as the data passes the network monitor and is compared against this database of fingerprints.
….Moreover, privacy concerns stemming from this kind of network monitoring would likely be deep and immediate. Already the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist group, has blasted the recording industry’s calls for deeper network traffic monitoring at universities.
“Monitoring the content of communications is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of educational institutions to foster critical thinking and exploration,” EPIC wrote in an open letter to universities in November 2002, which followed a Recording Industry Association of America letter to more than 2,000 university presidents. “Such a level of monitoring is not only impracticable; it is incompatible with intellectual freedom.” [CNET]