Investor’s Business Daily on Filtering

by on September 11, 2007 · 9 comments

Brian Deagon’s August 6, 2007 article in Investor’s Business Daily, August 6, 2007, “Technology Doomed To Failure, Some Critics Say,” includes some remarks about filtering worth thinking about. The assurance of the quoted critics is convincing, but they seem to be missing a good part of the picture.

One argument is an analogy to Napster:

With the collapse of Napster, which enabled the exchange of music files through a centralized computer system, programmers developed peer-to-peer file-sharing systems such as Kazaa. With P2 P, the content resides on the computers of millions of individuals who download the software that lets them share files across the Web. . . Developers will surely try to subvert any filtering system.

And the article goes, quoting Public Knowledge in describing one method of subversion:

And with the content inspection approach, pirates could subvert the system by encrypting their files so that filters can’t identify them. . . Most P2 P technologies today don’t encrypt their signal, but all of them could.

The success of this method in foiling filters, though, depends on whether any features of what the filter is looking for survive encryption. Most watermarks are being designed to do just this (they need to be able to survive analogy conversion, as well).

More importantly, though, is the fact that the legal context had changed since Napster. Developers can develop subversion tactics until they are blue in the face, but so long as their use is held to a gray or black market, well, this is something content can deal with. Because of Grokster, though, a “subvert filter” menu isn’t going to show up on YouTube backed by the might of Google.

A second set of concerns expressed in the article is that the filters could tag and block legal content. A filtering system set up to look for content registered by the copyright owner isn’t going to be collecting a whole lot of mom’s photos of junior, it seems to me. The tricky part will be clips and bits and quotes. This is a real problem, if eBay’s trademark enforcement system is a model to go by. But it seems like one of those bridges that an appropriate procedure for contested blockings could cross when it comes to it, not a show-stopper of a problem.

Then there are privacy concerns, which rest on a misapprehension of privacy rights.

And last but not least, the concern that effort on developing filters is being misplaced; instead, the content community should be adding features that let them compete with “free.” But “free” comes in different flavors, shapes, and sizes, and competing with “free” without the help of technology will be like trying to sell bottled water without the bottles.

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