AT&T Plans to Block Pirated Online Content

AT&T Plans to Block Pirated Online Content

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, AT&T senior VP James Cicconi has revealed that AT&T has started working with movie studios and record companies to develop antipiracy technology which would detect and block pirated content from traversing the company’s Internet networks.

The announcement makes AT&T the first major Internet carrier to undertake explicit engineering efforts to block piracy at the network level, and opens a host of technical, ethical, business, and consumer privacy issues the company will have to deal with—even assuming it can develop the type of technology it envisions. In essence, AT&T would assume the role of “copyright cop,” deciding what content can and cannot traverse its networks.

AT&T apparently believes that by engineering a network which is “safe” from digital piracy, the company will gain an upper hand in negotiations and distribution deals with movie studios and record labels as the digital media juggernaut continues to accelerate. If AT&T can make the argument that offering digital media on its network will not contribute to digital piracy, the company may be able to leverage exclusive deals from content providers—and possibly charge a premium for distributing media over its network. “We do recognize that a lot of our future business depends on exciting and interesting content,” Cicconi told the Los Angeles Times.

However, the move has also engendered a barrage of criticism from technologists and public interest groups. Technologies argue AT&T’s move will only create an “arms race” between AT&T’s antipiracy efforts and those seeking technical means to circumvent the measures: after all, antispam technology has not put an end to spam, antivirus technology has not put an end to malware, and copy protection schemes (like the currently beleaguered AACS) have not put an end to movie piracy. Public interest groups and privacy rights advocates point out that by inspecting user’s Internet traffic, AT&T is effectively saying that it can (and will) peer into every bit of data generated by its Internet customers and make a decision as to whether that data constitutes copyright infringement.

AT&T says it plans to only target repeat offenders, and will work within the boundaries of privacy laws and principles on online freedoms put forth by the Federal Communications Commission. But the sheer size of AT&T’s Internet network means that any widespread deployment of antipiracy technology will impact millions of Internet users, regardless of whether they are AT&T customers or not: AT&T operates a number of backbones and peering points in addition to regional and private networks, and a good deal of ordinary Internet traffic traverses AT&T’s network without either originating there or being destined for AT&T systems or customers. And consumers unhappy with any technology AT&T deploys may have no option but to accept it: AT&T control local monopolies on phone service in many areas where broadband alternatives are slim to none; the company is also aggressively rolling out fiber to the home as part of its U-verse offerings.

The technical hurdles to such sweeping antipiracy tools are not insignificant. Of course, transfer of copyrighted material can be perfectly legal, in the case of authorized copies and fair use exceptions like parody and excerpts. Will AT&T’s network be smart enough to make snap decisions regarding ownership, licensing, and copyright law? Erroneously blocking legitimate content the network believes to be pirated will be a quick way to irritate customers. Also, from a historical perspective, “dumb” networks which make no attempt to distinguish between types of data being transferred historically perform better than “smart” networks which attempt to manage or inspect data, for the simple reason that fewer things can go wrong with a “dumb” network, where a seemingly simply configuration change on a strongly managed network can have unexpected consequences. AT&T may find network-based antipiracy technology will earn the goodwill of studios and content producers, but cost them dearly in customer satisfaction and reliability.

Computing

How the Google Stadia could lead to a new era of multi-GPU gaming

Google's Stadia could use more than one graphics card to deliver the high-performance visuals it's promised. If that leads to better developer support for multi-GPUs, could that mean gaming with two or more graphics cards could finally be…
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Google Fi: Phones, plans, pricing, perks, and more explained

Google's wireless service, formerly Project Fi, now goes by the name of Google Fi, and it's now compatible with a majority of Android phones, as well as iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Google Fi.
Computing

Dodge the cryptojackers with the best torrent clients available today

Looking for the best torrent clients to help you share all of that wonderful legal content you own? Here's a list of our favorite torrent clients, all packed with great features while dodging malware and adverts.
Deals

This is the one thing you need to do before giving your child a smart phone or tablet

Monitoring your kids' digital habits can be a challenge in today’s high-tech age, but great parental control software like Qustodio gives parents a much-needed advantage Read on to find out how you can protect your child from online…
Computing

Intel gives a peek at what its Arctic Sound GPU could look like

A new set of concept images shown at GDC 2019 is providing a peek at what Intel's upcoming modern discrete GPU, code-named. Arctic Sound, could end up looking like when released in 2020.
Deals

Here are the best Chromebook deals available in March 2019

Whether you want a compact laptop to enjoy some entertainment on the go, or you need a no-nonsense machine for school or work, we've smoked out the best cheap Chromebook deals -- from full-sized laptops to 2-in-1 convertibles -- that won't…
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for March 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

Still miss Windows 7? Here's how to make Windows 10 look more like it

There's no simple way of switching on a Windows 7 mode in Windows 10. Instead, you can install third-party software, manually tweak settings, and edit the registry. We provide instructions for using these tweaks and tools.
Computing

Go hands-free in Windows 10 with speech-to-text support

Looking for the dictation, speech-to-text, and voice control options in Windows 10? Here's how to set up Speech Recognition in Windows 10 and use it to go hands-free in a variety of different tasks and applications within Windows.
Computing

Get the most out of your high-resolution display by tweaking its DPI scaling

Windows 10 has gotten much better than earlier versions at supporting today's high-resolution displays. If you want to get the best out of your monitor, then check out our guide on how to adjust high-DPI scaling in Windows 10.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

We're glad to see that USB-C is quickly becoming the norm. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone. We've got USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A.
Deals

Looking for a Chromebook? The Google PixelBook just got a $200 price cut

Once relatively obscure, Chromebooks have come into their own in a big way in recent years. One of our favorites is the super-sleek Google Pixelbook, and it's on sale right now from Amazon for $200 off, letting you score this premium laptop…
Computing

Nvidia’s GTX 1650 graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over the 1050 Ti

Rumors suggest Nvidia might soon launch the GTX 1650, and a leaked benchmark listing from Final Fantasy XV suggests that the new graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over last generation's GTX 1050 Ti.