Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Search Engine Shenanigans

When Verizon started rolling out their FiOS fiber-to-the-home service in select areas earlier this year, more than a few folks were excited about the new offering. We can't say that we blame them -- who doesn't want a faster Internet? Yet if recent developments offer any indication, the price that users pay for speedier service might be more than what's listed on the bill. FiOS users are reporting that when a URL is typed into their web browser, instead of a run-of-the-mill error message, they're redirected to Verizon's own search page. This might seem fairly innocuous on the surface, but it also raises questions about net neutrality.

Verizon's redirection allows it to profit from web ads hosted on its search site -- at the expense of users who might not want to see the company's search engine every time they produce a typo.

Musician fingers are pretty deft, but everybody mistypes here and there. And conceivably, ISPs could start redirecting traffic even if a URL is entered correctly. That opens up an even bigger can of worms. Imagine typing "Save the Internet" -- the name of a coalition that works to establish strong net neutrality principles -- only to be sent to "Hands Off the Internet," an ironically named shill group paid for by the cable and telephone companies that tries to eliminate any rules protecting an open Internet.

Verizon's search switcheroo poses a number of potential security and configuration issues, as its implementation involves the tweaking of user DNS settings. (That's web lingo for the process of changing an alphabetic domain name to a numeric IP address.) But perhaps more significantly, it presages a future where an ISP could use this strategy to promote other products. Mistyped the name of an artist's website? No problem, your ISP will happily redirect you to its own music store!

At the moment, all users can access the content, or run the applications and devices of their choice. But this could change if Big Telecom has its way.

FMC has long supported net neutrality. In fact, that's what Rock the Net is all about. Founding bands of this campaign to preserve net neutrality include R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Ted Leo, Death Cab for Cutie, Boots Riley of The Coup, Calexico and Kronos Quartet.

Check out the official RTN site and/or MySpace page and join thousands of artists and fans in demanding that the Internet remain open and neutral.

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