John Paczkowski

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Big Mother

att-star.jpgWho better than AT&T to filter the Internet for widespread copyright infringement? After all, the company has a fair bit of experience with just this sort of thing, having aided and abetted the National Security Agency in its warrantless domestic-surveillance efforts.

Anyway, together with NBC and Disney, AT&T has invested a combined $10 million in Vobile, a company whose VideoDNA is rumored to be the gold standard of video content recognition systems and is considering deploying it at the network level.

The mechanics of the initiative haven’t all been sorted out, but sources tell BusinessWeek that one scenario involves traffic on AT&T’s network being routed through racks of Vobile servers that would scan it for NBC Universal and Disney content. And perhaps child pornography as well, you know, just to make the idea of network-level monitoring a bit more palatable to the masses.

Such a strategy, if AT&T were to pursue it, would make the company the first major Internet carrier to implement a network solution to copyright enforcement. And it would beg a number of questions: Will AT&T police the Internet traffic of its customers alone? Or will it police traffic over all its backbones and peering points (IE: traffic from other ISPs)? The answers could be troubling.

Suffice to say privacy advocates who’ve been railing against AT&T over the NSA debacle and issues of Net neutrality aren’t exactly thrilled with the company’s latest move. “They better be very careful,” warned Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This is serious, serious stuff, to basically invade the privacy of all of your subscribers.”