Catching Comcast

A new Net neutrality test lets you spy on Comcast -- to see if it's spying on you!

Published August 5, 2008 9:15PM (EDT)

On Monday, Comcast was ordered by the Federal Communications Commission to stop secretly using "discriminatory" techniques to interfere with file-sharing applications like BitTorrent. The decision was a surprisingly swift and sensible response (for the FCC, anyhow) to the news that broke in October 2007, when first the Associated Press and then the Electronic Frontier Foundation caught the company spoofing and jamming Internet traffic.

By harmonic convergence, also on Monday, EFF released an open-source, "test your ISP" software tool that will let you check your own Net connection for ongoing Comcastian interference.

Called Switzerland, EFF says it's:

designed to detect the modification or injection of packets of data traveling over IP networks, including those introduced by anti-P2P tools from Sandvine (widely believed to be used by Comcast to interfere with BitTorrent uploads) and AudibleMagic, advertising injection systems like FairEagle, censorship systems like the Great Firewall of China, and other systems that we don't know about yet.

The tool performs three critical functions. One, it spots data transmissions that have been forged or modified between clients. Two, it tells you if your connection is being messed with. And three, it gives you copies of the modified packets as evidence. Sweet.

But if you aren't a sophisticated network user, you'll probably want to wait a little while, or have one of your network-geek friends run it for you. This is an alpha release, command line tool, with all the attendant caveats that you have to understand in order to not get yourself into trouble that you can't get yourself out of.

Public Knowledge, one of the FCC complainants, has a comprehensive resource page on the complaint. Its founder, Gigi Sohn, wrote a terrific post on the victory -- "Comcast Decision Scratches a 20-Year Itch" -- for PK's policy blog. (Full disclosure: I am a member of PK's advisory board.)

By Denise Caruso

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