There have been increasing cases of government censorship of the internet and throttling of supposedly high-speed connections by broadband providers recently, but it has been difficult for the victims of these actions to actually capture evidence that these things are occurring. Now, Google’s Focused Research program aims to change that.
The program has just awarded researchers at Georgia Tech a 2-year, $1 million dollar package to fund the creation of digital tools that will help internet users around the world monitor their connections for signs of censorship and throttling. In the third year, an additional $500,000 may be granted to continue the project, if necessary.
“Ultimately we hope this project will help create a ‘transparency ecosystem,’ where more and more users will take advantage of the measurement tools, which in turn will improve the accuracy and comprehensiveness of our analysis,” said Wenke Lee, Professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Computer Science.
“For example, say something happens again like what happened in Egypt recently, when the Internet was essentially shut down,” Lee continued. “If we have a community of Internet user-participants in that country, we will know instantly when a government or ISP starts to block traffic, tamper with search results, even alter web-based information in order to spread propaganda.”
Lee, along with Nick Feamster, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science, and a team of other computer science and engineering faculty will build applications to analyze internet reachability, integrity of information, and measurements of what providers are delivering compared to what they’ve promised consumers.
“Regardless of what policies an ISP or government takes on issues like censorship and net neutrality, we believe those policies should be transparent,” Feamster said. “In addition to new network measurement and security monitoring algorithms, we want to create and deploy a ‘transparency watchdog’ system that uses monitoring agents to keep constant tabs of network performance and availability in strategic Internet locations around the world.”
It’s great to see Google funding a project that will benefit consumers and supply them with valuable information to monitor if their rights are being violated. I suspect, however, that as quickly as researchers are able to devise these tools, governments and corporations will find some way around them. Hopefully, I’m just being overly-pessimistic.