Commentary

New Tool Helps Users Keep ISPs Honest

The Federal Communications Commission recently approved neutrality regulations that prohibit wired broadband companies from blocking sites or degrading traffic.

But, as is often the case with policies aimed at protecting online users, regular consumers have no easy way of knowing whether companies are following the rules.

Now, however, engineer Dan Kaminsky hopes to change that. Speaking at the Black Hat security conference this week, he unveiled N00ter (neutral router), which can determine when ISPs are throttling traffic, Forbes reports.

"People need data," he reportedly said. "My hope is that we can give people economy-promoting data at the network level."

The same problem Kaminsky hopes to address -- a dearth of data for users -- also makes it hard for people to know when their privacy expectations aren't being met online. Consumers can try to opt out of online behavioral targeting, or receiving ads based on the sites they've visited, but monitoring compliance isn't always easy. In some cases, it literally takes teams of academics and computer experts to test whether sites are honoring their privacy promises.

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Obviously many consumers won't have any interest in trying to use tools like N00ter. But some will -- especially users who are somewhat savvy about the Internet, but lack the expertise of computer scientists who can devote themselves to studying what ad networks and ISPs are actually doing. Offering consumer-friendly tools to that group of people might go a long way toward keeping ISPs, ad networks and other Web companies honest.

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