All or nothing in ISP blocking – here’s why (and here’s AI)

A recent online report shows that the Chinese internet service providers caused intermittent service on the WhatsApp platform. This is just one of the many disruptions experienced by WhatsApp, due to censorship.

This incident leads to the old discussion of “should the ISPs be allowed to block certain websites, platforms or apps, or not?” The blocking reasons may vary, and the risk of encouraging censorship in some regions of the world is just one thing to consider.

ISP blocking, not a generic matter

Generic blocking would represent the “all” version of solving the matter. Yet it is only logical that ISP blocking cannot be allowed in a generic manner, then shifting the power of decision to each provider.

Deciding to block certain websites or platform happened so far as a result of specific court orders. For example, in the UK, the EPL won a High Court Order following which the UK ISPs were required to block certain servers that hosted illegal streams of EPL football matches. This means ISP blocking can be enforced, but a proactive action must be taken by those who are harmed, and the reasons are to be validated by a Court.

In theory, this protects all the websites or platforms that could be unreasonably blocked, if the courtroom stage were not required. However, in a biased governing regime, the legal system would be most likely biased, too. Therefore, providing legal means of ISP blocking may return unexpected results when legal does not equal democracy.

In the UK it has also been proven that ISPs block VPNs by default , which is another way of “censoring” the Internet. No Court Order here, just a legislative promise turned reality, according to the source article.

The not so global Internet

  • When “nothing” is not quite what it seems

When looking at the three examples from the above, we may easily wonder whether our posts or apps reach the big world out there, or not. Well, assuming we are not tackling any problematic issues that might get censored in some country or another, the posts should reach absolutely everyone interested, regardless of their location. At least in theory.

The apps are however another category, as WhatsApp’s case proves. Enabling fast-paced, real-time communications between people might not be to everyone’s taste. The more efficient such apps are, the less likely they are seen as suited by oppressive regimes. Some might even be marked as dangerous by non-oppressive systems, due to the fact that in the wrong hands, they serve dangerous purposes. In that aspect, the matter meets the iPhone encryption dispute.

Wait, what are we doing? Penalizing the best apps because their efficiency might be used for malicious purposes? Ironically, sometimes this might be the case.

A point where AI’s contribution would be strategic

Stepping back a little, the problem could be summarized like this: modern technology brought along modern peoples’ rights. The way they are currently handled is not standardized, therefore it varies from region to region. How can malicious actions be stopped, without inducing an oppressive approach for all that Internet access means?

Monitoring Internet traffic with the help of Artificial Intelligence is one way to go. It is not a thing of the future, either. Only that AI progresses and learns, and the more developed it is, the more effective its presence. Sifting through the big data bulks of the Internet traffic to point out only the real risks is not easy to accomplish. Too many false alerts and the system is not credible, while missing the true risk points makes it unreliable.

Meanwhile, Internet neutrality advocates try to keep the status quo. Maintaining the current liberties could prove difficult, could prove risky from some angles, but it is important and it’s part of who we are, or of who we want to be as a modern society.