As FCC Contemplates Repealing Net Neutrality Protections, Indian Telecom Regulator Reaffirms Support for Principles of Non-Discrimination

  • Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services. Even as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pushing a plan to end net neutrality protections in the U.S., India’s telecom regulator has called for strengthening the principle of non-discriminatory access to the Internet.

    This week the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended amending all existing ISP licenses in India to explicitly prohibit discriminatory traffic management practices. Having rules in place that restrict ISPs and telecom providers’ ability to control access to content via their networks is important for a free and an open Internet. Such rules prevent network providers from degrading the quality of service or blocking access to apps to earn revenue or to limit competition.

    The FCC’s Open Order 2015 had also banned throttling, blocking and paid prioritization in the provision of broadband Internet access service. Unfortunately, as of last week FCC has proposed eliminating these bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and pay-to-play in favor of a simplistic transparency requirement. Even as the FCC attempts to create a pay-for-play Internet in India TRAI seems to be adopting a layered framework for regulatory intervention designed around two closely interrelated areas.

    Regulatory Parity

    First, TRAI has been working to create reasonable and equal rules to govern telecom service providers (TSPs) and Over-the-top (OTT) services. OTT services refers to communication or non-communication based services that ride on telecom operators’ networks. In India, TSPs operate under a licensing regime which come with strict obligations. On the other hand OTTs have flourished without such regulations. The disparity in regulation was not an issue when OTT services were new. Their rapid growth over the years and shrinking telecom revenues led to demands for introducing licensing for OTTs or creating restrictions on the services which they may offer.

    While it is important to create uniformity in the regulation of functionally equivalent services, calls for regulating Internet based OTT service providers ignore the differences that exist between them and telecom operators. While TSPs operate at both the network and application layer, OTTs can only function at the application layer of the Internet. Therefore, it is inappropriate to bring OTT service providers under the licensing regime similar to those that currently apply to TSPs.

    Moreover, the advent of 4G technology has allowed for changes in the network architecture which in turn have helped markets evolve and ushered in regulatory changes. For example, traditional telecom services like voice calls are also capable of being delivered over an IP based network and may share the same infrastructure as Internet based services. Content providers are no longer reliant on telecom operators for last-mile access and are using content delivery networks (CDNs) to directly interconnect.

    Over the years India has also moved to the Unified Licensing regime under which the Unified License with authorisation for Access Services (ULA) now allows for interconnection between IP Telephony and the telecom network. TRAI’s recent interventions suggest a principles based approach that is cognizant of these new, complex and evolving dynamics. In TRAI’s Recommendations on Regulatory framework for Internet Telephony issued in October 2017, the authority notes “that as per the present licensing framework, Internet Telephony service can be provided independent of the Internet access service. In other words, the Internet Telephony service is un-tethered from the underlying access network.”

    Importantly, TRAI’s has limited its recommendations on VoIP to communication OTT players. The mandate of licensing and/or regulating non-communication OTTs is that of the Parliament and will require a major overhaul of Information Technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting legislations. By staying within its mandate and not crafting regulations for non-communication OTTs, TRAI has left the door open for regulating such services through instruments outside of a stifling licensing regime.

    Codifying Net Neutrality

    In parallel to creating uniformity of regulation TRAI’s interventions have also been focused on codifying the principle of net neutrality including its different components and exceptions. In February 2016 TRAI issued an order prohibiting differential pricing which led to Facebook’s Free Basics programme to be banned in India. TRAI’s latest recommendations on net neutrality focus on modifying licensing terms fall under this second category of TRAI’s interventions.

    Unlike its order on differential pricing order TRAI’s latest recommendations on licensing issues are not binding. This is because while TRAI has the power to frame regulations on issues such as pricing, QoS, and interconnection, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has final authority on matters related to granting or modification of licences in India. But if TRAI’s recommendations are accepted by the DoT, ISPs in India will be explicitly prohibited from and penalised for blocking, throttling, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content on their networks.

    The recommendations also lay down a set of principles for introducing net neutrality. TRAI recommends that the principle of non-discriminatory treatment of content should apply specifically to Internet access services. TRAI also suggests that network management should be a permissible exception to net neutrality noting “that allowing TSPs to carry out reasonable traffic management practices is necessary for delivering IP traffic on best efforts, which is essential to the design of the Internet.”

    TRAI has advised exceptions for “other legitimate purposes” from the requirements of non-discriminatory treatment in the provision of Internet access services. Exceptions have been provided for congestion management, for blocking unlawful content pursuant to a court or government order, and for maintaining security and integrity of the network. Discrimination in traffic management has also been recommended for Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) as they do not change the priority of the data packets.

    TRAI specifies that exceptions to net neutrality should only be allowed when they meet the basic requirements of reasonableness. In other words, there must be legitimate grounds for network management such as maintaining integrity of the network or for user security and/or if the user has specifically requested for such a service. It also recommends transparency in network management and advises that DoT should retain the flexibility in licensing regime to specify further details and change regulations regarding the scope and assessment of reasonable traffic management practices.

    The authority has also advised supplementing “existing disclosure and transparency requirements by framing additional regulations in this regard.” While TRAI has not specified what such regulations should look like, the recommendation essentially seeks to introduce a transparency requirement for standardised reporting of network management practices, service information including privacy policy and redressal options and most importantly the exercise of exceptions to net neutrality.

    Finally, TRAI introduces the concept of a multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit body led by industry, with ISPs, telecommunications companies, large and small content providers, representatives from research and academia, civil society organisations and consumer representatives be created for monitoring traffic management in India. It is unclear why such it recommends that such a cooperation platform be industry led but one reason could be because transparency enforcement applies most to private companies.

    Specialized Services

    TRAI has also introduced the concept of “Specialized Services” in its recommendations on differential access. TRAI defines the concept as “services other than Internet access services that are optimized for specific content, protocols or user equipment, where the optimization is necessary in order to meet specific quality of service requirements.” In other words specialised services refers to services provided on a network that is either physically distinct from the Internet using different pipes or logically distinct from the Internet using access controls over the same pipes.

    Following TRAI’s definition this includes services that demand high QoS (such as remote surgeries) or for which best efforts delivery is not feasible on the Internet (such as autonomous vehicles). Similarly services being provided over a Closed Electronics Communications Network would qualify for being classified as specialized service. TRAI suggests creating an exception from net neutrality obligations for such special categories of services. Similar exceptions have been provided in in the EU through Amendment 236. On the other hand, regulators in Netherlands, have avoided creating exceptions for specialised services based on the rationale that defining the concept is not necessary to protect the functioning of managed, non-Internet based services.

    TRAI’s recognition of specalized services is an notable development. Going forward, the concept of specalized services will be relevant for its intervention on creating regulatory parity on a number of issues currently under consultation. The U.S FCC Open Order 2010 states that “specialized services” such as facilities-based VoIP and Internet Protocol-video offerings differ from broadband Internet access service and may drive additional private investment in broadband networks. The FCC had also pointed out that such services can provide end users valued services, supplementing the benefits of the open Internet. It remains to be seen if the definition of specalized services will be tailored and applied in other areas such as Internet telephony and IoT.

    The recognition of specalized services is also a relevant to the codification of exceptions for net neutrality. Provisioning exceptions for specialized services will allow ISPs to charge for providing guaranteed levels of service and quality for certain forms of data or time sensitive communication. Concerns have been raised that establishing conditions for violations of net neutrality regulators creates the possibility that network operators may prioritise high quality specialised services over the provisioning of “standard” Internet. Addressing such issues TRAI has laid down the parameters such as for the provision of specialized services. It notes, "While allowing for the provision of specialised services, service providers should ensure that they have adequate network capacity to offer the critical services in addition to the overall provision of Internet Access Services.”

    TRAI has also specified some categories that qualify for specalized services, “The license agreement identifies the categories of services that can be offered by licensed service providers. This includes the provision of VoIP and IPTV services, which may also qualify as specialised services under the suggested definition.” It has also recommended that DoT retain the flexibility to “amend the license from time to time to specify the categories of services permitted to be carried out by licensed service providers.”

    Overall the recommendations are good news for both users’ right to a free and open Internet in India and creating a stable regulatory environment for businesses to operate there. The strong recommendations are also reflective of the giant strides the Indian telecom regulator has made in its approach to taking a nuanced approach to this complex issue. TRAI’s leadership, its transparency and efforts made to listen to the voices of its citizens create a stark contrast with the FCC’s regressive approach.

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Tmux Commands

screen and tmux

A comparison of the features (or more-so just a table of notes for accessing some of those features) for GNU screen and BSD-licensed tmux.

The formatting here is simple enough to understand (I would hope). ^ means ctrl+, so ^x is ctrl+x. M- means meta (generally left-alt or escape)+, so M-x is left-alt+x

It should be noted that this is no where near a full feature-set of either group. This - being a cheat-sheet - is just to point out the most very basic features to get you on the road.

Trust the developers and manpage writers more than me. This document is originally from 2009 when tmux was still new - since then both of these programs have had many updates and features added (not all of which have been dutifully noted here).

Action tmux screen
start a new session tmux OR
tmux new OR
tmux new-session
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
re-attach an attached session (detaching it from elsewhere) tmux attach -d OR
tmux attach-session -d
screen -dr
re-attach an attached session (keeping it attached elsewhere) tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen -x
detach from currently attached session ^b d OR
^b :detach
^a ^d OR
^a :detach
rename-window to newname ^b , <newname> OR
^b :rename-window <newn>
^a A <newname>
list windows ^b w ^a w
list windows in chooseable menu ^a "
go to window # ^b # ^a #
go to last-active window ^b l ^a ^a
go to next window ^b n ^a n
go to previous window ^b p ^a p
see keybindings ^b ? ^a ?
list sessions ^b s OR
tmux ls OR
tmux list-sessions
screen -ls
toggle visual bell ^a ^g
create another window ^b c ^a c
exit current shell/window ^d ^d
split window/pane horizontally ^b " ^a S
split window/pane vertically ^b % ^a |
switch to other pane ^b o ^a <tab>
kill the current pane ^b x OR (logout/^D)
collapse the current pane/split (but leave processes running) ^a X
cycle location of panes ^b ^o
swap current pane with previous ^b {
swap current pane with next ^b }
show time ^b t
show numeric values of panes ^b q
toggle zoom-state of current pane (maximize/return current pane) ^b z
break the current pane out of its window (to form new window) ^b !
re-arrange current panels within same window (different layouts) ^b [space]
Kill the current window (and all panes within) ^b killw [target-window]
  • Criteo is an ad company. You may not have heard of them, but they do retargeting, the type of ads that pursue users across the web, beseeching them to purchase a product they once viewed or have already bought. To identify users across websites, Criteo relies on cross-site tracking using cookies and other methods to follow users as they browse. This has led them to try and circumvent the privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser which protects its users from such tracking. Despite this apparently antagonistic attitude towards user privacy, Criteo has also been whitelisted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. This means that their ads are unblocked by popular adblockers such as Adblock and Adblock Plus. Criteo pays Eyeo, the operator of Acceptable Ads, for this whitelisting and must comply with their format requirements. But this also means they can track any user of these adblockers who has not disabled Acceptable Ads, even if they have installed privacy tools such as EasyPrivacy with the intention of protecting themselves. EFF is concerned about Criteo’s continued anti-privacy actions and their continued inclusion in Acceptable Ads.

    Safari Shuts out Third Party Cookies…

    All popular browsers give users control over who gets to set cookies, but Safari is the only one that blocks third-party cookies (those set by a domain other than the site you are visiting) by default. (Safari’s choice is important because only 5-10% of users ever change default settings in software.) Criteo relies on third-party cookies. Since users have little reason to visit Criteo’s own website, the company gets its cookies onto users’ machines through its integration on many online retail websites. Safari’s cookie blocking is a major problem for Criteo, especially given the large and lucrative nature of iPhone’s user base. Rather than accept this, Criteo has repeatedly implemented ways to defeat Safari’s privacy protections.

    One workaround researchers detected Criteo using was to redirect users from sites where their service was present to their own. For example, if you visited and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to and then redirected to Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that is a site you chose to visit, and therefore a first party entitled to set a cookie rather than a third party. Criteo applied for a patent on this method in August 2013.

    …And Closes the Backdoor

    Last summer, however, Apple unveiled a new version of Safari with more sophisticated cookie handling—called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)—which killed off the redirect technique as a means to circumvent the cookie controls. The browser now analyzes if the user has engaged with a website in a meaningful way before allowing it to set a cookie. The announcement triggered panic among advertising companies, whose trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, denounced the feature and rushed out technical recommendations to work around it. Obviously the level of user “interaction” with Criteo during the redirect described above fails ITP’s test, which meant Criteo was locked out again.

    It appears that Criteo’s response was to abandon cookies for Safari users and to generate a persistent identifier by piggybacking on a key user safety technology called HSTS. When a browser connects to a site via HTTPS (i.e. a site that supports encryption), the site can respond with an HTTP Strict Transport Security policy (HSTS), instructing the browser to only contact it using HTTPS. Without a HSTS policy, your browser might try to connect to the site over regular old unencrypted HTTP in the future—and thus be vulnerable to a downgrade attack. Criteo used HSTS to sneak data into the browser cache to produce an identifier it could use to recognize the individual’s browser and profile them. This approach relied on the fact that it is difficult to clear HSTS data in Safari, requiring the user to purge the cache entirely to delete the identifier. For EFF, it is especially worrisome that Criteo used a technique that pits privacy protection against user security interests by targeting HSTS. Use of this mechanism was documented by Gotham City Research, an investment firm who have bet against Criteo’s stock.

    In early December, Apple released an update to iOS and Safari which disabled Criteo’s ability to exploit HSTS. This led to Criteo revising down their revenue forecasts and a sharp fall in their share price.

    How is Criteo Acceptable Advertising”****?

    "… w__e sort of seek the consent of users, just like we had done before_."__1_ - Erich Eichmann, CEO Criteo

    _"Only users who don’t already have a Criteo identifier will see the header or footer, and it is displayed only once per device. Thanks to [the?] Criteo advertisers network, most of your users would have already accepted our services on the website of another of our partner. On average, only 5% of your users will see the headers or footers, and for those who do, the typical opt-out rate is less than .2%._" - Criteo Support Center

    Criteo styles itself as a leader in privacy practices, yet they have dedicated significant engineering resources to circumventing privacy tools. They claim to have obtained user consent to tracking based on a minimal warning delivered in what we believe to be a highly confusing context. When a user first visits a site containing Criteo’s script, they received a small notice stating, _"_Click any link to use Criteo’s cross-site tracking technology." If the user continues to use the site, they are deemed to have consented. Little wonder that Criteo can boast of a low opt-out rate to their clients.

    Due to their observed behaviour prior to the ITP episode, Criteo’s incorporation into the Acceptable Ads in December 2015 aroused criticism among users of ad blockers. We have written elsewhere about how Acceptable Ads creates a clash of interests between adblocking companies and their users, especially those concerned with their privacy. But Criteo’s participation in Acceptable Ads brings into focus the substantive problem with the program itself. The criteria for Acceptable Ads are concerned chiefly with format and aesthetic aspects (e.g. How big is the ad? How visually intrusive? Does it blink?) and excludes privacy concerns. Retargeting is unpopular and mocked by users, in part because it wears its creepy tracking practices on its sleeve. Our view is that Criteo’s bad behavior should exclude its products from being deemed “acceptable” in any way.

    The fact that the Acceptable Ads Initiative has approved Criteo’s user-tracking-by-misusing-security-features ads is indicative of the privacy problems we believe to be at the heart of the Acceptable Ads program. In March this year, Eyeo announced an Acceptable Ads Committee that will control the criteria for Acceptable Ads in the future. The Committee should start by instituting a rule which excludes companies that circumvent explicit privacy tools or exploit user security technologies for the purpose of tracking.


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  • Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

    U.S. Patent No. 9,069,648 is titled “Systems and methods for delivering activity based suggestive (ABS) messages.” The patent describes sending “motivational messages,” based “on the current or anticipated activity of the user,” to a “personal electronic device.” The patent provides examples such as sending the message “don’t give up” when the user is running up a hill. The examples aren’t limited to health or exercise. For example, the patent suggests sending messages like “do not fear” and “God is with you” when a “user enters a dangerous neighborhood.”

    The patent’s description of its invention is filled with silly, non-standard acronyms like ABS for “activity based suggestive” messages or EBIF for “electronic based intelligence function.” These silly acronyms create an illusion of complexity where plain, descriptive language would reveal the mundane nature of the supposed invention. For example, what the patent grandly calls EBIF appears to be nothing more than standard computer processing.

    The ’648 patent is owned by Motivational Health Messaging LLC. While this may be a new company, at least one of the people behind it has been involved in massive patent trolling campaigns before. And the two named inventors have both been inventors on patents that trolls have asserted hundreds of times. One is also an inventor listed on patents asserted by infamous patent troll Shipping and Transit LLC. The other named inventor is the inventor on the patents asserted by Electronic Communication Technologies LLC. Those two entities (with their predecessors) brought over 700 lawsuits, many against very small businesses. In other words, the ’648 patent has been issued to Troll Co. at 1 Troll Street, Troll Town, Trollida USA.

    We believe that the claims of the ’648 patent are clearly invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, which held abstract ideas do not become eligible for a patent merely because they are implemented in conventional computer technology. Indeed, the patent repeatedly emphasizes that the claimed methods are not tied to any particular hardware or software. For example, it states:

    The software and software logic described in this document … which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any non-transitory computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device and execute the instructions.

    The ’648 patent issued on June 30, 2015, a full year after the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling. Despite this, the patent examiner never even discussed the decision. If Alice is to mean anything at all, it has to be applied to an application like this one.

    In our view, if Motivational Health Messaging asserts its patent in court, any defendant that fought back should prevail under Alice. Indeed, we would hope that the court would strongly consider awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant in such a case. Shipping & Transit has now had two fee awards made against it for asserting patents that are clearly invalid under Alice. And the Federal Circuit recently held that fee awards can be appropriate when patent owners make objectively unreasonable argument concerning Alice.

    In addition to the problems under Alice, we believe the claims of the ’648 patent should have been rejected as obvious. When the application was filed in 2012, there was nothing new about sending motivational messages or automatically tailoring messages to things like location. In one proposed embodiment, the patent suggests that a “user walking to a hole may be delivered ABS messages, including reminders or instructions on how to play a particular hole.” But golf apps were already doing this. The Patent Office didn’t consider any real-world mobile phone applications when reviewing the application.

    If you want to look for prior art yourself, Unified Patents is running a crowdsourcing contest to find the best prior art to invalidate the ’648 patent. Aside from the warm feelings that come from fighting patent trolls, there is a $2000 prize pool.

    Despite the weakness of its patent, Motivational Health Messaging LLC might still send out demand letters. If you receive such a letter, you can contact EFF and we can help you find counsel.

    We have long complained that the Patent Office promotes patent trolling by granting obvious and/or abstract software patents. The history of the ’648 patent shows how the Patent Office’s failure to properly review applications leads to bad patents falling into the hands of trolls.

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