An Over-The-Top Approach to Internet Regulation in Developing Countries

  • Increased smartphone usage and availability of wireless broadband has propelled the use of Internet based platforms and services that often compete with similar services based on older technologies. For example services like Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp that offer voice or video calls over the Internet compete with traditional SMS and voice calls over telecom networks. Such platforms have gained in popularity particularly in developing countries because calling over the Internet is far cheaper than making calls on telecom networks. Online video streaming and TV services like Netflix and online similarly compete with traditional broadcasters and network providers.

    These online applications and services are transforming traditional sectors and changing the economic landscape of the markets. The increasing popularity of such apps and services, often referred to by telecommunications regulators as “Over-the-top” or OTT services, brings new regulatory challenges for governments. Historically, most of these services have not required a licence or been required to pay any licensing fee. As the use of such services picks up in developing countries, governments are rushing to create rules that would subject OTT providers to local taxation, security, and content regulation obligations—often under pressure from telco incumbents who are seeking protection from change and competition.

    Taxing Online Platforms

    In August 2017, the Indonesian government via the Ministry of Communication and Informatics (MCI) unveiled a liability framework for OTT providers [doc]. The sweeping regulations cover a whole slew of companies including SMS and voice calls and email services, chatting and instant messaging platforms, financial and commercial transaction service providers, search engines, social network and online media delivery networks, and companies that store and mine online data. The regulation, which is currently under review, makes it mandatory for offshore businesses to establish a “permanent establishment” either through fixed local premises or by employing locals in their operations in Indonesia. Transnational companies are also required to have an agreement with an Indonesian network provider, and use local IP numbers and national payment gateways for their services.

    Considering current trade negotiations aimed at outlawing data localization, these operational obligations for OTTs cement the view that the Indonesian government is attempting to create a local territorial nexus for online transactions and activities, allowing them to be taxed and controlled. The draft MCI regulations also require online platforms to create a “censor mechanism” [sic] to filter and block “negative” content including terrorism, pornography and radical propaganda. While e-commerce and marketplace platforms enjoy immunity from content related obligations in Indonesia, the new regulation effectively dismantles this safe harbor framework.

    Worryingly, the regulation outlines a system of sanctions where the government can order telecommunication operators in Indonesia to use bandwidth management measures to take action against companies that violate the rules. Bandwidth management refers to the process by which the telecommunication operators manage traffic on their network, and can include traffic engineering measures such as limiting or throttling service traffic or the provision of priority access for certain services within certain periods. Such regulations would therefore likely violate net neutrality, and it is also unclear how this bandwidth management would be implemented. For example, the Ministry has not clarified safeguards to limit telecommunications providers from voluntarily conducting bandwidth management without a formal notice if it determines non-compliance with the law.

    Soft-Peddling Censorship

    Similar efforts to regulate online platforms are underway in Thailand. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has committed to create a “level playing field” between OTT service providers and traditional broadcasting and telecommunications industries. In April 2017, it suggested introducing bandwidth fees for online content providers, and has also proposed bringing OTT service providers under an operating licence framework, taxing them for transactions by local merchants and making them liable for illegal content. In July 2017, the Thai government issued an ultimatum to OTT services to register with the national telecom regulator or face getting slapped with sanctions such as bans on advertising that would threaten revenue growth.

    The Thai regulator is exploring a “complaints-based” framework of regulation and has set up a control list of the top 100 content creating companies that are required to establish local offices and be registered as entities in Thailand. Allegedly, the efforts to regulate OTT providers are driven by the dramatic rise in the revenues being generated by them. A study conducted by the NBTC found that free OTT services had earned combined advertising revenue of 2.16 billion Thai baht in 2016, 70% of which stemmed from YouTube. Accordingly, the general policy recipe outlined by the regulator is aimed at increasing taxes collected from online platforms.

    Efforts to create a “level playing field” could also be interpreted as measures to empower the regulator to more easily monitor and censor content that the government is finding difficult to regulate. The Thai government has been unsuccessfully trying to pressure to online intermediaries to remove allegedly illegal speech including proposing shutting down sites for non-compliance with takedown requests. The proposals to regulate OTTs can be seen as a backhanded move to give the regulator the authority to demand the removal of content the military-run government considers illegal without waiting for a court order. Parallel to the efforts of regulating OTTs, the National Reform Steering Assembly has introduced an 84-page social media censorship proposal. If approved the rules would require fingerprint and facial scanning just to top-up a prepaid plan, in addition to existing mandatory SIM card registration and linking mobiles to national identities. Commentators say the proposed rules are similar to those in use in China and Iran.

    In India, regulators are considering proposals to require OTT providers to be placed under a telecom licensing-style regulatory framework. The telecom regulator has been organizing consultations on the issue since March 2015, however its stance on the matter is not clear. Reports suggest that regulating OTT may be a non-issue for the regulator in view of the future possibility of carriers to offer voice services through apps. However, telecom and network providers that stand to benefit from OTT regulation are pushing for interconnection agreements. The Department of Telecom (DoT) is reported to be working on a regulatory framework for services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype and WeChat that would subject them to obligations similar to those outlined for telecom service providers.

    The phenomenon of regulating OTTs is not limited to Asia. In Latin America, several countries including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil are considering legislative changes to enable the taxing of OTT players. In Argentina, the government has issued a set of principles for telecommunications regulation that create obligations for registration of Internet intermediaries. Ahead of the Presidential elections in 2018 and with mounting opposition to his regime, the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has created a Cyber Security, Threat Detection, and Mitigation Ministry to reign in threats emanating from social media. The government is also pressing ahead with a Computer and Cyber Crimes Bill, a comprehensive legislation that would allow the police to intercept data, seize electronic equipment and arrest people on loosely defined charges of “insurgency” and “terrorism.”

    Under increasing pressure to rein in the use of online platforms the regime has taken several measures to curtail the ability of activists and opposition to organize themselves, including raising prices on cellphone data and cutting off access to the Internet. Earlier this month, the Cybersecurity Ministry issued an order that requires all WhatsApp groups to be registered and administrator of the group to have government level clearance. The rules also make membership of groups that do not have necessary clearance or licensed administrator a criminal offence. As the order clarifies members belonging to unqualified groups will be “jointly and severally liable” for belonging to a group not registered with the cyber security ministry.

    The move to regulate WhatsApp is especially significant given that the messaging service is the default window to the Internet for most Zimbabweans. In 2010, fewer than 5 percent of Zimbabweans had access to the internet, by early 2016, nearly 50 percent did, with most people connecting to the internet through their cell phones. A report by Zimbabwe’s telecoms regulatory body shows that the number of people using WhatsApp for voice calls has been on the rise. The government’s tough stance on the messaging platform has got digital rights activists worried that the regulation will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

    Towards An International Framework for Regulating OTTs?

    So-called OTT applications and services are the most visible part of the Internet for ordinary users. The rules and liability that are created for these applications and services impact freedom of expression, net neutrality, consumer rights and innovation. Therefore, discussions and rules on OTT regulation is at its core a debate about how the Internet should be regulated. Recognizing the global nature of online platforms, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has stepped in to explore global multilateral framework for OTT services and applications.

    The telecom arm of the ITU whose primary function is to develop and coordinate voluntary international standards, known as ITU-T Recommendations, has established a study group public policy issues related to the Internet. The technical study group includes a mandate to weigh in on several Internet-related technical and economic issues including “charging and accounting/settlement mechanisms” and “relevant aspects of IP peering”. Last year, the study group adopted text encouraging governments to develop measures to strike an “effective balance” between OTT communications services and traditional communications services, in order to ensure a “level playing field” e.g., with respect to licensing, pricing and charging, universal service, quality of service, security and data protection, interconnection and interoperability, legal interception, taxation, and consumer protection.

    In May 2017, ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) launched an open online and physical consultation on OTTs. The working group will evaluate opportunities and implications associated with OTT including policy and regulatory matters. It considers regulatory approaches for OTTs that ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer and will work towards developing model partnership agreements for cooperation at the local and international level.

    The physical consultation took place in September and received inputs from a wide range of stakeholders. During the World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC)—the main conference of the ITU’s Development sector, ITU-D—which took place in Argentina during October 2017, several governments have sought to expand the ITU Internet public policy mandate. As we approach the ITU’s 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference, or “Plenipot" we can expect conversations on regulatory frameworks to escalate in the ITU. However developing rules in a multilateral framework of the ITU may not be the most appropriate way forward.

    As Public Knowledge notes, the structure of the ITU renders itself vulnerable to harmful types of politicization, as states and regional coalitions seek to leverage this forum to grab greater control over Internet policy and standards development. Unlike the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), or the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the ITU isn’t a multistakeholder community. The only relevant actors at the ITU are Member States and although private industry and civil society may contribute to technical work, they can only participate as nonvoting sector members. With its structural lack of transparency and openness there is plenty opportunity for ITU public policy processes to be co-opted by member states to validate problematic policy or standards proposals.

    In an increasingly digital world where transnational global corporations shape content and speech, governments are at an inflection point in their policy choices for regulating online platforms. In seeking to create a “level playing field” between OTT providers, and legacy media and network providers, governments may end up introducing rigid frameworks that stymie innovation and competition or cause irreversible consumer harms. There may be various valid public interest reasons to regulate OTTs such as to ensure their compliance with privacy standards and net neutrality rules. But such regulations should be made on a targeted basis. Imposing a strict and unyielding regulatory framework based on telecommunications regulation and licensing goes further than this, and risks becoming a vehicle to protect legacy telcos and to enact content censorship.

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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