Nortel Networks unveiled an online technology
that would let network operators keep track of where and how
individuals use the Internet.
The Canadian company said Tuesday its new line of "Personal
Content" network software will make it easier to customize online
services to individual preferences and needs, but some consumer
advocates attacked it as a potential invasion of privacy.
Either way, new software tools like Nortel's are meant to help
network service providers grapple with the ever-growing crush of
Web traffic as more people and companies incorporate the Internet
into daily activities, adding to demand for heavy-duty services
such as streaming video and audio.
The challenge is to make networks more efficient and swifter by
using a person's location, type of device and preferences to
identify an appropriate source, format and route for delivering
Nortel, a leading supplier of network switches and routers that
direct traffic on telephone networks and Internet backbones, is
targeting a full range of communications service providers,
including companies that produce Web content and streaming media,
and those that keep Web sites running and distribute content to
"If you want to do content distribution, you place data centers
around the world and place the content closer to the end user,"
explained Clay Ryder, an industry analysts for Zona Research in
Redwood City, Calif.
"But if the closest data center is clogged, the next closest
one would be tapped," by Nortel's equipment, said Ryder. "It
would appear that they are trying to provide the best path or route
for getting content to the user."
Despite such potential benefits, privacy advocates were critical
of the powers Nortel's products would give Internet service
"The idea that ISPs are watching where (customers) go is
unacceptable," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, a
privacy protection organization.
Nortel quickly brushed aside such criticism, arguing that the
new technology actually can be used to enhance privacy by letting a
service provider shield user information from being collected at
every Web site a person visits.
Instead of clicking privacy options on each Web site or using
"suppression" software to hide information while roaming the Web,
a person might now establish privacy preferences with a single
network service provider, said Anil Khatod, president of global
Internet solutions for Nortel.
"There's already a lot of information about you being collected
every time you log onto the Internet. The question is where you
place a block," said Khatod. "What we are doing is giving that
information to your service provider, and you can negotiate with
your service provider as to how much privacy you want. It gives you
greater control over what personal information you are allowing the
network to have."
Catlett, however, rejected that approach.
Network equipment suppliers like Nortel "are pushing into the
infrastructure a technology that can be very, very damaging to
privacy, and in some way shirking their responsibilities by saying
it's up to the people we sell it to to implement it in a suitable
manner," he said.
Ryder, the Zona analyst, disagreed.
"I don't see this as a security issue. People have to wake up
to fact that there isn't any anonymous usage of any communications
services. They have to get over that."