About the role of bots on network neutrality

I am not sure whether “outing” is the right word here, but I will give it a try. I am not on Facebook, I do not tweet and I read still hardware news. I mean newspapers.
Yesterday I stumbled over an article in the paper issue of the German Süddeutsche Zeitung (issue of 5. May 2014) about the traffic that bots generate on the Internet. The starting point was the “Webdriver Torso”, apparently a software that for purposes of testing video compression automatically generated and uploaded to Youtube 77,000 videos, each 11 seconds long. That was a new video every 20 seconds. Awesome, but not surprising. I suspected similar scenarios when I discovered what modern software can do out of the box.
For professional reasons we maintain several web sites and we post news and events items, as every decent European project web site probably does by now. Our content management and blog based websites are capable of automatically issuing a tweet when a news item is posted. Of course we emit also RSS feeds that are automatically parsed and processed by other sites. Obviously some of our web-sites import RSS feeds from other sites in exchange. So we are also automatically generating traffic.
We can add more advanced Web 2.0 functionality, but what we get is an inflation of Internet traffic, for example, just because I decided to post an article like this. This blog in fact does not tweet each new article. Instead it trusts that you will find the blog and its article through conventional ways; either because you know us and you interested in our work, or because you trust a search engine to find us for you. But I cannot guarantee that someone else will tweet it or write about it or even replicate it somewhere.
The newspaper article cites incapsula.com, a security related web-site, claiming that 2/3 of the total Internet traffic today is not of human origin, but generated by bots. There is room for discussion whether this is an accurate measure, but I personally believe that this kind of traffic is indeed more than 50 per cent.
What I find amusing is that bots read posts and tweets that other bots have generated. And indeed it looks like bots are also chating with each other. On the other hand bots are causing an immense damage to the Internet business model which is still largely based on online advertisement for the benefit of the few that are able and malicious enough to exploit it by programming bots that automatically click on banners and visit sites thus generating the wanted traffic.
But who wants that traffic? I think the online shop owners, whether the big shots like the amazons and ebays or the small start-ups are not delighted to discover that mainly bots are visiting their sites via ad-clicks.
And then there is the traffic; the cry for more bandwidth, for upgrading the network capacity at the edge and in the core. And then there is the net neutrality debate that everyone should have equal access to the Internet and that no packets should be prioritized over others. Not for money; not for any other reason. But hey, wait! Did we actually verify that the one or other outcry against the attempts to put some constraints on the Internet does not come from a bot? After all, on the Internet no one knows that you are a dog, just to cite one of the most famous cartoon symbolising a certain understanding of  privacy and anonymity on the Internet.
As far as I am concerned, I would not like to compete with bots when generating content and place it on the Internet, because bot generated content is mostly irrelevant and redundant. Personally, I am not so good in filtering irrelevant and redundant content whether reading my e-mails or viewing content on my favorite web-sites. Neither would I like to pay for an infrastructure that is used by more than 50% by bots that do meaningless things such as dating each other or watching YouTube videos on their own.

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Future Internet Assembly becomes Net Futures

Announcement of the Net Futures conference at the closing plenary at FIA 2014 in Athens

Announcement of the Net Futures conference at the closing plenary at FIA 2014 in Athens

At the closing plenary of the Future Internet Assembly 2014 that took place from 17-20 March 2014 in Athens, Greece, the European Commission announced that from 2015 the Future Internet Assembly will be drastically re-designed and re-structured to better accommodate the objectives of the new framework program Horizon 2020. The new conference will be called Net Futures Conference.

With almost 800 registered participants the FIA Athens was one of the most successful Assemblies, supported by an excellent local organisation that was managed by the Greek National and Education Network (NREN) GRNET.

The event featured 13 pre-FIA workshops, 9 working sessions, 3 plenary sessions, and 4 other events and closed meetings. At the exhibition space, Future Internet projects demonstrated their latest results and solutions at 48 booths and 45 poster sessions.

Stefan Covaci (left) and Anastasius Gavras (right) with Thibaut Kliener (middle)

Stefan Covaci (left) and Anastasius Gavras (right) with Thibaut Kliener (middle) at the exhibition

The highlights of the event certainly include the welcome address by vice president of the European Commission, Ms. Neelie Kroes, and Deputy Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology Mr. Zoran Stančič. Both expressed their appreciation for the excellent organisation the high quality of the event as well as the impressive exhibition of tangible results. Further welcome speakers included Secretary General of Research and Technology, Dr. Ch. Vasilakos, the Chairman of GRNET Prof. P. Tsanakas and Secretary General of Telecommunications & Post, Mr. M. Daskalakis.

For the first time in history the organisers presented at the closing plenary network statistics which showed that basically all participants were connected. The statistics exhibited an important key indicator for the uptake of IPv6. The number of allocated IPv6 addresses was almost equal to the number of allocated IPv4 addresses. About 25% of the participants used the eduroam services, which illustrates the high success of this very important service provided by the NRENs and GÉANT for the research and education community.

The event was also streamed to the Internet and accumulated 27 hours of live steaming via 3 channels, serving hundreds of viewers worldwide.

The organisers kindly ask all the participants to fill-in the post event survey.

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Open acccess to scientific publications

Very recently I received an e-mail that appeared to be spam at first sight. And indeed it was an unsolicited email. Nevertheless it caught my attention since it contained a reference to the 2013 edition of the Future Internet Assembly (FIA) book. The mail was informing me, and obviously all other FIA book 2013 co-editors,  that the book was designated as “… today’s ebook of the day …”. Enough for me to start investigating.

During the investigation, I stumbled over the site Unglue.it which advocates a, what I think, pretty disruptive model for wide availability of publications. In a nutshell, it promotes crowd-funding for books that can be made available for free. The authors and the publishers decide what amount lets them freely share their books with the world while still making a living. Furthermore the site rewards creators that have set their books free, via Creative Commons licenses or some other sort of open access license.

This important innovation came at a time when I as chief co-editor for the 2014 edition of the FIA book had to cancel the production of this book, for “operational reasons”. In clear text the book had to be cancelled because the needed funds to publish it under an open access license could not be secured in time. The ambition has been to publish this book, as all other FIA books, under on open access license, and securing the necessary funds was always the most difficult task in the process.

All this coincides with the start of the new Framework Program for Research and Innovation of the European Union called Horizon 2020, which requires scientific publications to be made available under on open access license. The attentive reader of the rules that apply for Horizon 2020 should have noticed that in particular all projects funded under the two first ICT calls of the work program 2014-15 in the Leadership in Enabling & Industrial Technologies (LEIT) pillar, will participate in the Pilot on Open Research Data in Horizon 2020. This is in line with the European Commission’s Open Access to research data policy for facilitating access, re-use and preservation of research data.

In fact article 29.2 of the model grant agreement is quite explicit on this aspect and states that “Each beneficiary must ensure open access (free of charge, online access for any user) to all peer-reviewed scientific publications relating to its results…” This is rooted in the legislative act establishing Horizon 2020. Although there are some opt-out possibilities, e.g. for research pertaining to privacy, or national security, it will be hard to argue during grant agreement negotiations to opt-out from the open access policy.

This could have severe implications on all scientific publications that originate in EU funded research work, since this implies that work leading to scientific publications is only eligible cost for the project, if the publication is under an open access license. The minimum implication is that any publisher must be evaluated on whether and how the conditions of the EU model grant agreement on open access are acceptable.

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Microsoft and Nokia – the cards have been reshuffled

Photo by Nokia

Photo by Nokia

On Tuesday, 3 September, Microsoft announced that it will buy Nokia’s mobile phone business for 5.44 billion euro. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close during the first quarter of 2014. There is no big danger that it will not be approved.

A lot has already been written about the purchase and its impacts on Nokia and the Finish economy. What I am curious about is why Microsoft spends more than 5 billion euro for this, although Nokia and Microsoft had already been working well together for some time on the Windows phone. Does Microsoft see their chance in boosting their Windows operating system now that both Symbian and BlackBerry OS are basically out of the race, leaving only Android, iOS and Windows as major mobile operating systems for smartphones? Or does Microsoft see advantages of owning both mobile hardware and mobile operating system in one hand, as it has been very successful for Apple? Or do they plan to benefit from the synergies of one operating system for mobile devices, tablets, PCs and game consoles?

Microsoft’s Windows mobile operating system currently has a market share of 3.7%, however showing more than 75 % growth during the second quarter of this year. Nearly 9 million Windows phone devices were shipped in the second quarter (source: http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2288020/android-nears-80-percent-market-share-as-ios-plummets). This could support my first guess. Even if there was nearly no growth any more, and if we took an assumption of 50 euro profit per phone, the total profit on Windows smartphones could be more than half a billion euro per quarter. If Microsoft managed to sell 50% of all Windows smartphones (not to forget that also LG, HTC, Huawei, Samsung and others have been selling Windows smartphones), the annual profit could reach more than a billion euro per year. Not bad for a total purchase price of 5.44 billion.

What about owning both mobile hardware and mobile operating system in one hand? It would be too simple to say that this is a safe key to success just because it was a very successful approach for Apple. Time has changed, and the success of Android shows that open systems do have their business advantages. Nevertheless the combined ownership of both hardware and operating system can provide synergies, particularly if the same operating system can be used for different groups of devices. Here Microsoft has an advantage since it includes smartphones, tablets, PCs and game consoles. The latter is a clear value compared to Apple; Apple does not produce game consoles.

Finally I am curious how the European ICT sector will be impacted by this deal on the long run. Though there is no way to stop consolidation, I consider this as a rather bad day for Europe, because Europe loses yet another important asset. After all there are not many European ICT manufacturers left. My hope is that the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership (FI-PPP) projects will bring a few new European ICT players into the game.
So we may be anxious to see how the race will develop. I personally believe that since Tuesday Microsoft has increased their chances to be successful in the mobile smartphone race. Interesting that the latest development of the share prices suggest a different outcome.

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