from the oh-really-now? dept
There are all sorts of reasons and ways to hate on big internet companies these days, but as we’ve warned, some of them are in conflict with one another — though that doesn’t seem to stop those who keep pushing the narrative forward from blindly repeating them anyway. The latest is a positively bonkers article in the Wall Street Journal arguing that Google’s (somewhat middle of the road) support for DNS over HTTPS (DoH) is potentially an antitrust violation worthy of Congressional action.
This is (1) utter nonsense and (2) driven by telcos looking to undermine consumer privacy. So if you’re a pro-privacy Google hater, you might want to at least reconsider supporting this particular line of attack. If you are unaware, under the current DNS system, you still leak some key metadata every time you visit a site to your DNS provider (which is usually, but not always, your broadband/internet access provider). It used to be that those providers could collect even more, page-level, information, but that is less and less true as more and more of the web itself is encrypted with HTTPS. DoH is an attempt to encrypt the last bit of info that leaks when you surf — the metadata about the top level domains you are visiting. Mozilla has been strongly pushing support for DoH, and will plan to move most public Firefox users to DoH in the relatively near future. Google, on the other hand, is supportive of the standard, but has shown no inclination to adopt it nearly as widely as Mozilla.
Either way, done correctly, DoH protects your privacy and stops the fairly large metadata loophole that has allowed DNS providers (generally your telco/broadband provider) from being able to snoop on everywhere you surf. There are some reasonable concerns that if browsers automatically force users to use specific DNS resolvers for DoH that it could, potentially, lead to more control/centralization of both those servers, but as EFF points out in the link above, that’s mitigated by more ISPs simply adopting DoH themselves.
The problem, of course, is that the biggest telcos, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast don’t want to stop spying on you and all of your internet habits. And, so, rather than adopting DoH, they’re trying to undermine DoH entirely by pretending that Google’s lukewarm interest in supporting DoH is, itself, an antitrust violation. What’s kind of incredible, however, is just how open they are about this plan, and that’s it’s entirely about preventing the big broadband providers from spying on your traffic:
“Because the majority of world-wide internet traffic…runs through the Chrome browser or the Android operating system, Google could become the overwhelmingly predominant DNS lookup provider,” a coalition of internet service providers said in a Sept. 19 letter to lawmakers. “Google would acquire greater control over user data across networks and devices around the world. This could inhibit competitors and possibly foreclose competition in advertising and other industries.”
They urged lawmakers to call on Google not to impose the new standard as a default standard in Chrome and Android.
Google, for it’s part, reiterated (as it has in the past) that it has no plans to force users into using its own DNS offerings. While the Wall Street Journal report at least quotes some pushback on this claim, it still seems to present this mostly as a credible antitrust concern, when the reality is that it’s clearly an attempt by big broadband players to play an antitrust card to (1) attack Google and (2) to prevent Google from helping consumers better protect their own internet privacy.
There are, of course, plenty of legitimate concerns that people have about Google’s own privacy practices. But pushing people towards DoH is a good thing. A few months back we saw UK ISPs laughably attack Mozilla’s plans to support DoH by calling the company an “internet villain” claiming that better protecting your privacy would undermine “internet safety standards.” To be clear: this is nonsense. What they mean is, like with other forms of encryption, it might make a very tiny number of criminals marginally harder to track down. But, on the flip side, it will massively protect everyone else’s privacy from overly snoop happy broadband providers.
We’ve noted for a while how hypocritical it is for people to focus on “antitrust” and “privacy” claims about the big internet companies, while ignoring the much larger problems on both fronts regarding broadband companies. Similarly, we’ve talked about how many of the attacks on “big tech” are quietly driven by the big broadband players quietly fanning the flames. But this story combines all of that. It’s the big broadband players/telcos pushing a totally bogus monopoly story against Google (which makes no sense at all if you understand the details, and which wouldn’t even be a potential monopoly concern at all if those very same broadband companies adopted DoH themselves), in order to stop Google from better protecting your privacy — so that the broadband providers can better snoop on you.
And, a side note: Rupert Mudoch’s Wall Street Journal has been one of the worst in pushing these misleading anti-Google/Facebook stories over the last few months, which is, again, no surprise at all, as it’s been revealed before that Murdoch has been eager to attack Google and Facebook and has no problem using the Wall Street Journal to do so. While this story at least includes some balance, the entire narrative arc of it seems to follow the telcos talking points — and it’s notable that while it briefly quotes a section of the telcos letter to Congress, it fails to post the entire letter. I wonder why…
Either way, this kind of thing undermines any serious discussion of either privacy or competition online, by mixing up and conflating an attempt to better protect privacy, and pretending it’s an antitrust violation.
Filed Under: antitrust, competition, dns over https, doh, privacy, rupert murdoch, snooping, telcos
Companies: google, mozilla