This post has been updated to take out some points that were misunderstood by me and have been clarified and another issue which appears to be resolved.
Okay, I'm spooked. I don't understand this enough to even claim something is wrong. This is the most bizarre "email situation" I have ever seen.
It began with the government giving the address firstname.lastname@example.org as the email address for citizens to send tip offs to the government about people who have black money. Leaving the Nazi like technique aside, I was puzzled by the address, as the Indian Income Tax Department's website is incometaxindia.gov.in
So I tried to find the website this email that the government provided belongs to. It doesn't exist. Okaaay. Does the domain exist? It does. And it seems to be registered to the income tax department as well. So far, so good.
Got a brainwave. If it was a server configured only for email, it wouldn't be seen by looking up domain, which looks at website address on port 80. So I did an MX lookup (that would be specifically for email server). Bingo! There it was, configuration errors and warnings and all, hosted on a subdomain pdcsmtp02.incometax.gov.in - which apparently is blacklisted for SPAM!!! The IP address for this is 126.96.36.199 (more on this later) and the reverse IP address does not match. It is for mail.incometaxindia.gov.in!!! Which seems to be blacklisted on FIVE spam lists? So the replies to the email will either not be received by people, or they will be received. It is unclear what has got the domains a spam status. The reasons could range from a relatively benign misuse of official address by a few employees to the server being compromised and used to send spam to even worse, the server being infected and emails could be infected too (spam is often the vector for malware, which is why you never click links in it, remember?)
Anyway, spam or not, whatever it was, I thought I'd found the holy grail. I tried going to the subdomain pdcsmtp02.incometax.gov.in. Page never stopped loading. It is still loading as I write this article. I have no idea what is on the other side. This is like a sarkari Darknet site.
I tried pinging it. Nothing. Depending on tool used, DNS service returns "domain not found" "name or service not found" etc.
On a relatively unrelated note, the IP address the Income Tax Department mail server is on, is hosted at DIT Jhandewalan and managed by a Mr. Simanchal Dash using his personal email address on yahoo and uses a Bharti Airtel network. Mr Simanchal Dash is personal secretary to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. A server is important and official property. It is unclear why the secretary of the Finance Minister controls the server for the income tax department using a private yahoo account, and not an official government email or, for that matter why the government needs to buy network connections from Airtel.
This post explains Net neutrality and the challenge facing it in India for all of you who can't exactly figure out what is going on. This is not intended to be comprehensive, but it gives you the bare bones of the issue and ideas on how to find out more to form your own opinion.
Net Neutrality is the idea that internet access not be manipulated to favor some websites over others. Unfortunately the user will still be limited by the internet package they purchase. Let us be upfront.
So why, if you don't have a website is this debate important to you?
When you surf the internet for entertainment or information or engagement, your freedom is at stake when you are manipulated toward using some sites over others. While some deals are transparent - in the form of packs - "100 MBof Facebook data free with 100MB 2g" or whatever, other deals may simply manifest as one website opening rapidly while another is agonizingly slow. So, your tendency to go with whichever is ready fast plays out over hundreds of thousands of users. Some sites make a windfall from your unintentional bias (that has been induced by technology) while others may become extinct. Do you intend to be biased?
So what if I am biased? I like fast websites, and they made the effort to be fast for me.
Not exactly. Throttling is more like other websites being made slower. But there are tangible disadvantages to you too. Let us begin with saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. When Flipkart invests its money to get you on their site, it only does it because it earns more from your visit. When your network ties up with one operator, it is essentially like the taxi driver who takes you to the "cheapest hotel" and earns a commission for bringing you. You have nothing more than the driver's word that it is the cheapest.
If you are looking for a laptop and get an array of prices from Flipkart fast, while its competing sites will load agonizingly slow, chances are high that you miss finding the cheapest option, because you will be bored surfing slow sites while one blazing fast one is tantalizingly close. The difference in the laptop costs would probably buy you several data upgrades that could let you surf and find the best choice.
But I don't buy online.
How about Facebook (which has a history of offering user data to governments) being the only social network you can use because it is fast and even if you are willing to use a safer one, all your contacts are on Facebook, because it is fast.
What happens when you have to buy data packs and what looked like a FREE Facebook pack becomes a collection of 100MB packs each coming with something else free? One for WhatsApp, one for Google, another for youtube.... Would it be cheaper, really? It isn't cheap while you get the "free Flopkart" either. Only less visible, because you will easily use up the 100MB non-Facebook data and you're getting only one pack.
Would the cheap packs still be free if you purchased them a-la-carte and added sites you use often one by one - for a price? You'd have to, because using them normally would give you the slow versions or be costly if you use them a lot. How many sites do you use in a month?
What if you are an activist or blogger?
If you get a whim to start a blog, you can just start one today. Without Net Neutrality, your blog would be like the tree that fell unseen, unheard - did you even make a blog if no one reads it? If people get bored waiting for it to load and find something better to do? This page loaded in 2 seconds. If it loaded in 8, would you have waited to read something that says "pay attention here"?
There are hundreds of blogs starting daily. Causes. Initiatives. Businesses. Someone finds a problem with degradation of environment in their area, starts a website to converge resources and information to fight it. Today, if you want to start a website, you buy a domain name that costs about Rs.300 for the first year and some webhosting space and you're in business. If you are like me, you already have a server and one domain name later, you add a new website to it. New initiative launched for a net cost of Rs.300 and some effort. What if all these people would be seen normally worldwide, but achingly slow in India, where their target audience is?
Or, the cost of starting a website just went up to Rs.300 + hosting + Airtel hafta + Idea hafta + Vodafone hafta...... 20 operators later, and most of your website running cost would be about PREVENTING artificial interference from driving away your visitors instead of whatever you are trying to do. Or, of course you can pray that all your visitors have the patience of a saint.
[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]Without #NetNeutrality most of the cost of website would be in preventing it being silenced by paying off providers[/tweetthis]
When the Net Neutrality debate was raging in the US, activists had organized a day when websites participating in the protest deliberately slowed down their websites to show people what the internet would be like without Net Neutrality. It was the 10th September - day after my son's birthday. I will remember it for a long time, because almost none of my visitors read a second page on any of the six blogs I had activated it on, on that day. From thousands of pageviews, that day was a few hundred. Who'd want to read another page on a site that just.wont.load? I did it deliberately. This would become my reality unless I was willing to shell out money for faster access.
There is a protocol coming up. Http/2. It is already released of sorts. Google and big sites implement it. By the end of the year, a very popular server called Nginx will be implementing it. Sites worldwide will become much, much faster. Except for sites that won't pay these middlemen - in India.
The Telecom industry has been showing huge profits.
This isn't about not being able to afford. It is about exploiting a ready resource for the profit of some cronies. I have said this before, during the debate on FDI and I say it now. We are not used to thinking of the Indian population as a national resource. Yet, if you can harness something that earns you a rupee from each Indian a month, you'll earn a cool 1.2 billion every month. Whether it is by opening the market so foreign companies can profit, or luring citizens to services you make deals with, so those services earn from it. And make no mistake, even if you buy nothing on Facebook, write nothing, even checking your notifications loads pages and earns Facebook ad revenues. Notice how the notifications are designed so that you can NEVER make out which post got the like from your friend till you actually click the link to find out. That's a page load.
I am not trying to be paranoid or even grudge anyone advertizing revenues. Only pointing out that your convenience is not the goal, the goal is revenue. But it wastes YOUR time. But other services that may be way more user friendly will not be able to compete with a network promoted by every telecom operator in the country. Even if you are willing to risk a slower network, people you network with will likely not.
In other words, this is a manipulation, and for all the claims of "giving Facebook free", as Rajesh Mathews put it, I have yet to come across a single free data pack on any mobile provider's website. You have to purchase data, and you get their crony for "free", which will be recovered from your hide in other ways.
Data is data. What you use it for is your business. When you purchase data, it is being sold because it is profitable selling it. The idea that existing data is not profitable and hence principles of equality must be ignored is discrimination and illegal.
The idea that there isn't enough spectrum and therefore existing services that are ALREADY MAKING MASSIVE PROFITS can hold India's internet hostage for their own windfalls is plain and ugly cronyism, if the government allows it.
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard Just ask. I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS†
Friend: What? How'd you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it. I don't know why. They "trust me" Dumb *ucks.
The Zuck in the above conversation is Mark Zuckerberg. And they are talking about Facebook.
It is a fact universally acknowledged and admitted by Facebook itself that it sells data of and about its users. In the movie Matrix, the machines use humans as their power source feeding into their brains a computer-generated dreamworld to keep them under control. Facebook's product is its users. To keep them occupied with frivolous stories Facebook makes up algorithms, creates filter bubbles, digs up stories from the past, makes deleting the account extremely hard, sends SMS notifications when they remain logged out for a while, and even influences their emotions by manipulating what they see.
Despite all the evil sins of modern day spying networks, the control they exert on the Web has grown to dictatorial extends that saying "No" to their terms is becoming impossible for everyone. Yet, that is exactly what the members of a fast growing community of diaspora* users are telling them.
Diaspora is a free software that powers the diaspora* social network - a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network. Its three main tenets are decentralization, freedom, and privacy. Anyone can install Diaspora on their own server (diaspora pod) and have complete control over their data. All such pods can communicate with each other, just like email. By nature the network is resistant to take-downs and censorship.
Diaspora and other privacy aware software like Cryptocat, TextSecure, GPG, are real alternatives to the insecure, proprietary communication software in the market today. But unfortunately, the number of people who are aware of these and make use of these is incredibly small. That is why a team of Indian diaspora users started "Diaspora Yatra", a campaign which aims to promote diaspora* and good privacy practices.
Diaspora Yatra has completed 3 weeks in Kerala visiting schools, colleges, libraries, and other public spaces. Pirate Praveen and others are holding discussions, debates, and workshops to engage people - students, teachers, workers, advocates, all who turn up - and to make them think about privacy.
People welcome their initiative and some do stop doing what is convenient and start doing what is right. Diaspora yatra team are frequently asked questions like "what happens to security if communications cannot be intercepted by the government?" They are ready with answers like "Does giving up privacy guarantee security?". Curious school students wonder who gets to see their photos and who does not, and more importantly how they can control it. Lawyers talk about whether pod admins should be moderating the content on their pod, whether that'll be equivalent to censorship.
These are signs for hope. People are slowly beginning to ask important questions about privacy, security, freedom, etc. It will soon be impossible for corporate entities to wield unfair control over what one does on the Web. Assuming we all say "no" to unsavory practices and stand up for an open Web.
The Twitter and Youtube accounts of CENTCOM (Central Command) appear to be hacked and are posting pro ISIS content, threats as well as what appears to be detailed information for officers.
The account claims to have breached computers in all military bases.
The account is currently suspended..
Others on Twitter have expressed skepticism about the hacked account citing incongruencies like the ISIS never referring to itself as the ISIS or noting that some of the material posted was already available on the internet while the rest was unverifiable. The quick confirmation from CENTCOM of what could be a serious breach only fuelled suspicions that it was a false flag operation.