Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for November 21st, 2017

MailChimp Switches to Single Opt-In By Default

Graham Cluley:

The only saving grace is that the better-managed newsletters ask you to confirm that you really really want to receive emails from them. They do this by sending a single email – normally with a clickable confirmation link – to the email address entered on their subscription form.

If you don’t respond to the confirmation email, you don’t get any follow-up emails. That’s how things are supposed to work. And it’s called double opt-in.

MailChimp:

Rather, as the majority of companies have moved to single opt-in, recipients have become re-educated on how email marketing confirmation works. Today, most people don’t expect or look for a double opt-in confirmation message when they subscribe to a newsletter.

Indeed, we’ve seen double-opt in rates within MailChimp slip to 39%. This means 61% of people start but do not finish the double opt-in process.

Maybe that’s because some people are given the opportunity to not be spammed, either when they perhaps didn’t intend to subscribe to a company’s emails, or perhaps they had the chance to second-guess their subscription after seeing their already-full inbox. That’s a good thing.

Via Michael Tsai, who writes:

For what it’s worth, nearly all the newsletters I subscribe to still use double opt-in.

Two things have saved my inbox from becoming a complete disaster over the past couple of years: double opt-in, and iOS’ prompt to unsubscribe from newsletter emails.

This announcement from MailChimp coincides with Julia Angwin’s report for ProPublica explaining how easily thousands of malicious subscriptions overwhelmed her email inbox and prevented her from doing her job.

The FCC Gets the History of ISP Regulation Wrong

Earlier today, I picked apart Ajit Pai’s comments made introducing his proposed repeal of net neutrality rules, but there was one thing I missed. There’s this trope that Pai has repeatedly invoked since taking office:

For almost twenty years, the Internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress. This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an Internet economy that became the envy of the world.

It’s a nonsense argument, as Rob Pegoraro pointed out in May in the Washington Post:

But Pai’s history is wrong. The government regulated Internet access under Clinton, just as it did in the last two years of Barack Obama’s term, and it did so into George W. Bush’s first term, too. The phone lines and the connections served over them — without which phone subscribers had no Internet connection — did not operate in the supposedly deregulated paradise Pai mourns.

Without government oversight, phone companies could have prevented dial-up Internet service providers from even connecting to customers. In the 1990s, in fact, FCC regulations more intrusive than the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules led to far more competition among early broadband providers than we have today. But Pai’s nostalgia for the ’90s doesn’t extend to reviving rules that mandated competition — instead, he’s moving to scrap regulations the FCC put in place to protect customers from the telecom conglomerates that now dominate the market.

The landscape of ISPs and the role they play in our lives has dramatically shifted since the mid-’90s. They are more like utilities than ever before, and ought to be regulated as such.

If you’re anything like me, when you’re shopping for broadband, you probably compare four things amongst your different options: speed, monthly allotment, availability, and price. That’s it. Internet service providers are dumb pipe provisioners. An electrical company can’t mandate which appliances you use or what you keep in your fridge; an ISP shouldn’t be allowed to limit your access to certain web services or promote others.

FCC Will Also Order States to Scrap Plans for Their Own Net Neutrality Laws

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

In addition to ditching its own net neutrality rules, the Federal Communications Commission also plans to tell state and local governments that they cannot impose local laws regulating broadband service.

[…]

It isn’t clear yet exactly how extensive the preemption will be. Preemption would clearly prevent states from imposing net neutrality laws similar to the ones being repealed by the FCC, but it could also prevent state laws related to the privacy of Internet users or other consumer protections. Pai’s staff said that states and other localities do not have jurisdiction over broadband because it is an interstate service and that it would subvert federal policy for states and localities to impose their own rules.

It’s not just an interstate service; the internet is an international service. Recent proposals from the FCC sharply contrast with net neutrality and online privacy legislation passed by the European Union and in Canada.

After the FCC canned internet privacy rules shortly before they were set to go into effect, several states and Seattle proposed legislation to protect the privacy of consumers living in their regions. If it isn’t the FCC’s job to police infringement upon Americans’ privacy by ISPs — as they seem to believe — why would they also think they have the power to usurp that right from states as well? And, aside from the global nature of the web, why would Pai’s FCC be so keen to preempt states from proposing local net neutrality rules?

Ajit Pai’s Giant Middle Finger

Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it planned to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites.

The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery of websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. Those limits are central to the concept called net neutrality.

Aside from media and internet conglomerates, who wants this? If you aren’t a shareholder or executive of one of those gigantic companies, why would you find anything at all to like about this proposal? It’s an anti-consumer, anti-competitive, and anti-American proposal that benefits very few at the expense of many.

Ajit Pai published a statement (PDF) on the FCC website, and it’s offensively misleading:

For almost twenty years, the Internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress. This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an Internet economy that became the envy of the world.

But in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.

Pai conflates the regulation of the internet with regulation of internet service providers. If he’s doing this unintentionally, he’s too stupid to run the FCC. But that clearly isn’t the case: he isn’t stupid, and I fully believe he’s conflating the two intentionally. Regulating the internet really does sound like a bad thing, but regulating Verizon and Comcast probably sounds pretty reasonable to most people — most people hate the way their internet service provider treats them. His claim that the internet is being “micromanaged” is an outright lie.

Moreover, his complaint that net neutrality regulations were passed under partisan terms is utterly ridiculous given that his proposal is also expected to pass along partisan lines — only this time, in a way that’s favourable to him.

Finally, his claim that Title II regulations have reduced broadband investment by ISPs is also a lie.

The Wall Street Journal also published an op-ed today from Pai in which he more publicly makes his case:

This is why I’m proposing today that my colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission repeal President Obama’s heavy-handed internet regulations. Instead the FCC simply would require internet service providers to be transparent so that consumers can buy the plan that’s best for them. And entrepreneurs and other small businesses would have the technical information they need to innovate. The Federal Trade Commission would police ISPs, protect consumers and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Instead of being flyspecked by lawyers and bureaucrats, the internet would once again thrive under engineers and entrepreneurs.

The internet is thriving under engineers and entrepreneurs; retaining Title II classification would allow small and independent creators to compete against established players. Repealing that classification, as Pai is proposing, would allow internet service providers create their own marketplaces with better service going to the richest and best-connected websites.

FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny took to Twitter to dispute the notion that the FTC could be able to adequately protect consumers:

So many things wrong here, like even if @FCC does this @FTC still won’t have jurisdiction. But even if we did, most discriminatory conduct by ISPs will be perfectly legal.

This news is dropping today and the text of the proposal will be released tomorrow because it’s the start of the Thanksgiving long weekend in the United States. Pai is counting on your outrage being buried under enough turkey and booze by Monday that you’ll forget about it. You can’t.

I’m Canadian, so it sounds like I shouldn’t care about this, but I do. I have to. The internet economy that is “the envy of the world”, in Pai’s words, is mostly an American one, so regulations that affect those companies affect the world, especially considering how weak American anti-trust regulations tend to be.

Consider that Comcast is working on a Netflix competitor, and that they also own NBCUniversal. It’s not hard to imagine an environment in which Comcast charges Netflix an extremely high rate to carry NBCUniversal TV shows and movies while also requiring Netflix to pay to be in their “fast lane” of internet service.

Comcast could also conceivably offer their streaming service at a reduced rate, or not count it against monthly bandwidth caps. In 2014, Kate Cox of the Consumerist reported that there were plenty of well-populated regions in the United States where Comcast had no broadband competition. As of last year, around 78% of Americans had a choice of zero or one provider for broadband of 25 Mbps or higher. In regions where Comcast is the only option, they could choose to offer NBC and MSNBC at a reduced rate on the web, but charge higher prices to view CNN or Fox News. If you didn’t like this, you could lodge an FTC complaint; but, as long as your ISP were being transparent about these practices, it wouldn’t be deceptive and may not even necessarily be predatory.

As cable companies increasingly become providers of television, home and business internet, home phone, cellular, and streaming services as well as making and distributing movies, music, and TV shows — including the news — this proposal becomes increasingly toxic. Combine this proposal with other moves Pai’s FCC has made and it’s a recipe for preserving the interests of the biggest businesses and media entities, and reducing competition from upstart and lesser-funded businesses.

You can — and should — hammer the FCC with your complaints, calls, and feedback on this. But be prepared for the long haul on this, because no matter which way Pai’s proposal goes, there’s a bigger story here. Karl Bode, Techdirt:

Supporters of net neutrality also need to understand that the broadband industry’s assault on net neutrality is a two-phase plan. Phase one is having an unelected bureaucrat like Ajit Pai play bad cop with his vote to dismantle the rules. Phase two will be to gather support for a net neutrality law that professes to be a “long-standing solution to this tiresome debate.” In reality, this law will be written by ISP lobbyists themselves as an attempt to codify federal apathy on this subject into law. These weaker protections will be designed to be so loophole-filled as to effectively be useless, preventing the FCC from revisiting the subject down the road. A solution that isn’t — for a problem they themselves created.

It’s understandable that the public and press is tired of this debate after fifteen years. But instead of hand wringing and apathy, we should be placing the blame for this endless hamster wheel at the feet of those responsible for it: Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter, and the army of lawmakers, economists, fauxcademics, and other hired policy tendrils willing to sell out the health of the internet — and genuinely competitive markets — for a little extra holiday cash. Folks that honestly believe they can lie repeatedly with zero repercussion, and hide a giant middle finger behind the gluten-free stuffing and Aunt Martha’s cardboard-esque pumpkin pie.

Pai is carrying water for ISPs and their paid interests in that damn mug of his which, incidentally, is also big enough to hide the middle finger he’s giving Americans. If you live in the United States, it’s up to you to tell him to put his mug down and start working for your interests, instead of for ISPs and against you. You deserve better.

I’m encouraged to see that “net neutrality” is a trending topic on Twitter, too. It’s something that everyone should be concerned about, regardless of age, political affiliation, or interest in technology. It’s important to spread the word on this to everyone you know: explain what net neutrality is, why it’s so important to preserve Title II rules, and talk about what normal people can do about it. Everyone deserves better than what Pai’s has proposed.