Researchers at the University of Michigan have devised a macro-scale internet rerouting concept based on steganography, which is the hiding of an URL routing so that it is visible only with a specific cryptographic decoding key. The value of such a process is that, if universally applied, the nearly two billion people on Earth who currently have no option but to access the internet from behind various blockage filters could access any website anywhere. The implementation of this system would benefit some sectors of the online marketing community that would gain a vast additional audience… but there are drawbacks.
An internet user confronting a website blockage currently has the option to route their request through a proxy server, a computer that acts as a “middleman” between the user and the blocked site. The problem with existing proxy servers is that the blockers of the original site can easily discover the proxies and block them too, leaving the user with no way to access the content on the selected page. That is why despite countless Chinese web surfers’ attempts to read forbidden sites dealing with Falun Gong; Tiananmen Square protests; Taiwanese or Tibetan independence; or any other subject on the Politburo’s taboo list, the Great Firewall of China remains essentially impregnable.
Telex Affects Both Governments & Parents
These university researchers have named their software Telex (ignoring the teletypewriters that were nearly universal in the mid-20th century), and it would allow any internet user to establish a secure connection to any unblocked password protected website. Once connected, the secure site would then act as a decoy to serve up the forbidden data. By utilizing the Telex process, internet users in China or anywhere else in the world could freely be routed to any website and short of literally cutting off the user’s connection outright, there is nothing any authority could do about it. This inability to censor would also be applicable to corporate intranets and cybernanny software, essentially doing an end run around the ability for anyone to stop anyone else from accessing any site on the net, whether it be a repressive government web censor, a corporate IT manager or a concerned parent.
Free the Access to Landing Pages
It would seem at first glance that the pornography, gambling and trash purveyors would benefit the most from this innovation, but there are various segments of legitimate online marketers and communicators who would also see the Telexization of the internet as a positive. Over a billion Chinese are currently blocked from reading a webpage containing any one of thousands of terms that in many cases have perfectly innocuous alternative meanings, such as mascot; tobacco; market access; bug; and commentator. Removing these barriers would certainly free the access to landing pages of licit email and social media marketers.
Various Conceptual Failings
The primary failing in the Telex concept is that most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) around the world would have to hold private Telex keys in order to properly divert the steganographic connections. Anyone who has ever held a meeting can testify to the difficulty in getting any group to agree on anything, let alone thousands of ISPs located in every country on the planet. Since the process of convincing the world’s ISPs to adopt Telex technology will be somewhat akin to herding a vast number of cats located all over the globe, the conversion of the internet into a universal proxy router may not occur any time soon. Another inherent flaw seems to be that governments such as China could theoretically reroute all internal traffic to flow through specific nodes that would replace the potentially encoded URLs with identical unencoded duplicates.
The ability for Chinese citizens to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and thousands of other currently blocked sites would definitely assist online marketers in engaging well over a billion new prospective customers, but the other side of the coin is that Telex-savvy minors would be able to freely view illicit content, and workers could obviate corporate intranet blocks with impunity. The jury is still out on whether Telex would be an overall blessing or a detriment.