Who Will Control Speech Online?

18 Oct
Wednesday, 10/18/2017 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Computer Science Building, Room 151
Distinguished Lecturer Series
Speaker: Nick Feamster
Abstract: As citizens of the world increasingly rely on the Internet for information and communications, online communication faces a daunting array of technical, legal, and social threats. The first significant threat concerns government control over how and whether its citizens can communicate and access information. Governments continue to develop an arsenal of mechanisms to filter and manipulate the Internet's underlying protocols to interfere with online communication. Understanding the nature of this evolving threat is important both to inform policy and to guide the development of mechanisms that can circumvent these controls. Towards this goal, I will describe our ongoing efforts to measure and characterize this threat using a suite of techniques that can now continuously measure Internet filtering in hundreds of countries around the world. A second, less well-understood but potentially even more pernicious threat concerns controls over who gets "gets an audience" online; in other words, what information gets disseminated and what information is suppressed. Online content platforms from search engines to social networks now serve as the primary gateways to information for many Internet users, and these platforms increasingly curate the content that users see online, often using automated algorithms. Unfortunately, these platforms are ripe for attack--through technical manipulation, content pollution, and legal pressure. I will discuss several technical vulnerabilities that these platforms face and our efforts to mitigate them. I will also discuss how the shifting legal landscape in the United States and abroad places these platforms at the nexus of the coming battles for control of online speech and discuss both technical and policy steps we can take to help preserve the future of online speech.


  Bio: Nick Feamster is a professor in the Computer Science Department at Princeton University and the Deputy Director of the Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP). Before joining the faculty at Princeton, he was a professor in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech. He received his Ph.D. in Computer science from MIT in 2005, and his S.B. and M.Eng. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT in 2000 and 2001, respectively. His research focuses on many aspects of computer networking and networked systems, with a focus on network operations, network security, and censorship-resistant communication systems. In December 2008, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his contributions to cybersecurity, notably spam filtering. He is an ACM Fellow. His other honors include the Technology Review 35 "Top Young Innovators Under 35" award, the ACM SIGCOMM Rising Star Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, the NSF CAREER award, the IBM Faculty Fellowship, the IRTF Applied Networking Research Prize, and award papers at the SIGCOMM Internet Measurement Conference (measuring Web performance bottlenecks), SIGCOMM (network-level behavior of spammers), the NSDI conference (fault detection in router configuration), Usenix Security (circumventing web censorship using Infranet), and Usenix Security (web cookie analysis).


Faculty Host