A new AT&T patent awarded in mid November describes methods through which the Internet service provider may track the privacy-related habits of customers and assign them a “Subscriber Reputation Score” (SRS) which could be used to limit access to file-sharing or P2P sites for repeat pirating offenders. The patent, discovered by Torrent Freak, basically explains a means of regulating traffic inside a network by following patterns for users and monitoring Internet-browsing habits with a specific focus on pirated content.
AT&T explains in the documentation that such measures would be required to prevent users that access pirated content from hogging bandwidth through illegal downloads. “For example, millions of downloads may result from just one file that is posted on a shared network.” the patent reads. “Thus, efforts to date have been insufficient in protecting a user and/or a service provider from the results of unwanted network activity, which may pose significant risks to the user, network and/or service provider.”
Using the SRS score to classify users into risk categories, AT&T may interrupt access to copyright-infringing services for hose users that end up on the naughty list – or the high-risk file-sharing category. The patent uses words such as “monitoring,” “surveillance” and “quarantine,” that will certainly strike a negative chord with users, especially in light of all the recently uncovered extended surveillance programs and practices employed by a certain agency out there.
At the same time, it’s worth nothing that this is just a patent application for now, and it’s not clear whether AT&T will use it in the future against its subscribers. However, AT&T also has patents on tracking BitTorrent and P2P traffic and on reporting offenders to the authorities.