[!Shocker] Over 1 Million Comments on Net Neutrality Came from PornHub Employees

Ajit Pai fcc net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the landmark net neutrality protections in favor of the Big Telecom last month. While Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, hadn't shown any inclination over considering the public comments, latest research shows that even if he did, the FCC probably was unable to differentiate between automated and real comments as the PornHub domain alone was used to submit over a million comments.

"The first of the exploratory data analyses showed some anomalies in how comments were submitted," Leah Figueroa, data engineer at the data analytics company Gravwell said during a presentation of a detailed analysis of the public comments submitted to the FCC regarding net neutrality (via Ars). Over 22 million comments were submitted to the Commission ahead of the repeal. During this process, several independent research firms along with New York Attorney General had raised concerns over fake comments. The FCC itself had claimed that it was a victim of a DDoS attack, however, failed to provide evidence to lawmakers.

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Comments submitted over net neutrality didn't mimic normal human behavior

Hundreds of thousands of comments were filed with the same time stamps, raising alarms. Apart from this, a number of comments were submitted with the contact email written in all-caps. "The all-caps addresses, indicating the emails were likely either generated by a program or pulled from a database, matched up with other hallmarks of bot-submitted comments about 99% of the time," Figueroa added.

Over a million of these bot-generated comments came from PornHub employees - or at least their email addresses. These comments also opted out of email acknowledgement since they would have bounced. Along with using the PornHub domain, there were several other ways bots were used to manipulate the public comment process, potentially by the Big Telecom itself.

  • Nearly 1,000 comments used the email ID john_oliver@yahoo.com
  • Over 1,000 used an email ID of a developer an India who had his email ID shared in a script on GitHub
  • Over 7,000 used example@example.com

Out of those 22 million comments, only 17.4% were unique. And most of them favored net neutrality. However, since Chairman Pai wasn't even looking into what the public wanted, this process had turned into some kind of a theatrical performance. But it does reveal interesting and concerning details about how a public comment process can be manipulated especially when an increasing number of countries are moving towards bringing several aspects of governance online. Despite the technological leaps of the past two decades, are we really ready to go all-digital?

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