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Telephony meets I’net: Google, XMPP, FOSS, anonymity, spam, security, and more

Google has been a telephony solution for the last few years with leverage from 3rd party support such as from Obihai. A change from Google has this service in turmoil. On the surface, it seems simple but the river is deep and turbulent.

Google says it doesn’t want to be a telephone company. It isn’t explicit but a large part of that is probably the regulatory regime. Telephone companies are tax targets and subject to many regulations about what they can do and how they do it. The 911 emergency number provides an example. Fees for this service are collected by states from telephone companies. Cell phones have been through this in E911 stages that run from tower location to in-phone GPS location and in allowing unregistered phones to make 911 calls.

Google says it is trying to increase security and avoid spam. For the I’net ideologues, having completely open systems and complete anonymity for users is ideal. The problem is that people aren’t ideal and open systems and anonymity invite misuse. That means that a federation of services with protocols that allow them to communicate in an open manner with anonymous users is an open invitation to end user harassment and even criminal activity. These concerns are behind Google’s limiting its XMPP services that many 3rd parties used to turn it into a telephone service.

Google is also trying to integrate its communications services. Way back when, a telephone was voice alone. Now you have text messaging, email, voice chats, and video conferencing. Rather than a device tied to a wire that goes to a telephone company, you may have a device that uses an I’net connection. The path between one user and another can run across many different types of communications links.

There are other issues that come up in this investigation as well. MagicJack has managed to avoid some regulatory hassles by separating its inbound and outbound services between different companies. Each has its own needs. For instance, inbound calls can have caller ID and this can be enhanced by a database look up that will match a name to a telephone numbers. Outbound calls may need 911 support, address resolution, and an enhanced user interface.

Addressing is also a problem. The telephone number goes back to the original land-line system and has its own history of development that resulted in area codes, international calling conventions, and local exchange conveniences. Email addresses showed up with the I’net and depended upon the domain name system. Social services going back to CompuServe and up to the currently popular such as Twitter and Facebook have their own methods for allowing their customers to communicate with each other.

The FUD mongers, Luddites, and B&I (bigoted and intolerant idiots) crowds are out there as well. They may not be a modern phenomena but it seems that all this communication capability has certainly given them more of a presence.

Here are some resources to find out more:

Digital Trends – privacy, federation, and consolidation in Google’s plans for Hangouts.

ZDNet – “Google moves away from the XMPP open-messaging standard. Summary: Google is moving away from supporting XMPP, aka Jabber, the open-messaging protocol, because of its lack of broad support and its use by spammers.”

The Verge – “Exclusive: Inside Hangouts, Google’s big fix for its messaging mess. How Google built its new messaging platform for Gmail, Android, iOS, and Chrome… and what took so long”

arstechnica – “Hands on with Hangouts, Google’s new text and video chat architecture. XMPP support remains for clients, but federation with Jabber is out.”

voidfox – “Why the new Google Hangouts screws over users”

Things are changing. When I first got an Amateur Radio license, the issue was about getting telephone company approval to connect a repeater autopatch to be able to place calls for assistance via Amateur Radio. The FCC stepped in and required the telephone company to accept technically qualified interfaces. The FCC also, a bit later, required the telephone company to allow other companies to ‘rent’ its facilities to be able to provide end user communications services. These days, twisted pair copper connections for end user communications needs are losing out to cable, fiber, and wireless methods. How people use communications services has also changed. The Google Voice brouhaha is an indicator that changes are still getting worked out. It’s going to be a wild ride! Fasten your seat belts and grab hold of something solid.  

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