Brussels / 4 & 5 February 2017


Interview with Vesna Manojlovic
Ethics in Network Measurements . Moral obligations of engineers, scientists and hackers, based on example of RIPE Atlas

Photo of Vesna Manojlovic

Vesna Manojlovic will give a talk about Ethics in Network Measurements . Moral obligations of engineers, scientists and hackers, based on example of RIPE Atlas at FOSDEM 2017.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Vesna, I am a Community Builder at RIPE NCC, and a hacker.

I have been studying engineering and using computer networks since 1991, first in Yugoslavia, and during the last 20 years in Holland.

I was initially a trainer and lecturer at RIPE NCC for 12 years, covering topics such as IPv6, BGP security, DNSSEC, Internet Governance and distribution of IP addresses. For five years after that, I was a Community Builder for RIPE Atlas - an active measurements platform. In my other life, I am a member of hackerspaces and a speaker at hacker events, and I am fortunate to be able to combine my participation both in the networking community and the hacker community. Recently, I have organised four hackathons, in order to bring together network operators and software developers, together with designers, researchers and hackers, to create tools and data visualizations based on RIPE Atlas data.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

These are the main messages that I want to convey.

My reasons for this choice of topic are both personal and professional: my outlook about the consequences of technology has changed over time.

When I started using the Internet, it was in the spirit of “hacker ethics” and “techno optimism”, when we believed that technology in general and the Internet in particular were going to bring only positive changes to the world. Now, 20 years later, it is becoming more and more clear that those who have the power to influence the technology also have a large responsibility that comes with that power.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I want to raise awareness of the ethical considerations that our choices have, both in relation to those who are building the new technologies, the FOSDEM audience for example, and as users of tools for measuring Internet reachability, particularly RIPE Atlas.

After my talk, I hope that the audience will:

Q: RIPE Atlas started in 2010. How did it evolve during all those years?

Here’s a one sentence introduction to RIPE Atlas: it is a global, open, distributed Internet measurement platform, consisting of thousands of measurement devices that measure Internet connectivity in real time.

On the technical level, we have mostly kept to the fundamental decisions that were decided at the start of the RIPE Atlas project: active measurements, on the IP layer, from small (affordable) hardware devices, hosted by community participants and funded by the community (mostly via RIPE NCC membership).

According to the plan, we keep growing: in order to show the reachability of Internet infrastructure from “everywhere”, we need to deploy more and more devices across the globe - to ensure broad representation.

Over time, small adjustments have been made:

Q: Were you already aware of the ethical implications of RIPE Atlas when it started?

Yes, indeed, the architects of RIPE Atlas made decisions about significant characteristics of the system based on ethical concerns:

In 2015 we published extensive documentation in the IP Journal, which provides further details.

Q: Are the users of RIPE Atlas aware of their moral obligations when using the network?

We are fortunate to have very active, aware and technically educated hosts.

Our community already has high ethical standards, and they hold us to these standards too. One example is that they requested us to make the measurements source code open, which led to us releasing the code in 2013.

Another example is: every time they “hacked” a probe, they followed “responsible disclosure” security procedures, and informed us first, so that we can fix the bugs before they become public.

When we were moving from prototype towards production service, we held a discussion with the community and came up with “Terms and Conditions” that respect the privacy of hosts, and which clarify expectations and responsibilities between us. All hosts need to agree to them before becoming part of the system:

Q: What are some of the most interesting moral dilemmas you have encountered while building or using RIPE Atlas?

In short: HTTP measurements. I will cover these in more detail in the talk, but for the impatient, they are covered in these RIPE Labs articles: HTTP measurements with RIPE Atlas and Ethics of RIPE Atlas measurements.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Yes, I enjoyed FOSDEM every time! It’s an amazing event, and I appreciate that is is organised by volunteers. The content is often overwhelming, but the social aspect of it is vital - I see it as an opportunity to meet with friends and collaborators.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.