Apple and Cloudflare's Oblivious DNS addresses a gap in the privacy protections of the internet's routing infrastructure
- Apple and Cloudflare introduced new privacy protocol Oblivious DNS to protect users' internet traffic.
- The technical fix addresses a major gap in the privacy protections of the internet's routing infrastructure.
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Engineers at Apple, Cloudflare, and Fastly have collaborated on a new protocol that would mask internet traffic and improve fundamental privacy protections for internet users, according to TechCrunch.
The new protocol changes how the Domain Name System (DNS), or the "phonebook of the internet," looks up human-readable websites (like insiderintelligence.com) and matches them to machine-readable Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (like 188.8.131.52). Right now, users' requests for websites are expressed in cleartext, meaning that ISPs can effectively see both the website address and the IP address that identifies the device from which a user browses.
The new protocol, Oblivious DNS-over-HTTPS (ODoH), would fix the cleartext problem by encrypting the domain name part of the request and introducing a proxy to handle the IP identity part of the request. Oblivious DNS would ensure no single party—including an ISP—can see both the website URL and the IP address of the query. Research has explored whether adding encryption and proxies introduces performance degradation to response times or page load times, and so far results suggest the impact is minimal.
The privacy-protecting protocol could potentially shield consumers' web browsing behaviors from ISPs. Since the 2017 repeal of the FCC's privacy rules, ISPs technically have been able to share and monetize users' browsing histories. While Oblivious DNS would obscure DNS routing information, ISPs would still have visibility into most other internet traffic metrics that can map to individual usage behaviors. Internet users have relatively low expectations of ISP's ability to protect personal data compared with other industries, according to a 2019 GlobalWebIndex survey.
Oblivious DNS would bake privacy protections into the fundamental addressing infrastructure of the internet. Right now it's just a proposed standard, but engineers are working within the Internet Engineering Task Force to formalize the protocol so it can be integrated into browsers and operating systems for wider adoption.
Oblivious DNS represents an intervention to the code and architecture—as opposed to policies and regulation—of the web to address privacy concerns, reimagining what information is necessary to share with DNS servers and ISPs to enable routing traffic. Oblivious DNS joins other architectural reimaginings of how the internet handles data, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee's Solid architecture which allows users to control permissions to access to their personal data with explicit policies and use cases in mind.
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