<The Network is aware>

The Technology and Vendors

A study of whether and how DPI technology disrupts Internet governance must have a workable definition of what DPI technology is. This is not as easy as it may sound. Most of the things we call ‘a technology’ are actually complex systems that combine many different techniques and materials, some new, some old. Writers
in Actor-Network Theory (ANT) have called attention to ‘punctuation,’ the process by which the heterogeneous components of a technological system come to be seen as a single ‘thing’ (Law 1992).  Somewhat confusingly, ANT theorists call these things networks and claim that agency is an “effect produced by a patterned network of heterogeneous materials.” (Ibid) When the network performs as a single block, its constituent parts become invisible; the heterogeneous materials meld into a single actor. Something like that has happened to DPI. It has many features of standard internet technologies that have been around for a long time, such as routers, switches and firewalls. But still, it is a new capability.

There are also technologies that are not DPI but which perform similar functions. There is a tendency in popular discourse to conflate DPI with all forms of electronic surveillance, and in fact it is often used in conjunction with other forms of network surveillance. Further, many technologists in the field of DPI discuss distinct, specialized applications of it as if they were different technologies. There are important technical differences between techniques used by different DPI applications (e.g., the difference between matching a data string and a fingerprint).  In these two essays, we attempt to define and circumscribe DPI technology for the purpose of assessing its impact on Internet governance. The discussion is grounded in a set of interviews with 15 DPI vendors as well as a review of relevant technical and business literature.


The videos above are prepared by vendors. They are featured here because they illustrate some of the technological capabilities of DPI, and make claims typical of vendors regarding some of the use cases for DPI. Our goal here is to provide information about the social and business context of the technology and not to promote any specific vendor, product or organization.

What difference does a technology make?