- UPDATE: After several news published, Apple told Dave Choffnes that his iPhone app, designed to detect net neutrality violations, will be allowed in the iTunes App Store. Apple has blocked the WeHe app, a net neutrality testing app in AppStore. Wehe app is simple enough to use. On being opened, the app asks the user to agree to a consent form, which is being used by Coffnes to serve the purposes of his research. Later, Apple confirmed it allowed the app in iTunes App Store.
A month has passed since FCC repealed Net Neutrality on 14th December 2017. But the consumer outrage over this continues to grow. Amidst such outrage, Apple’s latest move in blocking an app that detects Net Neutrality violations from its app store has shocked and understandably disgruntled users.
The app in question goes by the name of Wehe and is the brainchild of David Choffnes, a researcher at Northeastern University. Wehe app is simple enough to use. On being opened, the app asks the user to agree to a consent form, which is being used by Coffnes to serve the purposes of his research, and click “run test”. The app then runs its test to check the download speed of 7 apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo.
The research conducted by Choffnes have led him to certain conclusions, the most basic being that telecom companies throttle data, especially video data. However, the throttling is not content or server related but is based on keywords. When contact is established between a video service provider and a telecom service provider, certain plain text information is exchanged between the two, and upon encountering certain keywords, the telecom service provider begins to throttle data for certain contents.
“We realized that they’re looking for certain text in the network traffic, and if we changed that text—replaced nflxvideo.net with northeasternvideo.com—when we send that traffic over the network, it doesn’t get throttled,” Choffnes said. “This means it’s keyword related and not server or even content related.”
Furthermore, Choffnes has said that video data are throttled round the clock in order to decongest data traffic. However, throttling data is at loggerheads with the rules of Net Neutrality. Choffnes’ app has the capacity to allow its users to check the services being provided to them by various telecom service providers and thus enable them to make an informed decision about which telecom service provider to choose. Apple’s move to block such a pro-consumer app from their App Store has thus inevitably raised quite a few eyebrows.
If users can’t gain access to any information regarding Net Neutrality violations because of apps being blocked by the iOS platform, how are they supposed to create a large enough outrage to prevent telecom companies from violating Net Neutrality, as suggested by FCC? While telecom service providers’ desire to not play by the rules of Net Neutrality remains understandable due to reasons of profit, Why Apple has deemed it fit to claim that the Wehe app “has no direct benefits to the user” remain a dubious question. Apple has yet to comment on the move.