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Apple Is Blocking an App That Detects Net Neutrality Violations (vice.com) 259

dmoberhaus writes: Apple isn't allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained "objectionable content" and "has no direct benefits to the user."
The reporter, who tested the app through the beta channel, writes: The app is designed to test download speeds from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. According to the app, my Verizon LTE service streamed YouTube to my iPhone at 6 Mbps, Amazon Prime video at 8 Mbps, and Netflix at 4 Mbps. It downloaded other data at speeds of up to 25 Mbps. UPDATE: Slashdot reader sl3xd has made us aware of an update to the story. "After this article was published, Apple told Dave Choffnes that his iPhone app, designed to detect net neutrality violations, will be allowed in the iTunes App Store," reports Motherboard. "According to Choffnes, Apple contacted him and explained that the company has to deal with many apps that don't do the things they claim to do. Apple asked Choffnes to provide a technical description of how his app is able to detect if wireless telecom providers throttle certain types of data, and 18 hours after he did, the app was approved." "The conversation was very pleasant, but did not provide any insight into the review process [that] led the app to be rejected in the first place," Choffnes told Motherboard in an email.
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Apple Is Blocking an App That Detects Net Neutrality Violations

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  • Courage! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 18, 2018 @10:52AM (#55952615)
    Never in short supply at Apple.
    • You mean the same courage as to use an anonymous handle for tongue in cheek comment?

  • The app is designed to test download speeds from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. According to the app, my Verizon LTE service streamed YouTube to my iPhone at 6 Mbps, Amazon Prime video at 8 Mbps, and Netflix at 4 Mbps. It downloaded other data at speeds of up to 25 Mbps

    I would have expected the big players paying oodles of money to the carriers will get preferential treatment, and the random internet startup will struggle to get its bits to you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ZorinLynx ( 31751 )

      Cellular providers will sometimes throttle video, not to be jerks and violate net neutrality, but to save your data plan.

      Streaming video providers will usually send you the maximum video quality that your connection can support. If 25mbps is available, they could be sending you full HD or even 4K at a high bitrate so the quality is really good. This isn't really of much benefit on a small mobile screen, so you're tearing through your data plan for no real reason.

      AT&T calls this feature "streamsaver" and

      • by fortfive ( 1582005 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:08AM (#55952697)

        Your well-reasoned and thoughtful contribution offends my angry narrative, sir!

      • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:12AM (#55952723)
        I have unlimited data and an MHL-HDMI interface so I can play videos on a large TV using my phone, you insensitive clod.

        Cell providers are being jerks and violating net neutrality. If a user wants to limit bandwidth, the streaming app should give them controls to do so, that's not the bailiwick of the cell provider, quite the opposite. Regardless of the FCC's recent actions regarding net neutrality, Verizon is still bound by the open access terms [cornell.edu] under which it obtained new LTE bands, which prohibits them from limiting or restricting applications (that would include Netflix, etc.).
        • We should all be able to go the speed limit at all times, everywhere. Who are these insensitive clods who are violating the speed limit laws?

          Of course what the good professor is actually measuring is bandwidth and the carriers are only a part of that. Netflix may only be streaming at 4 mbps. Does the video play? Maybe they only provide that much bandwidth since you are only paying them $10 a month. People act like there is an unlimited amount of bandwidth but there are numerous bottlenecks between

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          I have unlimited data and an MHL-HDMI interface so I can play videos on a large TV using my phone, you insensitive clod.

          If you are casting to a large TV, then the cellular carrier probably reasons that you ought to be using the fiber or cable Internet connection to which your household subscribes, not the more limited spectrum over which cellular service is provided.

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            They're welcome to pull fiber to the campsite I boondock on in my solar powered camper. Or, a separate cable Internet connection to my hotel room when I travel so I get enough bandwidth to stream video. But, they haven't offered to do so.
            • There are good technical reasons why encouraging people to stream 6Gb video streams on modern cellular systems is not a good idea. I'm inclined though to suggest that if someone wants more than 1.5Mbps for continuous, non-bursty, bandwidth, the cellular companies should find a way to provide it, but charge that minority that needs it accordingly.

              I suspect that most people, faced with a choice between $60/month wired, $60/cellular but with some applications reasonably throttled, and $200/mobile unthrottle

            • You may have an XY problem [stackexchange.com] here. You say want to stream in HD, but you probably just want to watch in HD. One workaround is to install a BD player in your camper or bring one with you to your hotel room. Another is to use a video service that allows downloading in advance for later play while offline and do so while connected to fiber, cable, or DSL. Or what makes those impractical for the use cases you describe?

        • Good thing there are decent choices of cell providers in the free market.

      • That should be a feature of the phone/os/video player. It should not be a feature hidden in a dark corner by a provider.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

        Cellular providers will sometimes throttle video, not to be jerks and violate net neutrality, but to save your data plan.

        Yes, we all realize that AT&T only has our best interest in mind. They are known for their selfless generosity and concern for customers.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:49AM (#55952951)

        Cellular providers will sometimes throttle video, not to be jerks and violate net neutrality, but to save your data plan.

        In other words: to coerce you to accept excessively a high per-Gigabyte cost and avoid what they view as "wasteful fidelity" they will tamper with your traffic to reduce your consumption.
        "Save your overly restrictive data plan" is really REALLY not a good reason for throttling.

        This isn't really of much benefit on a small mobile screen, so you're tearing through your data plan for no real reason.

        You can very well be mirroring that mobile screen to something larger where you will feel that it matters.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          You can very well be mirroring that mobile screen to something larger where you will feel that it matters.

          Where might this larger screen happen to be where there is no Wi-Fi?

        • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

          Actually if you're paying a high per-gigabyte cost its actually in their interest *not* to throttle you, as then you'll be paying for more gigabytes...

          Having streaming video throttled by default is a good thing, providing there is an option to turn the throttling off. Cellphone screens are relatively small, so unless the quality is extremely low or your eyesight especially good you'll not notice. Also cellphones run on batteries, consuming more bandwidth to download larger higher quality video which then re

      • by kenh ( 9056 )

        AT&T calls this feature "streamsaver" and it's on by default; you have to turn it off if you don't want it. There's probably no shenanigans at work here, just trying to prevent customers complaining that watching one Netflix movie used their entire data plan.

        I remember when the retina display iPads came out, folks were, as you say, burning through their monthly data plan after one or two movies over cellular.

      • Cellular providers will sometimes throttle video, not to be jerks and violate net neutrality, but to save your data plan.

        It's still a net neutrality violation thought. Or perhaps I should say it was.

        • s/thought/though/g

          That's what rushing to post before the food arrives gets you.

        • Cellular providers will sometimes throttle video, not to be jerks and violate net neutrality, but to save your data plan.

          It's still a net neutrality violation thought. Or perhaps I should say it was.

          That depends, do they throttle all video streaming, including any video service owned by AT&T? If so, then they aren't discriminating based on source/destination, and so it isn't a violation of the strictest definition of Net Neutrality.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        How come data plans in the US are so shitty? I pay about $18/month for unlimited data, unlimited SMS and 300 minutes of talk time. 4G and all that.

        I wonder if there is a real problem with available bandwidth that necessitates high prices to discourage use, or if they are just using that as an excuse to fleece you.

        • How come data plans in the US are so shitty?

          My best guess is that there are too few nationwide cellular carriers to trigger a price war for both wholesale (to MVNOs) and retail cellular service, yet there are enough carriers not to trigger either anti-cartel provisions of competition law or federal regulation of prices.

      • There's also a tragedy of the commons waiting to happen. If everybody has an unlimited data plan and everybody tries to stream 4K video all the time, the cell network would struggle. I thought QOS was allowed even back under Net Neutrality rules. This isn't something insidious, just trying to make sure that their phone network keeps working as a phone network.
      • This isn't really of much benefit on a small mobile screen

        Right, because every device with a cellular antenna has a tiny low-res screen?
        Carriers should not be deciding what I want.

  • This kind of measurement tool is an awesome creation and we need more. I'd love to use an Android version of it to test my apps and see what AT&T does to shape my traffic. Unless there's some sort of hidden issue, there is absolutely no reason why Apple should withhold this from the store, considering all of the other useless crap that's out there.
    • This kind of measurement tool is an awesome creation and we need more.

      Yes. And then we need to educate the users so they know what they are actually measuring and, more important, what they are not. Sadly, even on /., that information is lacking.

      and see what AT&T does to shape my traffic.

      Thank you for proving my point. That is not one of the things you can measure with this app. You cannot differentiate between "AT&T shaping" and "source limited." If you connect to a website that has a 10Mb ethernet connection you're going to think that awful old AT&T must be "shaping" your traffic from them. You can't even g

  • by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:01AM (#55952659)
    Don't expect one company's walled garden to allow tools to help you detect other company's walled gardens. These walled gardens are becoming more like the hedge maze at the Overlook Hotel.
    • Don't expect one company's walled garden to allow tools to help you detect other company's walled gardens. These walled gardens are becoming more like the hedge maze at the Overlook Hotel.

      Or maybe one of Apples App reviewers is just a die hard Trumpkin and an enthusiastic Ajit Pai fan? It would explain the"objectionable content" and "has no direct benefits to the user." labels.

  • by naubol ( 566278 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:04AM (#55952671)
    Silly developer, Apple has no interest in enabling people to climb or even notice garden walls!
  • Youtube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix send you content at the rate that it can be consumed by the device. If they sent you 1000Mbps upon opening video that you may drop after 10 seconds they would waste their resources and your data plan.
    • by kqs ( 1038910 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @12:16PM (#55953121)

      TFA says that this app doesn't measure a video coming to you; it connects to the speed tests which each of the major video services now have and tries them. So you are absolutely correct, and your statement is also completely irrelevant. This measures peak performance to these sites, and if peak performance varies widely, well, look for the commonalities between the poorly performing sites. It all of them are direct video competitors with your ISP, I think we know what's going on.

  • by Utopia ( 149375 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:28AM (#55952805)

    The Android version is available on the Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com]

  • Except Knowledge (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkman ( 863999 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @11:31AM (#55952829)

    "has no direct benefits to the user."

    Except knowledge, and we wouldn't want that.

    As for the other comment, yes speed depends on more than just network speed, but if the guy next to me on Verizon streams Netflix at 4 Mbps and I stream on Sprint at 20 Mbps then we can safely theorize that Verizon is throttling him. We don't know for sure, but we can build a case.

    Without that knowledge we have nothing to go on.

    • by dkman ( 863999 )

      In bad form I'm going to reply to my own comment.

      If I get 4Mbps through Verizon, then connect to wifi and get 20Mbps, disconnect from wifi and go back to 4Mbps I can also assume some funny business.

    • >Except knowledge, and we wouldn't want that.

      Insufficient knowledge for a good diagnosis, but plenty of knowledge to stoke outrage.

      If there was a way to lock this down to 'users who know what they are doing', that'd be great... but the whole Apple platform is built on 'you can be dumb as a box of rocks and still look like one of the elite using this product'.

      If you really want to install pretty much what you want on your phone, get an Android device. It's a hell of a lot easier to get around most of the

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      if the guy next to me on Verizon streams Netflix at 4 Mbps and I stream on Sprint at 20 Mbps then we can safely theorize that Verizon is throttling him. We don't know for sure, but we can build a case.

      What if the local CO for Sprint hosts a Content Delivery Server for Netflix but Verizon pulls it down from a remote Content Delivery Server? You have to assume that both carriers are being fed data from the same source at the same rate, and all Netflix content does not come from one central server location for all customers.

      Out of curiosity, what conceivable difference would it mean to have your video stream at 25 Mb/sec instead of 4Mb/sec? Are you going to watch your videos at 6x real-time speed? Going to

      • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

        You have to assume that both carriers are being fed data from the same source at the same rate

        Which the professor provided for by having all the data stream from his own server.

        • Which the professor provided for by having all the data stream from his own server.

          And he caught T-Mobile's "BingeOn" service, based on a metadata item in a header. While TFA refers to BingeOn as limited to a few major streaming providers, it is actually an open program available to anyone who wants to apply. At that point their data becomes zero-rated.

          In real life, of course, the source still has a great deal of control over how much data it sends, and "proving" that the speed from X is slower than the speed from Y is meaningless.

    • I don't think the app should have been blocked, but I question the use of it.

      You run the app, and because the internet is what it is different sources yield different speeds. Now what?

      You can't say for sure it's your ISP slowing down anything. But the app sure is implying that is the case. So this app would basically get a lot of people riled up where there may not be any reason to do so.

      If it were billed as a "check your speed for your favorite streaming provider" it may have even gone through, I think

      • OK, after reading the article I see that the app is not accessing data from the other companies, just mimicking that data...

        However this is wrong (speaking about traffic shaping):

        Such âoeprioritizationâ or data discrimination violates one of the core tenets of net neutrality,

        That is totally false. It is only when you are discriminated by origin, not type, that you are violating network neutrality. Can all of the technical users on Slashdot agree that traffic shaping is useful and valid for all n

    • If I cared that much about Netflix over my cellular connection, I would then conclude that I should dump Verizon and go with Sprint as my provider.

  • and considering they are blocking this app it proves one thing, despite being gay Tim Cook is still corrupted by big money, i guess equality is only a fight for the poor & middle-class, once you're rich the rule is to shit on the rest of the world,

    as long as i got mine, isnt that right Tim Cook
    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      despite being gay Tim Cook is still corrupted by big money

      So you previously thought only straight people were capable of being "corrupted by big money"?

      You need to get out of the basement more often.

      • i would think that a gay person despite being rich and well connected would still be more concerned with civil rights and equality than say a rich white straight heterosexual like Trump or Pence
        • by kenh ( 9056 )

          Why?

          Have you never seen someone bullied as a child grow up and become a bully?
          Have you never seen a victim of racism grow up and exhibit racist behavior?
          Have you never heard of a victim of childhood sexual abuse grow up and sexually abuse children?

          Assuming someone's generosity based on their sexual orientation is simply nonsensical, and I think fits the definition of sexism [merriam-webster.com]:

          behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

  • Seems dumb for Apple to block the app.

    That said, a difference in network speed does not imply evil intent, and that's part of the problem with the whole net neutrality thing.

    Consider the side of a cellphone carrier. I know, I know, it's fun to say they're evil and all that, but just look at the technical problem they're trying to solve: you have some limited resources (your slice of the wireless spectrum, your capacity at your cell towers, your connections to the backbone) that you are trying to divide up a

  • I'd love to run the app on my device. Where's the repo or a zip of the source?

  • Of course it stands to reason that this application already knows the speed the internet service provider, say Netflix, is serving up content to your provider, so it can provide an accurate analysis of the slowdown/throttling (if any) your carrier is doing to your traffic. Otherwise it would be like extrapolating the speed of highway traffic by carefully monitoring the speed of traffic on the side roads. /sarcasm

    How does this app know the speed Netflix is serving up content? It doesn't, so what it the purpo

  • Walled Garden (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @01:20PM (#55953731) Homepage

    How's that walled garden working out for you Apple fanbois? Pretty cool, huh, blocking a simple network health monitor App because it's "objectionable content." Who knew Truth was objectionable content?

  • For my chosen approach to life, Apple's walled garden has no direct benefit, either (despite some terrible long term implications).

    Whatever happened to informed choice?

  • Streisand effect in 3... 2... never mind, I'm too late already.
  • by sl3xd ( 111641 ) on Thursday January 18, 2018 @05:21PM (#55955723) Journal

    After all that's been said, there's an update:

    Update: After this article was published, Apple told Dave Choffnes that his iPhone app, designed to detect net neutrality violations, will be allowed in the iTunes App Store. According to Choffnes, Apple contacted him and explained that the company has to deal with many apps that don't do the things they claim to do. Apple asked Choffnes to provide a technical description of how his app is able to detect if wireless telecom providers throttle certain types of data, and 18 hours after he did, the app was approved.

    "The conversation was very pleasant, but did not provide any insight into the review process [that] led the app to be rejected in the first place," Choffnes told us in an email.

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