The latest news to hit the Apple blogosphere is a Motherboard article about an app that claims to detect net neutrality violations. The net neutrality app—called Wehe—lets you test download speeds of various video services, and compares it to a generic speed test of your ISP. Then, if the two speeds are different, the ISP has seemingly violated net neutrality, or so it seems on the surface. It might be more nuanced than that, however.
David Choffnes, a professor at Northeastern University who researches distributed systems and networking, created an app called Wehe. It’s part app, part research study, because David uses the results in his research, which means to use the app you have to sign a consent form.
The app has two aspects to it. First, the part that users see lets you test network download speeds of video services like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Skype, Spotify, NBCSports, and Vimeo. If you get unusually slow speeds for a service, the app cries violation. Behind the scenes, Wehe anonymously collects the recorded data.
App Store reviewers rejected the app, saying:
Your app’s metadata contains misleading content or content that is intended to deceive users. Specifically, your app is marketed as a way to check if their carrier is violating Net Neutrality. However, your app has no direct benefits to the user from participating in this study. Please note that adding a disclaimer to the app description is not sufficient if the rest of the metadata and the app are misleading. The next submission of this app may require a longer review time, and this app will not be eligible for an expedited review until this issue is resolved.
The part that has certain areas of the internet in an uproar is “your app has no direct benefits to the user.” Some people, including David, are taking this to mean that Apple doesn’t think people finding out if their ISP violating net neutrality is important.
I’m not automatically defending Apple, but in general the company has a good reason when it rejects apps. There must be something in the app and the way it collects data for research that was cause for alarm. For example, there is already an app that does something similar, and it’s successfully on the App Store.