Apple's Incoherent App Approval Process Strikes Again, Net Neutrality App Banned For No Real Reason

from the you're-not-helping dept

By now Apple's app-store approval process is legendary for being completely untethered from anything even vaguely resembling consistency, accountability, or transparency. App makers can often find their passion projects banned for no coherent reason whatsoever, or because the app in question competes with Apple's own offerings. The process of complaining is traditionally semi-Sisyphean, with Apple often refusing to adequately explain their decisions. And it's inconsistent; banned apps and games can often reappear with no concrete explanation as well.

The latest case in point: David Coffnes, a researcher at Northeastern University, recently built an app named Wehe to help broadband users test their connections for possible throttling or net neutrality violations. But the app in question was banned by Apple for no coherent reason, the company simply telling Coffnes that his app "has no direct benefits to the user," and contained "objectionable content," neither of which is true:

"An Apple App Store reviewer told Choffnes that “your app has no direct benefits to the user,” according to screenshots reviewed by Motherboard. According to Apple’s reviewer, the app contained “Objectionable Content,” a catch-all for apps that Apple doesn’t want to let into its App Store. Apple is blocking the app and no one is quite sure why, including Choffnes; neither Apple nor Verizon responded to requests for comment for this article."

Coffnes, who is paid by ISPs like Verizon to test their own network video performance, is collecting data on how ISPs manipulate data to manage video on their networks, a practice that's increasingly common as ISPs increasingly test the boundaries of net neutrality (or, as is now the case, the lack thereof) and good taste. Coffnes' app simply connects to and analyzes data throughput from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. It then reports if the ISP you're using is somehow manipulating or throttling back network speeds as an effort to provide some layer of transparency to the end user.

Neither Apple nor Verizon were willing to comment about the apparently arbitrary ban, raising obvious questions about transparency. These sort of tools are, it should go without saying, going to be important as the government increasingly makes it clear it has zero real intention of protecting consumers from lumbering, predatory telecom duopolies eager to abuse a lack of sector competition for additional financial gain. With government now sitting on its hands in fealty to telecom providers, the onus is on the consumer to do due diligence regarding their own connections.

According to FCC boss Ajit Pai, public shame alone is supposed to help hold ISPs accountable in the wake of federal apathy to the net neutrality violations caused by a lack of broadband competition:

"Most attempts by ISPs to block or throttle content will likely be met with a fierce consumer backlash … in the event that any stakeholder [ISP] were inclined to deviate from this consensus against blocking and throttling, we fully expect that consumer expectations, market incentives, and the deterrent threat of enforcement actions will constrain such practices."

Right. But it's a little hard to do that when you lack the choice of an alternative provider, or the ISPs that are available aren't clear about their network management practices, something net neutrality rules required. There's certainly plenty of legitimate network management practices, but just as often network management can be used as an anti-competitive weapon. Determining which is true requires the help of researchers like Coffnes, and Apple's adding another layer of non-transparency to the equation by banning useful consumer tools and apps for (once again) no coherent reason.

Update: As we've seen in previous instances of Apple's bizarre app store approval process, the company has backed off the blockade, but has failed to explain what resulted in the app being banned in the first place:

"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."

Filed Under: app store, arbitrary, fcc, net neutrality
Companies: apple

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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Jan 2018 @ 6:43am

    It's a great idea btw but it could let users add other stuff to test.

    As for Apple, more of the same? Good thing public backlash works on them.

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