Since its release last week, the Wehe app, which measures if an ISP is preserving net neutrality, is seeing incredible demand.
The app already has 160 ratings on the App Store (averaging out to a respectable 3.7 stars), and user demands have exceeded the available Wehe server space.
“We’re under very heavy load due to increased interest in our system and are doing our best to bring up new servers to handle this,” read a bright warning Wehe’s website Monday.
Wehe, created by a team of researchers led by David Choffnes of Northwestern University, can detect if your internet service provider is slowing download speeds for particular applications, a practice called, “traffic shaping.” ISPs don’t want consumers to know when they are traffic shaping, because it’s a violation of net neutrality, and would drive customers away.
Choffnes and his team found a way to circumvent ISP secrecy and detect which ones are throttling download speeds, using a technique they call, “replay testing.” When you run a test, Wehe disguises your device as a popular audio or video playback app, like Youtube, Amazon, or Spotify by sending previously recorded traffic from that app to the Wehe server. Because of the metadata associated with the traffic, your ISP will think the Wehe server is using that app and alter the download rate if they are traffic shaping.
Wehe records the download speeds from the replay tests. Then, to determine if the download speed has been affected by shaping, the app sends the same traffic again, but this time replaces, “the original contents with random strings.” Because there is no relevant metadata labelling the contents, the ISP can’t identify what app is responsible for the traffic, so it’s not susceptible to shaping.
By comparing the download speeds of the initial test with the second test, Wehe identifies “differentiation.” When I ran the test on the Verizon LTE network, Wehe detected differentiation for the Amazon Video app. Verizon, it seems, is cutting my download speeds for Amazon to less than one-third its potential download speed. That’s something every consumer should know.
If you test your ISP using Wehe, you’re not only learning about your own internet service, you’re participating in a crowdsourced survey of ISP behavior. The app is as much utility as it is research project. According to Wehe: “In our tests of 10 major US cellular providers, we identified several that shape traffic to lower download speeds based on what application is being used.”
Based on these results, it seems like we are already in the Wild West. But if Wehe catches on, ISPs won’t be able to hide their net neutrality violations. Then consumers can pick an ISP based on who isn’t shaping traffic.
When Ajit Pai’s FCC reversed net neutrality protections last month, many internet users lamented the death of the open internet, and predicted a “Wild West” era where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) interfere with content based on corporate interests.
Once he’s collected enough data, Choffnes will publish the findings online, “both to inform regulators and to allow consumers to make informed choices about selecting their mobile providers.” Let’s hope the ISPs don’t throttle his website, too.
Here’s how Verizon tried to ruin Colorado’s internet: