Vodafone UK is Clearly Wrong – The User-Agent String Issue

Nigel Choi has kindly invested his last weekend to provide the community with evidence of how the Novarra/Vodafone transcoding service disrupts the mobile experience:

For several weeks a firestorm has been taking place at Vodafone’s Developer Forum (Betavine, Mobile Internet Content Adaptation forum)

Simply put…

Vodafone UK started striping out essential device identification information that mobile phones send to content providers (i.e. the User-Agent String.)

The User-Agent String is used by developers and content providers to deliver mobile-optimized sites OR device-optimized content/services.

Vodafone’s actions thwart the efforts of companies in the mobile ecosystem who set out to provide a customized mobile presentation of their services, hurt these companies financially, and is counter to the advancements facilitated by groups such as the W3C and dotMobi.

For a distilled explanation of the Vodafone User-Agent string issue and how it affects the mobile Web please visit “Vodafone UK is abusing its position” by Luca Passani.

Mike Butcher over at Techcrunch UK has picked up on the story.

Luca Passani:

I am irritated with Vodafone. More that that. I am furious. I see an abuse and I am not sure what to do about it. But it’s an abuse. A Big one. Perpetrated by a large company in a dominant position against a myriad of small companies and against its own customers. An abuse that is damaging a whole industry in its infancy. I am talking about the industry of the mobile internet. I am talking about the possibilities for existing and new companies to have a new channel for selling content and services to consumers, and about a company which, from one day to the next, decides to pull the plug on the infrastructure that made this possible. The plug is pulled because this decision makes some tiny extra business sense for the big abusive company here and now, but it has no legitimacy whatsever, and the reason why the big abusive company can do it is merely technological: they manage the pipe the brings the data from the service provider to the consumer, and they decided to exploit this possibility to cut everyone else out.

Is this legal? I don’t know. Probably not. The problem is that, being this a relatively new field, there are no specific established regulations which spell out clearly what companies can or cannot do. By exploiting this uncertainty, the big abusive company is applying its dirty tricks and hoping to get away with it.

The abusive company I am talking about is Vodafone UK and the abuse is their decision to strip out essential device identification information that mobile phones send to content providers in order to let them serve customized content for each user’s device.

I want to bring the problem to public attention, make people aware of the issue and get everyone involved to do something about it. Read on…

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