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Another Net Neutrality ‘violation’ debunked

By 24 November 2010 13 Comments

Updated 8:45PM – In yet another case of a made-up conspiracy like the Craigslist blocking incident to drum up support for Internet regulation, OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch is misleading the public about Verizon Wireless supposedly blocking OpenDNS servers.  Ulevitch claims that Verizon Wireless is blocking OpenDNS which is an ad-supported Domain Name Service (DNS).  OpenDNS sells advertisers data on its customers web browsing habits and Ulevitch claims that network providers want this for themselves.  [Correction - OpenDNS collects IP address user surfing habits to sell targeted ads, but that is effectively selling data on customer surfing habits to advertisers in one form or another.]  But even this alleged motive is suspect because U.S. broadband providers are not selling its DNS data to advertisers and carriers like Verizon and AT&T have promising not to sell customer data without some kind of meaningful consent from its customers.  Furthermore, the evidence shows that the Verizon Wireless network does not block OpenDNS.

Clarification – David Ulevitch seems to have a problem with how I characterize their business model, but I feel that it’s minor semantic issues.  Ulevitch claims that they don’t share user data with the advertisers, but they do share the IP address with the advertisers which can be used to identify an individual.  I’ll cite this section from the OpenDNS privacy page. “When a website visitor searches on OpenDNS, the IP address and query are shared with OpenDNS’ advertising, search and security providers but OpenDNS does not provide them with any information that enables them to associate or identify these IP addresses and/or search requests with any individual”

I’ve asked various people to test OpenDNS blocking who have access to Verizon Wireless and I’ve gotten a response from someone within Verizon.  He tested the his Verizon Wireless data service from a PC tethered to his Droid (Android OS) phone and verified that OpenDNS is not blocked.  To verify this personally, I went to a Verizon Wireless store and tested a netbook with built-in Verizon 3G access.  I successfully queried an OpenDNS server using the “nslookup” command proving that Verizon Wireless was not blocking access to OpenDNS.  I also bought a 2-year contract with free MiFi device and tested it on my own computer from home and OpenDNS still works perfectly fine.

So what in the world could Ulevitch be complaining about?  Is it the Android OS based phones which has nothing to do with the network?  I quick Google search on Android OS DNS settings is that it’s easy to set in Wi-Fi but the setting is less exposed in the mobile network interface (3G).  But the 5th search result pointing to a forum post at XDA-Developers indicates that the setting can be configured with the “setprop” command in Android OS (which is a Linux based operating system).  The same forum thread also talks about other Linux configuration files that can be modified.

But do the majority of consumers even care about geeking out in Linux configuration files and DNS settings?  It’s not like ISPs charge any money for their DNS service and DNS has always been provided by the network provider as an included service.  The only reason to use a 3rd party DNS server is when an carrier’s DNS is unreliable or too slow and that’s generally not the case.  Furthermore, the bigger threat and alternative to OpenDNS is Google DNS which is a faster DNS service because Google owns more servers that are distributed across the Internet.  So it’s Google that Mr. Ulevitch should be concerned about and not some imaginary blocking at Verizon Wireless.

13 Comments »

  • David Ulevitch said:

    George — This post is so inaccurate, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    1) OpenDNS has never sold customer data, in detail or in aggregated form, for advertising or any other purpose, ever.

    2) I’m a Verizon Wireless customer. At various times over the years, I’ve been blocked from using OpenDNS when I travel. I don’t think they will deny this, despite whomever you spoke with. It’s true, that today I’m able to use OpenDNS. I’m not sure when this changed, and if it was a technical issue, I’m glad it got fixed. If it was a policy decision, I’m still glad it got fixed, but in either case it underscores the need for clearer rules on how policy should impact the network.

    3) Sprint Wireless still blocks (hijacks) OpenDNS (and all other port 53) traffic. There are other ISPs who do, too. I should have picked Sprint Wireless to mention instead of Verizon Wireless. Between the CPE provided with uVerse and Verizon FIOS and all the wireless companies, I got a bit mixed up on who is blocking us today. Doesn’t change the fact that Verizon Wireless has blocked us.

    4) MAAWG which is an ISP anti-abuse group promotes blocking DNS conveniently at the same time that every major ISP has started trying to monetize DNS. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Details here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.maawg.org/system/files/news/MAAWG_DNS%2520Port%252053V1.0_2010-06.pdf

    I could go on, but what’s the point. I don’t think you care about the facts.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @David Ulevitch

    Thank you for admitting that Verizon Wireless doesn’t block you.

    As for past alleged blocking, do you even have any evidence? Did you or anyone else even post a screen-capture video to YouTube? You haven’t really given me any reason to take your word for it since it’s been unreliable so far.

    Ulevitch says: “At various times over the years, I’ve been blocked from using OpenDNS when I travel”

    That’s also unbelievably vague and misleading. The nature of the Internet is “best effort” which means at various times over the years, and often at no fault of your ISP, certain destinations on the Internet can’t be reached. It might be your ISP, it’s probably some Internet carrier issues outside of your ISP, or it might even be server/network problems on your OpenDNS servers. But for you to make a sweeping categorical statement that Verizon Wireless is blocking your service is grossly irresponsible and misleading.

    I’ve also posted the following clarification.
    [Correction - OpenDNS collects user surfing habits to sell targeted ads, but that is effectively selling data on customer surfing habits to advertisers in one form or another]

    “3) Sprint Wireless still blocks (hijacks) OpenDNS (and all other port 53) traffic. There are other ISPs who do, too.”

    Now you’re going to make another misleading and vague claim? At least specify “other ISPs”. I guess it’s too late for me to go to a Sprint Wireless store tonight and tomorrow is turkey day, so I’ll have to wait till Black Friday to confirm or disprove this. So far, your credibility has been very questionable.

    If you’re referring to URL typo redirection or DNS caching, you’ve come to the wrong place to try to assert these claims. Those issues are server based and not network based and it’s not clear who has the right to typo redirection. The various domain registries have tried this so it’s a much broader issue for debate.

  • Steve said:

    “OpenDNS collects user surfing habits to sell targeted ads, but that is effectively selling data on customer surfing habits to advertisers in one form or another”

    As a paying OpenDNS customer, I really like the parental controls and other filtering features that come with the paid service. It helps make the internet more family-friendly for us.

    I’m very disappointed, however, to read of the collection and dissemination of surfing habits to advertisers. This is news to me. I just looked at the OpenDNS privacy policy, and, sure enough, it’s there. I didn’t look closely at the privacy policy during the sign-up process. I expect OpenDNS asked me to at the time, so that’s my fault.

    I think, George and David, that this is as big an issue as Verizon blocking. I doubt one-percent of OpenDNS customers realizes this practice takes place. Now that I know about it, I don’t like it. There should be an option for OpenDNS customers to opt out, even if for an additional fee.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Steve

    I’ve used OpenDNS in the past until I ran into some other problems with OpenDNS. I also didn’t read the “fine print” about the advertising aspect and found out about it later. I don’t have a problem with advertising from a free service (though DNS isn’t really that intense of a process to require that much advertising revenue), but I do have a problem with the Mr. Ulevitch making misleading statements about DNS blocking from Verizon. He acknowledged that it is currently not blocked and past issues might have been technical in nature, but I have a problem with the lack of honesty to push a particular political agenda.

  • David Ulevitch said:

    Steve — We don’t sell customer surfing habits, or anything of the sort. None of our DNS data has ANY influence on the ads you are served on the OpenDNS guide pages, or on any other websites. The data silos are segregated. And even in our free service you can opt out of ANY and ALL dns log collection.

    So what you’ve been told we do — It’s simply not true. George will continue to twist my words and make up statements about our service that are untrue, no matter what I say. I regret even attempting to dispel the misstatements he makes on this blog or in the other mediums he uses to promote his views.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @David Ulevitch

    http://www.opendns.com/how/free/how-can-opendns-be-free/
    “People frequently ask us how we can offer such a fantastic service without charging a dime. OpenDNS makes money the same way Google and Yahoo do — by showing relevant ads when we show you search results. Our number one priority is to deliver the best possible user experience, which means you won’t find any pop-ups, pop-unders, or anything like that around here.”

    Like I said, I have no problem with the concept of targeted ads, but you’ve admitted that you use them.

  • Jack Moves said:

    How is this violation “debunked” if a provider was, indeed, caught filtering (or intercepting and redirecting) traffic destined towards OpenDNS? It sounds like David has the right to be upset.

    David, please keep in mind George’s affiliation when considering your response. Digital Society is funded by big telecom, the same kind of providers likely to block you, while at the same time maintaining unreliable DNS infrastructure of their own.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Jack Moves

    “How is this violation “debunked” if a provider was, indeed, caught filtering (or intercepting and redirecting) traffic destined towards OpenDNS?”

    What are you talking about? I just proved that was not happening and Mr. Ulevitch admitted he erred in saying Verizon Wireless blocked OpenDNS. He claims that OpenDNS was inaccessible at times in the past although in the OpenDNS forum he says he’s willing to chalk it up to technical problems.

  • Jack Moves said:

    Sprint, remember?

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Jack Moves

    Based on Mr. Ulevitch’s unreliable track record for accuracy, I’ll doubt it until I verify this myself in the store tomorrow.

  • Jack Moves said:

    I’d say he’s batting stronger than you right now. You couldn’t even remember that he alleges Sprint is blocking/redirecting DNS :)

  • Jack Moves said:

    Just saved you some work — I can’t access OpenDNS recursors using either Sprint 3G or CLEAR 4G (each has their own IP connectivity and resolvers)

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