Great article by Nigel Choi that explain in detail how bad the Novarra user experience is for Vodafone users!

Great News for developers. TeliaSonera in Sweden decided to shut down its SurfOpen (sic) reformatting service just a couple of weeks after the launch. Among other things webmasters were configuring their websites to recognize Novarra and stop serving content to it. Also, websites were not happy with the idea that the system was making the original ad banners unusable, just to place TeliaSoner's banners prominently at the top and at the bottom of the reformatted content. Hopefully, carriers will think twice before high-jacking other companies' websites.

Vodafone UK is abusing its position

by Luca Passani, luca.passani at gmail dot com
Created on September 20, 2007, last updated on August 19, 2008

I am irritated with Vodafone. More than 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 that 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, this being a relatively new field, there are no specific regulations that clearly spell out what companies can or cannot do. By exploiting this uncertainty, the big abusive company is playing 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.

Let's proceed in order

But let me proceed in order. Describing the problem requires that I get down to technical details. This is essential to understand the issue and avoid being bamboozled by Vodafone's pre-packaged story for those who are questioning Vodafone's initiative.

When a web browser or a mobile device request a page from a web site or a mobile site, they will send a message made of list of "headers", i.e. name-value pairs which tell the server things like:

This information is essential for third-party content providers to send the right content to the device who requests it. There is no point sending a 200 Kilobyte MP3 ringtone to granma's phone from 2001. Pictures are often available in different sizes on the server, and content providers need to know how large your screen is to send you the right one.
I could go into a mobile internet lesson at this point, but for the purpose of this document suffice it to say that developers will find their way around to this information as long as the User-Agent header and, to a lesser extent, the UAProf header are available.
All HTTP clients (web browsers and mobile phones) have historically sent a unique User-Agent String identifying who they were and allowing developers to figure out the capability of the receiving agent.
For the more technically curious, here is what the HTTP request from a Nokia 6288 will look like (User-Agent String and UAProf header are in bold):

HTTP_USER_AGENT => Nokia6288/2.0 (05.92) Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1
HTTP_X_WAP_PROFILE => "http://nds1.nds.nokia.com/uaprof/N6288r100.xml"
HTTP_ACCEPT => application/vnd.wap.wmlscriptc, text/vnd.wap.wml, 
application/vnd.wap.xhtml+xml, application/xhtml+xml, text/html, 
multipart/mixed, */*
HTTP_ACCEPT_CHARSET => ISO-8859-1, US-ASCII, UTF-8; Q=0.8, ISO-10646-UCS-2; Q=0.6
HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE => en
HTTP_ACCEPT_ENCODING => gzip, deflate
HTTP_CONNECTION => Keep-Alive

All the way since the inception of the web, HTTP clients have had unique User-Agent (UA) strings which let the server know who they were. This mechanism was taken over as-is by mobile browser manufacturers. While there have been a few exceptions due to device manufacturer's sloppiness, it is accurate to say that 99.99% of the devices out there have unique UA strings which can be associated to brand, model and a bunch of other info about the device properties.
It is also accurate to say that the usage of the UA string is so consolidate in the industry that the idea that someone might remove it would have sounded proposterous only up to a couple of months back. The User-Agent string is sacred. It is the only bit of information that the industry has not spoilt and which developers were able to leverage to build their new and innovative services.
That is until summer 2007, when the big abusive operator Vodafone UK decided they knew better than anyone else.
Vodafone decided to market a new service which would serve web site to normal feature phones. Now, that in itself is a legitimate service (albeit all professional knows that most web sites are virtually unusable when scaled down automatically for a mobile device, but that's a different story). The problem started when, in order to get a little advantage for their new service, implemented a big abusive hack and decided that from that moment on all devices on its network: from a certain moment in summer 2007, Vodafone started highjacking all the HTTP requests coming from devices on their network and on their way to a third-party content provider.
Here is the same Nokia 6288 will look like to a server when the request has gone through the vodafone UK network:

HTTP_USER_AGENT => = Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.8.0.7) Gecko/20060909 
             Firefox/1.5.0.7 MG (Novarra-Vision/6.1)
HTTP_ACCEPT =>  text/html;q=1.0, text/css; q=1.0, application/x-javascript; q=1.0, 
text/plain;q=0.8, application/xhtml+xml;q=0.6, application/x-httpd-php;q=0.1, 
*/*;q=0, image/gif; q=1.0, image/jpeg; q=1.0, image/png; q=1.0
HTTP_ACCEPT_CHARSET => ISO-8859-1,utf-8;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE => en
HTTP_ACCEPT_ENCODING => identity;q=1.0, gzip;q=0.1, *;q=0
HTTP_X_NOVARRA_DEVICE_TYPE => 0
HTTP_X_DEVICE_USER_AGENT => Nokia6288/2.0 (05.94) Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1
HTTP_X_MOBILE_GATEWAY =>  Novarra-Vision/6.1 (VF-UK; Server-Only)
HTTP_VIA => HTTP/1.1 glgwsl11 (XMG 724Solutions HTG XMG-31_VODAFONE_M3_B030 
      20070724.091400), 1.1 Novarra (Vision/6.1), 1.1 frankenstein1:3128 (squid/2.6.STABLE9-20070214)
HTTP_CACHE_CONTROL => max-age=259200
HTTP_CONNECTION => Keep-Alive

In other words:

Why is Vodafone UK doing this?

Vodafone has aquired a reformatting proxy from a company called Novarra. A reformatting-proxy is a bit of software that sits between an HTTP-client (a browser, typically an internet-enabled mobile phone) and a web server (think of your favorite Internet newspaper). While normal web sites are OK for people sitting in front of fully-fledged PCs with fast internet connections, accessing these sites through a mobile phone is typically a very frustrating experience for users, so nobody does it. Users of the mobile internet today typically surf on sites built for mobile devices from the ground up.
This is where a reformatting-proxy (also called adapting-proxy) tries to help. The proxy will fetch a web page on behalf of the mobile device, split the big page in smaller digestable chunks, apply heuristics so that the most relevant information in the page is pushed to the top, and serve those little pages to the mobile device.
While experts agree that the general usability of a reformatted web-site on a mobile phone is generally low (in particular, much lower than sites specifically built for mobile devices), this is a service that makes sense and which Vodafone UK is welcome to offer to its customers.
The problem arises when the service is not offered to customers, but rather assigned to customers by default, while preventing average customers from legitimately accessing third-party sites specifically tailored for mobile devices.
By introducing Novarra and highjacking the user-agent, Vodafone UK has implicitly cut out hundreds of companies from the mobile web value chain. This is unacceptable.

Details

At this point, there are tens of things that need a deeper discussion. For each of those there are points to sustain/counter Vodafone position and the position of developers. A long flow of prose would probably bore readers to death. So I'll go FAQ style. This is the internet after all.

Vodafone is placing the User-Agent string in a different header. Isn't this enough to work around the problem introduced by Novarra?

No, it isn't. Of course, if you take a specific service built by a company specifically for Vodafone UK, the extra header gives them a workaround to the problem. For everyone else, though, this is not acceptable. You can't require everyone who wants to make their content available on the mobile internet to go after the whims of this or that operator in some random country around the globe. The model is not sustainable and it's not fair either.
Generally speaking, developers have been making a big effort to make the mobile internet appear like "a platform" on which they can build services. This platform is built on top of the user-agent string. Removing the user-agent string has disruptive effects on the platform and brings mobile development many years back.
Imagine if you built a web site only to be told that your service won't work in, say, Germany, because the internet providers there place the user-agent in a different header. You would think that's madness. That's the madness this page is talking about.

Why aren't Vodafone UK customers reacting to these bad choices?

The mobile Internet is a new thing. Consumers will only use it if they find that a given service has value to them. If it doesn't, they will simply refrain from using it. End-users know nothing about mobile mark-ups, user-agents, adaptation frameworks and so on. It's up to developers to create valuable services which people will like. While Vodafone's move makes it very hard for developers to create such valuable services, the great majority of consumers won't realize that they have been deprived of a service and will not complain. Also, changing operator is expensive enough in terms of time and money that most users will need a stronger reason than the lack of proper mobile internet before they switch. Too bad that this will damage the revenue of third-party companies in the meantime.

Vodafone claims that they can whitelist sites on request so that the reformatting proxy won't try to adapt mobile content. Isn't this good enough?

No, it is not. Nigel Choi made the point nicely in this message:

Whitelisting means several things:

1) It's a huge operational scalability problem for them (and for
content providers, if they have to do it for every single carrier out
there)
2) It takes a while from when you e-mail them to when they actually
whitelist you, if they actually do it.
3) They have the discretion not to put you in the whitelist. Fingers
crossed that they won't be so evil.

And I argued against the whitelist in Vodafone Betavine, and it's all
tied to their User-Agent changes.

Nigel.

Others have reported practical problems with the whitelist approach:

  :
And then I searched around online and found the Betavine site . I was like
the 3rd person to post something on their forum.
(http://www.vodafonebetavine.net/web/guest/forums/message_boards/message/446
) . It's been almost a month now and I'm still not on the whitelist . and by
God I'm not going to go make all those silly changes they want you to make.

Vodafone UK claims that user can opt-out of the reformatting service. Isn't this enough?

No, it isn't. As explained above, most users have no clue of what reformatting vs. mobile-optimized means, so they won't even know that the problem is there and that they are being prevented from discovering certain publicly available services. The opt-out feature is a well-orchestrated excuse by Vodafone to claim that they have dealt with the problem, while in fact they haven't.

Vodafone claims that they are marketing Internet on a Mobile phone and this is what they need to achieve that. Isn't this a good enough reason?

Not at all! You should know that normal websites will serve web content no matter what UA String you go there too. Some sites will support a mobile-optimized version. Those sites will most likely leverage the User-Agent header in some form to recognize mobile devices. So, Vodafone could easily let the original user-agent header go through and still receive web content for all of the internet web sites that do not provide a mobile version. By changing the user-agent string they have consciously established a platform that tricks existing sites into NOT providing a mobile customized version. This is very unethical. Vodafone is exploiting the fact that there are not specific cases debated in a court of law wrt content adaptation on the mobile Internet. If this behavior was challenged in court, chances are that Vodafone UK would be found guilty of illegitimate business practices.
By tricking web sites, Vodafone UK is depriving its customers of a potential service, and it's depriving third-parties from a legitimate revenue stream that they have worked to achieve.

The following post from the Vodafone Betavine forum describes the experience of a third-party company impacted by Vodafone's change:

I have to add my voice to the chorus of criticism following voda's 
unjustifiable move to mangle http header information. Apologies 
for being late, but I've only just stumbled across this forum 
(Actually, I have been searching for a forum like this from voda 
for ages; you keep it quiet don't you?)
We're a start up with a cross-platform wiki-like application. 
By cross-platform, I mean PC, cellphone, PDA, telematics terminals, 
Interent TVs, Internet toasters - you know.
Imagine our surprise when, during our all important and much 
anticipated roll out week, we started getting support requests from 
early adopters suggesting that our content adaptation technology 
was failing.
Fortunately, we are blessed with a strong team of technology experts 
and they rapidly identified the problem. That was the easy bit. 
Could we find anyone to speak to at Vodafone? Was there any information 
anywhere on what was going on? Rhetorical questions of course.

Enough said.
My complaints against voda are:
1/ Voda has no right to change the data that we deliver over the 
Internet to our (paying) customers. You are degrading our users' experience, 
and both you and we are paying the cost in lost revenue.
2/ If you're going to change the way the Internet works, you should at least 
warn people first - it's polite.
3/ It is staggering to think that voda failed to anticipate the problems 
that this move would cause the fledgling mobile Internet content and 
service industry. Voda failed to prepare any support or advice 
resources to help keep a very hard-working and determined business 
ecosystem alive - an ecosystem that voda badly needs to keep on side.
4/ As a voda business customer, numerous sites that I was using on 
my mobile phone suddenly stopped working (or appeared broken) - but 
that's ok because I understand from the TV advertising, etc. that 
voda has just invented the "mobile Internet" - clever. 
Well, please un-invent it, it's rubbish.

Vodafone claims that there are no standards in the adaptation area, that they are respecting existing standards and that they are actively working with standards organizations (such as W3C) to create standards in this area. Isn't this the case?

No, it isn't. First, it is not true that there are no standards in this area. Changing the User-Agent is a fragrant betrayal of the spirit and the letter of the HTTP protocol. No proxy has ever done that. Vodafone UK has shown complete and utter disregard for standards. The fact that they fill their mouth with the word 'standard' irritates a lot of people. Notably, Vodafone is also conflicting with the most recent W3C recommendations which invites developers to customize the user experience according to device capabilities. In the words of Jo Rabin (dotMobi, editor of the Best Practices W3C candidate recommendation):

In our work in the Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group, we ask people to 
consider the user's context and to provide a "Thematically Consistent" 
user experience, not necessarily the same user experience as they would 
experience were they using a desktop. The reason being that often the 
purpose of a Web site is better realised in a mobile context by tailoring 
the navigation and the content with mobile rather than desktop use cases in mind.

I think it is at best highly questionable for you(*) to interfere with a Web site 
has specifically created an experience for the mobile user, and to 
thwart their intentions by deliberately misleading them as to the user's context.

(*) Editor's note: "you" refers to Mr. Brian G. Turner of Vodafone UK

In short, Vodafone UK's standard story simply does not hold water.

Why aren't other companies complaining?

They are, but we need to put things in context. When we talk about third-party companies in this business, we are mostly talking about small to medium-sized companies that struggle to emerge in a new and tough market. Vodafone UK is a huge company and arguing with the big operator is the last thing that the little guys are willing to do (which, by the way, adds to the abusive nature of the whole story).
Companies have been suggesting to Vodafone to change their behavior and release the user-agent header from its Vodafone cage, but nobody so far has had the guts of actually taking Vodafone to court to the best of my knowledge.
It's a question of money and a question of having to work with Vodafone UK at some point.
Taking a peek at the Vodafone developer forum (Betavine, Mobile Internet Content Adaptation forum) will give you a better feeling of the kind of feedback Vodafone is getting from developers. The feedback has been blatabtly ignored so far. (Note: here and here is a copy of the relevant forum pages, in case Vodafone decides to take it down)

Are there other issues involved with the introduction of Novarra which will impact Vodafone users and third-party companies?

Yes. There seem to be quite a few. Since this is not specifically my area and I could not verify this directly (as I did with the User-Agent issue), I will report the ones mentioned by other developers based in the UK.
If you are a developer who has experienced these problems directly and want to put your name next to the description of the problem, contact me and I will be happy to add your name.
If you are from Vodafone and would like to contact the developers who raised the following point, take contact with me and I'll send you the reference.

It has become impossible to display a status bar for downloads
"We've noticed that the introduction of Novarra impacts other basic aspects of the HTTP request/response with the user including the standard "Content Length" header.
Prior to the introduction Vodafone users would have a clear indication of the size of the download e.g. "100K of 500K", as the download progresses.
Post introduction Vodafone users now just see the download size progressing with no max length indication.
This is a subtle change which has quite a large impact on consumer confidence as a) the user does not know how long the download will take, and b) more importantly the user does not have an indication of the download size (unless you show it explicitly on the site).
"

SSL model is disrupted: secure connections are no longer secure
"They're re-rendering the entire content... via a proxy which also terminates and remakes SSL, that one will hit the fan once the banks figure out that their home banking isnt secure any more."

Are you angry with Novarra? (Novarra is the company that implemented the reformatting proxy)

Yes, a bit. They are unethical too. But never as angry as with Vodafone. While smaller companies are constantly looking for niches in which they can emerge and they will try to do this even where this implies making the life harder for everyone else, Vodafone UK is a much bigger company with a lot more experience. They should know better than breaking an essential feature of HTTP just because they manage a network. The concept of ecosystem has been known in economy in a long time. Either Vodafone learns to let others live, or we just need to wait for governments to crack down and make this kind of abusive business practice illegal.

I have worked around the user-agent issue for Vodafone UK in my own application, should I keep complaining about it?

In my opinion, you should. I am also in the position to work-around the Vodafone problem in the open-source software I built (WURFL, for those who wonder), but this would be like trying to cure cancer with aspirin. The problem is a bigger one: avoiding that Vodafone UK now and other carriers in the future turn mobile development into a total mess (beyond what it is already today), just because someone decides that they know better from one day to the next. If developers do not react now, it will be harder to do this at a later stage when others decide to change the user-agent string.

Is there something I can do to help?

if you agree that the problem is there and it is real, you can send me an email with your name, title, company and (optional) a 60 word comment which I will publish along with your name. I am reachable at the following address: luca.passani @ gmail dot com
If you are one of the companies damaged by Vodafone UK and intend to take them to court, that's great. Please drop me a note.
If you are one of the companies damaged by Vodafone UK, but have no intention/cannot afford to take them to court, at least tell Vodafone how much their decision is damaging you now and how much it can damage the industry over the medium and long term.
If you are from Vodafone and want me to remove this article, the answer is NO, unless you have re-established User-Agent String and UAProf header and effectively removed the problem. In that case, I will remove the page.

Thank you.

Luca Passani, WURFL Project creator and maintainer

Ronan Mandel, Adobe Systems, Mobile and Device Development Support: "The 'mobile web' is clearly in a nascent and growing state. The desire to expose as much of the web to mobile devices is an admirable goal on the part of Vodafone, however their short sighted decision in hiding the real user-agent is both unnecessary and counter productive. Services that provide access to non-mobile specific content have no reason to break existing, well formed, well considered, mobile designed content. It is difficult to foresee a future where being able to identify the exact device accessing ones site looses its value. Even under the ultimate 'one web' vision of the W3C, user-agent detection remains a fundamental tool for content developers. One need only look to the promises of the wonderful web experience on the iPhone, and it becomes abundantly clear that while regular web content works better than on any other mobile device on the market today, mobile specific content sings. Authors should be allowed to identify what device is accessing their site.
The suggestion on the part of Vodafone that mobile specific sites get 'white listed' in order to receive user-agent information is simply another barrier to entry that hinders the development of mobile specific, highly usable content. What would have happened on the web as a whole if every site that wanted to get information about if the user was running Netscape or IE had to first register with every ISP first? As crazy at it sounds, this is exactly what Vodafone is expecting of content providers. "

Barbara Ballard, President, Little Springs Design, Author of "Designing the Mobile User Experience", Wiley, April 2007: "Stripping out user agents is a critical step backwards for the mobile web, as it makes the assumption that no site is mobile-optimized."

James R. McLachlan,Managing Director, Objective Software Services Ltd.: "Vodafone UK is clearly engaged in anti-competitive behaviour. They have made technical changes to their network that deliberately damage and hinder the mobile content sites of their competition. They are then cynically and sickeningly hiding behind the political weasel-words and distorted statistics to try to justify this position.
There are NO good technical reasons for hiding the User-Agent, but there are quite a few political ones that will mean that if they manage to win this argument, other mobile content providers will forever be beholden to them.
Finding work-arounds is NOT an acceptable way forward because this would inevitably lead to further (and different) work-arounds for other operators. Also, as soon as anybody has a good and effective work-around, they will just find another reason to modify how their 'internal systems' work."

Richard Spenser, www.bluetrail.co.uk: "Would just like to add my support to you rants complaints re the vodafone debacle. I am sat here trying to get my WALL based download site working on the vodafone net again. One of my clients was the first to notice so I am bit pissed off to be honest. I have asked to whitelisted but it dosn't seem to work at the moment.Please feel free to publish my name and company. Keep up the good work!!"

David Harper, Founder, Winksite: "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."

Andre van den Heever, Mobile Apps Dev ,8 years experience in the UK, USA and South Africa: "The useragent string is a fundamental part of our industry's back bone and is at the heart of each and every consumer oriented mobile product all over the world. Vodafone UK is acting criminally in high jacking this crucial piece of information from companies that are not English or part of the Vodafone UK Premier partner list. To put it in a more management type terminology . if our sysadmin implemented this in our company without telling anyone (like Vodafone did to us 3rd party companies and the rest of the world) he would have been fired the next day.
They should change their slogan to "The Internet is now Mobile - well our site is . but I don't know about everyone else!"

Nigel Choi, Software Engineer, AdMob: "Having years of experience developing mobile web content, I've seen lots of abuses and screw-ups by carriers. But none so egregious as what Vodafone and Novarra is doing to the User-Agent HTTP header. Not only are they breaking the HTTP standard, but they are at the same time influencing W3C to make their practice a Standards Recommendation. Worse, they are acting as if the standard exists. Unless they realize their mistakes and change, we have no choice but to call it an anti-competitive practice. We need to pursue the matter as such, including all the parties in W3C that are privy to Vodafone's true intentions and doing their bidding for them. Net Neutrality is completely destroyed in this. Imagine the massive public outcry if this were done by a broadband internet provider."

Christophe Lassus, FlirtyMob.com CEO and Founder: "I run FlirtyMob a mobile chatroom which offers a much better user experience than the equivalent service Vodafone UK sell on their portal.
Content adaptation is a legitimate concern for Vodafone UK but there is absolutely NO technical reason to remove the user-agent string. Hence, I am forced to believe that part of their objective is to damage competitors' mobile services, to make their own offering more appealing.
I completely support your crusade to stop Vodafone's totally unacceptable anti-competitive behaviour.
Thank you for your dedication to promoting the cause of a truely open Mobile Internet and your unvaluable contribution to the Mobile community."

Martin Kindler,CEO cityExperience.net, Berlin, Germany: "I do absolutely support your (our) quest against Vodafone. Although my company is currently not active in the UK market, you may add my signature and company name (they might make the same error in other markets)"

Andy Moore, Director and Co-Founder, Palace Marketing Ltd - http://palacemarketing.mobi/ : "Our main site is white listed but I agree what they're doing goes against the efforts of the mobile development community and best practices.
They've invested in mTLD and created Beta Vine so can justify saying they support developers and are pushing for standards, but really.... It's hypocritical, a screw-up of monumental proportions and a slap in the face for the thousands of developers who've helped them build their data revenues"

Rich Holdsworth, CTO at Wapple.net:"We are disgusted at Vodafone's actions and we have been fighting this since the whole thing started happening. I have also attached a document that I wrote that was published in the press and online. Please feel free to use it in part or as a whole as you see fit. All I would ask is that you include a clickable URL alongside any quotes.
http://go.wapple.net/press-releases/33/vodafone-misses-the-point-of-the-mobile-internet.htm
The position we find ourselves in is one where we simply do not have the resource to fight this beyond speaking out as loudly as possible."

Markus Lind, software engineer and researcher at YellowMap: "By this approach Vodafone destroys the work of thousands developers around the globe. There is no reason to break with the basics/standards mobile developers rely on for now around 8 years"

Helen Keegan, MD, BeepMarketing:"I'm not a developer but even I can see the issue here and it is unacceptable. You have my support."

Tony Rose, President and Co-founder Drop In Media, LLC, www.dropinmedia.com: "Dear Vodafone,Please return the UAProf string to the device header. This is part of a standard in web development, that many innovators have come to depend on in order to build solutions that are tailored to each unique device capability. This ensures that the end user will get an optimized experience on their device no matter what device they choose. Thank you".

Vic Berggren,Mobile Marketing Watch, www.mobilemarketingwatch.com: "The irony is that there's a banner on the Vodafone home page that reads 'Find Out How To Work Smarter', guess they didn't read that huh?"

Dennis Bournique,WapReview.com, http://wapreview.com/blog/?p=400 : "Vodafone is clearly wrong. As defined by the W3C, the purpose of the User-Agent header is to identify the originating browser. More importantly Vodafone is breaking a long established de-facto standard in mobile-web development that the User-Agent is the best way to identify a particular handset for the purpose of optimizing content delivery. Vodafone is breaking the mobile web. As the second largest mobile carrier in the world they have enormous power and are setting a dangerous precedent. If you are a mobile developer or user who wants to see quality content please let your voice be heard."

Ran Rubinstein, VP Operations, Targetize Mobile Web : "Vodafone's new policy of removing the user agent is terrible, and pulls the rug under years of development. Even worse is the content adaptation mechanism. What will happen to java midlets/flash lite apps that use HTTP as a means of communications with servers? With ad-sponsored sites, can Novarra decide to strip the ads from my site or move them to the second page because their UI experts feel they are not fit for mobile?
The solution should be an opt-in for sites that feel happy with Novarra's site modifier, not a blanket move of all the web through their modifier. Vodafone is strong enough to attract many webmasters that are looking for the easy way into mobile phones. "

Dean Maslic,Founder, Mobilised Pty Ltd, http://mobilised.net : "I completely support your point of view and those of other mobile developers. I find it outrageous that they decided to hi-jack the UA string for no obvious technical or half-decent business reason - their marketing bull$hit to provide a 'PC experience on their phones' is a complete joke. Users will be turned away from off-deck browsing which goes against what their are marketing. They should let the mobile-site developers deliver the most appropriate content for their device without intervention(ie. DON'T HACK THE USER-AGENT header) and only transcode if no mobile-optimised content is found. Vodafone should use the growing number of mobile-adapted sites to their advantage and promote their use not work against them by taking the most important piece of user information away from them."

Richard Taylor, CEO, Teazel Limited UK : "Just a quick note to say Teazel supports fully you in the Vodafone discussion. The User-Agent must be preserved."

Kirk Bateman, Managing Director, Synaptic Technologies Limited: "I'd like to add my agreement with you about the voda user-agent hijacking. It also makes handset stats based on the user agent extremely painful as for voda we specifically have to check for their HTTP_X_DEVICE_USER_AGENT header and ignore the desktop useragent entry..."

Alex Kerr, Managing Director, PhoneThing Ltd, www.phonething.com: "Non-developers might think this whole thing is simply a difference of opinion about how best to implement some obscure technical feature. It's not - it's a straight blocking of a heavily relied upon, globally accepted internet standard that potentially affects many many companies offering mobile content, and millions of consumers. It is worth fighting because if Vodafone succeed here, other telcos elsewhere will think they can get away with it too. Think how important PC-based web access is today, and the fact that this same "User Agent" info is often used to ensure the correct website code is delivered to a user's browser (browsers such as IE ignore standards and break websites so people have to employ workarounds - and that requires knowing the browser the user is using). Imagine the fuss if that got blocked on your home broadband, by BT say, and loads of websites started breaking - this is the scenario that Vodafone have implemented on mobile for the last several months - except it's worse because the "User Agent" info is more critical and relied upon more heavily"

Peter Buick, K2kGroup.com : "We represent several publishing houses with optimised mobile content. We are greatly concerned that Vodafone are trying to play mobile God and interfere with an established standard. Mangling an adopted protocol is not beneficial for anyone, including Vodafone clients. We go to great expense to provide content optimised at source for each device and a declared device identity is seminal to any such methodology. Being forced to rely on some re-purposing engine is not a satisfactory user experience. We will be forced to ignore Vodafone as a viable mobile platform and concentrate on the remaining 72% of the market, unless this is remedied. And that would be of no benefit to anyone. My full response with a more reasoned argument is available at http://www.MarketingChaps.com"

Nathan Pitman, Managing Director, Nine Four Ltd: "I just thought I'd drop you an email to let you know that I'm a UK vodafone business customer and I have been using my Nokia N73 to connect my MacBook to the web whilst on the road via a Bluetooth connection. I've noticed however that when I'm browsing the web via the 3G connection on my phone that images in web pages are of a much lower quality, GIF files are heavily dithered and JPGs show many compression artifacts. I can only assume that this is another side effect of the proxy which Vodafone are using, most probably to reduce the amount of data they return to the handset I suspect but never the less it's hardly an ideal solution when it means that the user agent string is modified.
It would be interesting to know how pages are returned by Vodafone if you subscribe to their £25 a month mobile broadband service which requires that you plug a Vodafone USB modem into your laptop. I suspect this is no more than a 3G modem and an excuse to charge more when in reality you can download third party drivers that let you do the same via your handset and existing monthly contract."

Dev Gandhi, CEO, NEXAGE / MyCorner.com: "I am sure Vodafone will correct their mistake soon as it's affecting ours and everyone's service. We pride ourselves in providing the most advanced mobile video social networking platform and depend on device, country and carrier system detection via the UA header information. Most content providers will be affected in near terms, but Vodafone has the most to loose as mobile users recognize their bad mobile web experience is due to Vodafone and start to change service providers. Vodafone has already started to loose their brand luster among the developer community, especially if they don't act fast."

Aidan Gallagher, Lead Software Engineer, EyeSpyFX : "Vodafone's decision to corrupt the Header information completely undermines all our work in this area. We have a java app that can view our live webcam services. Not only do we send a specific app based on the User-Agent analyzed by the excellent WURFL. The app carries out plain text and image communication with our server that is now being transcoded into a full xhtml page which breaks all our code. I will now have to parse our data out of their page which is unnecessary extra work for the java app. This heavy handed approach from Vodafone is typical of so many big companies."

Lars Lindbäck, Lead R&D Engineer, www.mobizoft.com, "Mobizoft would like to support the initiative against the Vodafone/Novarra solution. The User-Agent and UAProf headers are de facto standards and should not be tampered with. By not sending the correct User-Agent a content provider cannot adapt the content to the phone (scaling images, setting fontsize, selecting videoformat etc.). It is up to the content provider to decide how the mobile page should display, not Vodafone. Vodafone is actually preventing quality mobile content to reach the end users."

Duncan Hallas, Consultant, "Vodafone UK has made countless millions over the past 8 years I have worked in the UK mobile industry in increased data charges, messaging and premium revenues from exactly those SMEs that it now seeks to alienate. Let's be clear the cost of development is directly associated to keeping the bedrock standards as simple as possible. This kind of change only serves to prevent the innovation that has made the UK market the hotbed of wireless entrepreneurs; who have endlessly broken new ground here which has largely been to the mobile operators benefit. I fully support the messages here."

Thomas Quintana, Chief Technology Officer, Adtxt Mobile, LLC. "A heterogeneous ecosystem such as the internet is founded on standards. In layman's terms due to the myriad of devices and software platforms with access to the internet the existence of such a network is only possible if set standards are in place. Vodafone's decision lacks the rationale of better judgment and makes me question the ability of the company to make ethical decisions. I would like to conclude with the definition of ethical egoism and a quote from Benjamin Franklin.:

Ethical Egoism: An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable only to the agent performing the action.
Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.
"

Ruud Kenter, TMG, "Thank you very much Vodafone!, Thank you for turning back the clock by 10 years on the mobile internet. Thanks for destroying all the efforts and hard labour put in content adaptation. Who needs standards, right? You totally missed the point of the mobile internet. On a personal note, my subscription ends this august, you just lost a customer."

Chris Thompson, Managing Director, Speak Languages! "What Vodafone has done in removing the original user_agent header is pretty shameful -- a clear abuse of their dominant position and damaging for the internet as a whole. So I wholeheartedly support your campaign."