An interesting report has surfaced on an internet security focused mailing list. The story is told by a support engineer who received a call from an end-user complaining that a website wouldn’t load. After confirming that the web server was functioning properly they started to troubleshoot the laptop which was experiencing the issues. That’s where things get interesting:
What happened is he flew on SouthWest airlines yesterday and their in flight wifi injected the scripts into the page which was then cached by the browser (they also manipulated the page cache headers to make the content cacheable far longer than intended). When he tried to load the page on our network the server addresses for the scripts were not reachable so the browser appeared to hang until the connection timed out.
Row44 isn’t alone in playing this sort of game to improve performance "behind the scenes" in ways that customers might not be aware of. Gogo will alter images as they are loaded to the end-user device, increasing the compression and decreasing the image quality to reduce file size where possible, for example.
Users won’t continue to pay for the product if the service quality doesn’t meet their needs. And as it stands already finding paying customers is a challenge for the providers. So it makes sense that they are doing anything they can to reduce the bandwidth consumed, especially where it doesn’t seem to impact the user experience. But actions like this can also have a quite negative customer impact. The company involved in the above discovery has now prohibited use of the Row44 services, owing to the data manipulation issues. Oops.