The US Federal Communications Commission, lovingly known as the FCC, has just unveiled its FCC Speed Test app that will enable users to reliably assess their mobile broadband speeds. It’s even released as open source! That is all well and good, at least you read a bit of the fine print.
The FCC Speed Test app is described as an open source, crowdsourcing program. That last part is due to the fact that, aside from simply telling you about your mobile Internet performance, both 3G and Wifi, it sends the data back to the FCC as part of its Measuring Broadband America program that will help consumers, service providers, and the government gain an insight into mobile network performance throughout the whole country. In fact, the FCC plans to launch next year interactive maps that will do just that, in a more presentable and visual style.
That alone might not be much of an issue except for the fact that the app will periodically run in the background to test network speeds, whether you know it or not. The implications of this is quite myriad, but the more immediate concern is data usage. The FCC promises that not more than 100 MB a month will be used by the app for its testing purposes. Fortunately, they also provide a way to change those settings, which, of course, are all enabled by default.
The biggest promise that the FCC makes, however, is that the no personal or uniquely identifiable information will be collected, that all data will be anonymous. It’s not like other companies or speed test tools do not do this as well. But given the government’s rather stellar track record, the question is how many users will use the app? And consequently, if too few users participate in this data harvesting mission, the FCC’s assessment of the nation’s mobile broadband situation will hardly be representative or reliable.