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Looking at the responses to this question, it seems that a mobile service provider can't automatically detect whether or not a phone user is tethering their phone or not. Though they can infer it by the type of activity a user does.

However, my service providor charges extra for both USB and WiFi tethering. They can provide accurate usage statistics and charge by the data packet, so they must have some deliberately set up way of monitoring this. I believe the most likely way of doing this is they likely have some kind of software built into my installation of Android that reports whether or not I'm tethering.

So, does that mean if I root my device, and then presumeably that software is gone, they won't be able to tell anymore?

I'm weighing the risks and rewards of rooting my phone, and whether or not I could bypass their nickel-and-diming by charging extra for tethering would be a deciding factor.

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It won't make much difference for the scenario to whether your device is rooted or not; the service provider will have the same inspection level of observation (http headers and User-Agent fields, etc.) to detect your device being tethered or not, which is- as stated- a rare possibility. –  SamSPICA Apr 3 '12 at 11:31
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@SamSPICA: I don't think that's quite accurate. I don't think my service providor is currently just analyzing usage. I believe they have a specific process on the phone which manages the tethering process to monitor it. They can monitor it by the data packet and charge accordingly. –  Dave M G Apr 3 '12 at 16:04
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The tethering app that the carrier provides is modified to call home and keep track of your usage (or validate if you're even allowed to tether, depending on the carrier). If you root then you can install a different tethering app. Is that actually what you're asking? –  eldarerathis Apr 3 '12 at 16:45
    
@Dave M G: eldarerathis may be right. The tethering app itself might be monitoring your usage, with statistics being sent to the service provider. Try using a different tethering app- if that might help. But again, I say, it might not make a difference whether the device is rooted or not. –  SamSPICA Apr 4 '12 at 5:27
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If you're rooted install SSH Tunnel to route all your traffic through it. they can't detect anything from your encrypted tunnel. –  Sachin Shekhar Apr 4 '12 at 11:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Technically they can inspect the HTTP Headers and look at the User-Agent field to determine browser and OS; but imagine the millions and millions of HTTP requests for web pages and applications in a given day.

They can do trends, and data mining techniques to find out - but is it worth all that effort for them just to track down someone using a few more MB of bandwidth? Probably not.

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Some tethering solutions may also allow you to alter the headers, besides of course that you can change your user agent in many browsers :) –  Matthew Read Apr 3 '12 at 16:22
    
Maybe I'm paranoid, but I hope they wouldn't want to make an example out of me... ;) –  Dave M G Apr 4 '12 at 5:52
    
Their firewall can block such traffic without any hassle.. –  Sachin Shekhar Apr 4 '12 at 11:18

eldarerathis may be right (from his comment). The tethering app itself might be monitoring your usage, with statistics being sent to the service provider. Try using a different tethering app- if that might help. But again, I say, it might not make a difference whether the device is rooted or not.

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My current search seems to indicate that most, maybe all, tethering apps require a rooted phone. If anyone knows one that doesn't, please post a link. :) –  Dave M G Apr 4 '12 at 7:36
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@DaveMG: Check this one: ClockWorkMod Tether. However, this app needs a virtual network adapter to be set up on your system. Another one you may try is this one: FoxFi. Let me know if it helps. :) –  SamSPICA Apr 5 '12 at 9:10
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Nice tip! I'd give you another +1 if I could. –  Dave M G Apr 6 '12 at 4:19

Is the app from the carrier itself? If you root your phone and install a custom ROM you are erasing the phone and anything that was pre-installed by the carrier. It should work fine after that, or if you have a international version of the phone. Also, they can only see how much data you're using, and they just make it slower if they see you're using too much.

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