Tethering MBP to iPhone - how to seamlessly avoid big data bills
December 17, 2013 6:07 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to setup a MacBook Pro so that it can be regularly hooked up to an iPhone's Personal Hotspot without unexpected background processes (Dropbox, iTunes Match, auto OS or app updates, etc) resulting in massive data charges?

A few hours research suggests Little Snitch is probably the best option (it seems to me that Apple should be baking this functionality right into OS X, but it hasn't).

But I have downloaded the trial, and the amount of popup messages is overwhelming. It seems like the focus of the product is providing geeks with the tools to monitor and control every piece of data that comes in and out of their computer. I'm not interested in that.

I simply want an unobtrusive means to limit unnecessary substantial up- and downloads when I'm tethered to my iPhone. LittleSnitch seems like it has all the functionality I need (the new Automatic Profile Switching could make this a set-and-forget product, which is what it really needs to be for most people), but it feels like there is no obvious way to set it up without making hundreds of micro decisions. Am I missing something? Has a third party provided a good guide which I've somehow missed in my Googling?

For Bonus Points: What's the best way to set up Dropbox (or set up an app like LittleSnitch to manage Dropbox) to be able to access any Dropbox file when tethered, but without unnecessarily downloading substantial files in the background (e.g. Photoshop files which workmates might have added to a shared folder)? Basically when the MBP is tethered to an iPhone I'd like Dropbox to operate like the Dropbox iOS app, not the OSX app.
posted by puffmoike to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
 
I don't have a macbook, but I set my laptop up with a separate account that I use when tethering for exactly this reason. I can access the dropbox files in the other account in the filebrowser (because I use Ubuntu and have permissions set up for that - not sure if this is possible on Mac), but since dropbox itself isn't running under my tethering account, it won't do any updating.

That account has only the bare minimum of stuff installed, and is set up to not do any automatic updates or anything like that.
posted by lollusc at 6:17 PM on December 17, 2013


lollusc: …I set my laptop up with a separate account…

The solution needs to be as simple as possible.

I didn't mention it in the original question, but a friend has asked me to set up his new computer for him. He's not going to switch accounts. He's not going to remember to toggle things on and off.

I'm probably going to get a MBP to supplement my iMac soon, so for my own purposes I could contemplate something like this if I had to. But I'd certainly prefer not to have to remember to do anything, or deal with 'hacks' like different user accounts, on a day-to-day basis.

Frankly it was really surprising to me that this functionality isn't baked into OS X, or that a commercial app with the sole express purpose of doing this (with a fairly small set of selectable default behaviours) isn't available. I'd have thought that there was a huge number of iPhone/MacBook owners who would benefit from - and pay for - an app like this.
posted by puffmoike at 6:33 PM on December 17, 2013


Check out ControlPlane. It lets you set up different configurations that are activated in different contexts. It should be possible to (for example) quit Dropbox when you're tethered and relaunch it when you're on a hardline connection.

It's kind of nerdy. It might not be right for your friend, but it's the most likely thing that I know of.
posted by adamrice at 7:55 PM on December 17, 2013


The solution needs to be as simple as possible.

I didn't mention it in the original question, but a friend has asked me to set up his new computer for him. He's not going to switch accounts. He's not going to remember to toggle things on and off.


With respect, that is the simple solution you're looking for. Switching accounts is no more complicated than running an app and is the best way of doing this (bar getting a better plan or being careful when tethering).
posted by turkeyphant at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


With respect, that is the simple solution you're looking for. Switching accounts is no more complicated than running an app and is the best way of doing this (bar getting a better plan or being careful when tethering).

I'm not sure what prices are like in the US and elsewhere, but in Australia data on our most reliable network is pretty pricey (and getting more expensive each time I get a new contract).

Once properly set up Little Snitch looks like it could operate entirely in the background (automatically switching profiles based on what network it was connected to). That - with the greatest possible respect - sounds easier than running an app or switching accounts. Of course it may be that setting it up is just too difficult to be contemplated by all bar the most committed geek.
posted by puffmoike at 4:19 AM on December 19, 2013


I've just started looking into the same problem.

> But I have downloaded the trial, and the amount of popup messages is overwhelming. It seems like the focus of the product is providing geeks with the tools to monitor and control every piece of data that comes in and out of their computer. I'm not interested in that.

My solution, so far, is to disable all the built-in rules, create a default "Wi-Fi" profile with enabled rules for all incoming and outgoing connections for All Processes for User and System, and to create a "Cellular" profile with all incoming and outgoing connections for All Processes for System enabled, but set to "ask" for User. I can then create a whitelist of apps that I want to use over cellular, which will grow as I run into Little Snitch's connection alerts and add those to my whitelist. The popups won't show up for apps that are allowed, even though All Processes is set to "ask". (The other approach is to enable everything for Cellular as with Wi-Fi, but then to blacklist the apps that use the most data. Only problem is, you might forget a few, and it won't automatically work for any new apps you start using.)
posted by archagon at 6:59 PM on December 24, 2013


That first approach seems sensible. I'll give it a go.

The latter is probably more convenient, but as you point out the risks of 'rogue' activity is much higher. A pretty IT savvy friend just had iTunes Match download over 1 GB without him realising (and, in Australia at least, 1GB ain't cheap)
posted by puffmoike at 11:55 AM on December 26, 2013


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