Teen blames Apple’s Wi-Fi Assist feature for $2000 phone bill

“Ashton Finegold didn’t think much of the text message he received from his mobile phone service saying that he was nearing his data limit,” CBS News reports. “But the San Francisco teen was shocked when he received a phone bill totaling $2,021.07. ‘I thought my dad was going to kill me,’ he told CBS News. ‘It’s usually $250 a month — and this was over $2,000,’ the teen’s father, Jeff Finegold, said.”

“The outrageous overcharge was due to ‘Wi-Fi Assist,’ a new feature on Apple’s iOS 9 operating system. Wi-Fi Assist automatically switches the phone to draw on cellular service when a user is in an area with a weak Wi-Fi signal,” CBS News reports. “It turns out Ashton Finegold’s bedroom is one such place with a weak signal. So while he thought he was still connected to his home Wi-Fi while surfing the web in his room, his iPhone was eating up more than 144,000 MB of data.”

“This isn’t the first time Apple has been in hot water over this feature,” CBS News reports. “In October, Apple was hit with a $5 million class-action lawsuit by a California couple who say they were unaware of the feature and rang up large phone bills.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Perhaps this feature should be “off” by default. Of course, if Apple did that, the incurious user would likely never know they had the rather useful feature, much less enable it.

To control Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9: Settings>Cellular, toggle Wi-Fi Assist on/off.

SEE ALSO:
Apple faces class action lawsuit over Wi-Fi Assist data usage – October 26, 2015

50 Comments

  1. Maybe?? Come on this should definitely be OFF by default. Clearly they should have and most likely did get alerts from their phone company that they were going over their limit but obviously this should be a feature that users switch on or make it part of the “initialization” screen when you get the new phone like they do with maps – just ask Yes or No. Maybe even have the phone ask if you want to keep it on if you use more than a 100 meg in a day it warns you.

    1. Agee, anything that involves unexpected charges, and possible LARGE ones should be OFF with the option to enable. As all OSs get more complicated, users can’t be expected to know every feature. If it’s a harmless one, sure, install it enabled. If it involves someones bank account, introduce it turned OFF.

    1. It is unrealistic to expect people to research and understand every single new feature on their phone, especially after an upgrade to the OS.

      You have a phone, you upgrade, everything works, you keep rolling.

      A feature like this should have some controls in it to limit or notify people if it is being used excessively, or at the very minimum tell people it is on and what it does after an upgrade.

      1. While I agree with your statement that it is unreasonable to “… expect people to research and understand every single new feature on their phone…”, this is a rather obvious case of willful ignorance. Someone in the family chose the plan – a plan which enabled its users to accumulate large data overage charges. Someone in the family gave the son an iPhone to use on the plan. And the service provider sent a warning that the data cap was being reached. The kid ignored it. I don’t know if the parent received the warning or not, or if it was a family or an individual plan.

        I side with Howie on this one – it is a matter of personal responsibility. Don’t choose a plan that can get you in trouble. If you do choose such a plan, then make sure that everyone knows how to manage their usage.

        One more thing…a plan that regularly costs $250 per month should be an unlimited plan. The data rate may throttle down after so many GB, but there should not be any data overage charges. Perhaps these people were not too bright when they selected a carrier and plan?

    2. Except iOS updates are now aggressively pushed by Apple. And the wifi assist is mentioned in a single line buried about 3/4 down the list of features and updates.

      And it’s phrased far too ambiguously: “Wi-Fi Assist to automatically use cellular data when Wi-Fi connectivity is poor”. Even to a technical person it’s not obvious that this means it’ll use cell data even if your wifi signal is strong but its *internet* connectivity is poor. The way it’s worded, it sounds no different from how it used to work (switch to cell data only if connection to wifi itself is poor).

    3. Simply knowing whether you’re on wi-fi or a network would solve problems like this. That’s a pretty basic expectation, and if you can’t then you shouldn’t be using the device in the first place.

    4. When a manufacturer introduces a new feature which can cost you money if used, shows no indication on the screen when it IS being used, and the control for which is hidden at the bottom of a rarely-used Settings screen (after a long list of applications)…

      Then that “feature” better damn well be off by default, unless that manufacturer wants to pay what it costs the unwitting to use.

    1. Another instance of a doofus Apple Hater drawing the wrong conclusions making the consumer innocent and Apple guilty. What idiot running a household with today’s devices doesn’t have decent WiFi in their house anyways? All of this could have been alleviated by a working home WiFi network and the kid noticing the WiFi reception bars. Not everything can be made idiot proof, it requires consumers taking a moment from their rabid online posting to notice what their tech is doing once in a while.

      1. Assuming I am an Apple hater makes an ass out of you.

        Apple’s mojo used to be to keep their stuff safe by keeping ports closed and firewalls on by default. This falls under the same category. The teen’s experience was ruined because mojo-less Apple did not keep this option off by default.

        Sure, the teen should have taken the first warning seriously. Then again, as regular “for the rest of us” users we may have ignored it, too, or just missed it.

        How many notifications do I miss because Touch ID is too fast? I see messages on my screen that go away and can’t be found again because I forgot to use the other finger.

        The Apple experience is getting worse. I am not an Apple hater. I am becoming an Apple critic which only started end of 2015. Apple’s in decline mode. Like it or not. Be in denial if you want. It’s a sad day.

        The only fix is for Apple to spend their resources on their software, including their cloud services.

        1. It’s fine to be critical, but in a constructive way. I’ve never had any of these problems having applied a modicum of common sense and tech ability to ward off the Boogey Man. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for basic ignorance or the complete dumbing down of everything for those hapless fools and buffoons who can’t seemingly help themselves. It’s also quite difficult to attach to any one problem just what stupid thing a consumer might do next and anticipate it happening. The universe is loaded with variables for trouble and it’s attendant on humans to be aware and take care of many of these problems for ourselves, instead of being coddled to at every corner. For Apple or any company it’s a learning process that hopefully can be applied in the future. (It does though require Apple to become increasingly cynical about people’s intelligence.)

          1. Steve Jobs was cynical of everyone’s intelligence. That’s why his influence caused Apple to make the great products they used to.

            Ever heard of:

            “It just works”

            and

            “Computers for the rest of us”

            People at Microsoft thought everyone needed to be a computer scientist to operate their stuff. Sounds like you come from that ilk.

            You want a constructive suggestion? I already stated it. here it is again in case you missed it the first time:

            “The only fix is for Apple to spend their resources on their software, including their cloud services.”

            If this does not happen it’s just a matter of time when TC has to leave because he is the one who decides where to spend the resources and it will be his fault if he does not change things.

            1. I am more than familiar with Steve Jobs and his work ethic and tech philosophy so don’t need your clumsy patronizing attempts to explain. You seem to miss my point that there’s no way even Apple can account for every contingency and stupid thing a consumer might do regardless of how much time they spend on their software.

              Well Einstein it isn’t much of a suggestion that Apple needs to spend more time on their software. It’s like me telling you to spend more resources on breathing. They’re ALWAYS working on their software. Your “suggestion” its about as generic and useless as it could possibly be. File under the category of “duh.”

              You keep digging a bigger hole. I am pretty sure Tim Cook does not need your simple-minded specious guidance and is already quite aware of the need to CONTINUE the software development that has been ongoing at Apple since 1976. Your conclusion may be an epiphany to you but it’s SOP already at Apple.

            2. You want specifics:

              Ever since Johnny Ive took over software (ie iOS7 I believe) things have become less functional.

              The purpose of software is to make the hardware functional.

              While Johnny likes to remove buttons and 3.5mm jacks, he has extended his obsession with removing buttons from software.

              Another specific: make the WiFi assist default OFF. Can’t you read the article and comments that follow?

              Obviously, you’re just a denier of reality.

            3. Your points on what Jonny Ive does or doesn’t do don’t jive with your conclusion and are disparate issues. Ives is not responsible for what things are turned on or off by default.

              Once the issue is known it can be addressed. Apple can’t always anticipate every doofus thing a consumer might try. Can’t you understand that reality? Life is not perfect and neither can Apple be. You must have been the comic relief on your high school debate team. BUT you are entitled to your opinion and poor arguments.

          2. For something like this which can affect a user financially it would have been prudent for Apple to err on the ‘safe’ side by setting the default ‘off’. Sprint has a similar feature on their Android phones from a while back called “Connection Optimizer” and it was very annoying that they also had defaulted to ‘on’..

            1. I guess where do you stop turning everything off by default? Many people who could use a good feature won’t know to turn it on or even know it’s there at all. It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of problem. I guess you would need to issue a list of standard settings and what they do to educate about options, but even so, most people wouldn’t bother reading it.

            2. I think a reasonable line would be if a feature will expose a user negatively, security wise or financially, it should by default be set ‘off’. Like other obscure features, perhaps a news/emagazine site will list the feature in a ‘tip’ article even if Apple doesn’t explicitly find ways to make the user aware of a feature.

            3. Good idea.. Document the trip up areas and if management leaves it as is you know they made a conscious decision not to deal with a potential problem brought to their attention.

  2. That’s 144 gig! What is that kid doing on his phone? I agree with the earlier comment where it should be in the new phone set-up like TouchID, maps, iCloud drive, etc. Having such a feature on by default in this lovely era of data caps serves only to help the cell companies.

    1. There is something wrong with this story. Every time my kid uses an additional gigabyte I get a warning that there will be a $15 charge for that. That means this kid or his dad got 144 such messages and just ignored them?

  3. Where is his cell company. In Canada if you go over your data limit they cut you off and have to phone in continue to use data that month. It has stopped big data overages.

    Canadian Wireless Code
    A service provider must suspend data overage charges once they reach $50 within a single monthly billing cycle, unless the customer expressly consents to pay additional charges.

  4. Not surprising that a kid with a $250/month cell phone allowance was ignoring the multiple overage warnings sent by the carrier. I’m sure daddy will/can take care of it.

    Hope Apple ignores this.

      1. EXACTLY! No reason for even $250 data bills if most of what you do is at home. It just shows how technically clueless that household is. And the provider predators are all too happy to charge you for your abject ignorance. Let this be a lesson to THEM, not Apple.

      2. It’s America, Mike. We’re bold and brave and free to be screwed by corporate America in any way they can think up. A feckless Government to represent the needs of its citizens is our way, no matter if it’s being influenced lobbyists in Washington or a bunch of gun-toting white anarchist in Oregon.

      3. Someone paying $250 a month for cell service is clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed when you can get $95 unlimited data from T-Mobile (price before taxes).

        Given that the data is relatively inexpensive, this is not Apple’s fault in the least. But it does highlight the BS that is called “overage charges”. To go over you should have to consent to doing so at the moment it happens, be informed of the cost, and that cost should be simply charging you the next highest data tier for that one month.

        This is why I switched to T-mobile last year and never looked back at ATT.

  5. I’m with MDN on this one. Apple have a few iffy things that should be OFF or ON by default so that Apple can’t be blamed for the default results:

    1) Wi-Fi Assist OFF
    2) OS X Firewall ON
    3) Safari ‘Open “safe” files after downloading’ OFF

    Please add to this list…

  6. Pretty obvious that the parents need to:
    1. Get a better wifi router or add another to extend the signal.
    2. Monitor the usage more closely. I would always be informed by AT&T if my daughter or wife went over their usage. That doesn’t happen now we have 10 shared gigs. But if it did I would let them know that they are getting close to the limit and my daughter knew she had to pay for any overage.

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