San Jose family billed $13,470 for half-hour of iPhone internet

“When you travel overseas you want to make sure you won’t run up exorbitant fees on your smartphone. A San Jose family thought they were protected from roaming and internet charges,” Michael Finney and Renee Koury report for KGO. “‘It’s like whoaaaa what’s going on?’ Vivian Chung of San Jose said, still reeling from the shock.”

“She and her children had just returned from an annual family reunion in Vietnam,” Finney and Koury report. “‘We know we cannot use the phone and it’s always on airplane mode,’ Chung said. ‘How could this happen?’ It did happen. T-Mobile charged Chung $13,470 for internet access on her son Nicholas’ iPhone. The charges all were incurred in a very short period while their flight was coming in over Vietnam. Chung estimates they racked up the charge in just one-half hour.”

“Nicholas said he switched his phone into airplane mode for the entire trip just to avoid these kinds of charges,” Finney and Koury report. “T-Mobile said Nicholas must’ve downloaded a movie or music or something. He didn’t. But T-Mobile agreed to reduce the bill to about $3,800. Still, the family thought any charges were unfair.”

“We found that many mobile apps that don’t require an internet connection still use data. Users may not even realize it, but the apps operate in the background, silently gobbling data for purposes such as updating software, refreshing social media, and sending ads,” Finney and Koury report. “Nicholas realized his chess game is one of those apps that run data in the background, which likely explains the huge bill. However, after ABC7 contacted T-Mobile, the company agreed to cancel out the remaining charges on the bill.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Be safe:

Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data (OFF).


  1. Misleading headline. The fact that they got that insane bill has nothing to do with the fact that they were using an iPhone. Unless I’m missing something, the charge was from T-Mobile, and would have been the same from any phone.

    1. Agreed, but it definitely would not have the same headline-grabbing impact if the article had said “smartphone” or “Android”.

      Hit-whores and used car dealers are the scum of the earth.

    2. iOS’s confusing/misleading control center could be to blame. Notice MDN’s Take.

      Turning off wi-fi/cellular in the control center is temporary, they will turn back on at an unknown time, and not all data features are actually disabled.

      Other phones’ OSes do not have a confusing half-measure control for turning these things off, so I submit that this *is* a valid Apple/iPhone/iOS story.

      Apple – put it back. OFF means OFF.

  2. Most likely son Nicholas was playing around with the settings. Maybe he thought turning off WiFi was “Airplane mode”. Maybe it was in Airplane mode and he toggled WiFi on or Bluetooth and screwed up when setting it back. The probability that messed up (accidentally or deliberately) is orders of magnitude more likely than some unknown issue with the phone or OS.

    And, of course, he certainly knows it well now and for the news reporter…

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