Teen gets $2,000 iPhone bill thanks to controversial Wi-Fi Assist feature

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This little toggle will help you manage any paltry data plan you have.
Wi-Fi Assist is very useful, except when it's not.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

A San Francisco teenager recently found themselves on the receiving end of a massive $2,021.07 phone bill — courtesy of iOS 9’s Wi-Fi Assist feature, which automatically switches phones to use cellular service when the owner is in an area with a weak Wi-Fi signal.

Teen Ashton Finegold made the unpleasant discovery that his bedroom was such a place, which meant that while he thought he was connected to his home Wi-Fi setup, his iPhone actually clocked up 144,000 MB of cellular data.

“I thought my dad was going to kill me,” he told CBS News.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard reports about how Wi-Fi Assist can accidentally burn through mobile data plans, which has prompted Apple to release a support document detailing how and when Wi-Fi Assist should work.

While Wi-Fi Assist is switched on by default, Apple gives three caveats to help people understand when their data can be used by the feature:

  • Wi-Fi Assist will not automatically switch to cellular if you’re data roaming.
  • Wi-Fi Assist only works when you have apps running in the foreground and doesn’t activate with background downloading of content.
  • Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t activate with some third-party apps that stream audio or video, or download attachments, like an email app, as they might use large amounts of data.

Although the best option is to have Wi-Fi Assist running on an unlimited data plan, if you are on a limited monthly data plan it is possible to turn off the feature by following these simple steps. You can also download iOS apps like Download Meter which help you keep track of your monthly data usage to avoid going over your limit.

 

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  • Lucus Bendzsa

    These whining people and bad publicity is gonna get me mad! Us with unlimited data will suffer if Apple removes this!

    • DigitalBeach

      “Us with unlimited data will suffer if Apple removes this?” Explain that. You will suffer because you will have to manually turn wifi on and off? I don’t get your gripe.

  • Matt Hone

    Fortunately my mobile provider (EE) sets a limit on my monthly data usage, which means I hit a brick wall once I get to 500 MB and have to actually purchase more data – they can’t just charge me ad infinitum. A lot of providers are like this in the UK now. Do any do it in the States?

    • DigitalBeach

      I’m not sure of any providers that does that. If there are any they aren’t mainstream.

      • Faslane

        Tmobile has an app where you can set your mobile limit on data, calls and texts (unless you’re unlimited) and my Android Note 5 has this setting built right into the operating system as well.

      • DigitalBeach

        Thank you for this info. I was unaware of this.

  • SBacklin

    I watched a local news cast on this family and it’s issue and these retards openly admitted to IGNORING the data usage warnings from AT&T. So yeah, they still want to blame Apple. Plus, how does the kid not notice the sudden so called improvement in data performance of his wifi was so bad it used cellular data instead?? These people have no one to blame but themselves.

  • The rules on how WiFi assistant work might be too complicated. Not everyone is techie savvy, I’m sure even my Grandma would be very confused if I had to explain it to her.

    • DigitalBeach

      Seems pretty straight forward…

  • bdkennedy11

    AT&T sends text messages to the phone when you approach your data limit, so there’s no way that kid didn’t know.

  • okamiokami

    People tend to forget that technology is NOT for everyone. A few days ago I heard people discussing over coffee whether the unfaithful husband or his (much younger) mistress decided to come clean by sending one of their conversations to the man’s teen daughter’s iPad. What had really happened was of course that in order to use only one app store account, the daugter’s iPad was set up with her father’s Apple ID. Are smartphones becoming complicated? Sure, but that is what happens when you keep adding functions to a product. Apple’s fault, if any, is marketing products and services to categories who should stick to 20-quid dumb phones (or possibly NO phone altogether). Bottom line? SMARTphones are NOT for DUMB people

    • Faslane

      the bottom line is that the person paying the bill needs to know these things and put limits on data usage on their kids phones if it’s a concern, any carrier allows this and Android even has a setting in it where you can do it yourself and have it disable data or warn you when you reach a certain amount during a certain period (like your billing cycle) so ultimately it ISN’T really a technological thing so much as it’s a question people need to aske their carriers when buying a phone that’s not on an unlimited plan and also to block purchases from within apps. Both exist on iPhone and Android and pretty much any carrier will show you how to setup or what app will do this if the carrier doesn’t have one which most do.

  • dcj001

    Teen gets $2,000 iPhone bill thanks to him disregarding the carrier’s text message(s) about using more than xGB of data.

    • Faslane

      yep, was playing games and NOT to be disturbed so ignores them, teen doesn’t pay the bill anyways probably, the parents do. +1

  • Faslane

    Seems like this happens a lot with iPhones from people being charged unknowingly (so it seems) for apps and in-app purchases to exuberant phone bills they claim they didn’t know about etc and it’ always with iPhone…weird. Isn’t there a mobile data limit setting on iPhone so it can’t go over a specifically pre-set amount each billing cycle by parents or the end user? I know there is on Android by default in the settings, and NO this isn’t bashing one or the other at all. I like both in their own way and also have a a Mac and a Windows machine so not starting up that old war again I assure you. It’s personal preference and no one is better than the other. but curious if that’s a setting on iPhone by default or at LEAST an app that can do this.