Undesirable Cellular Data Usage: A Potential Third-Party Linkage
Speaking of potentially misdirected corporate blame, a recent situation involving Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 O/S has motivated me to reconsider another previous presumption. You might recall that, back in late November, a friend discovered mysterious (and excessive) cellular data usage charges, even when her iPhone 3G was connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi for data access purposes and/or not in active use by either of us. At the time, I suspected either that AT&T was having data logging problems or Apple’s iOS was improperly ‘leaking’ data traffic (across an incorrect wireless tether, to boot).
Based on recent events, I may have been looking in the wrong places when assessing blame. At the beginning of the month, reports began surfacing that Windows Phone 7 handsets were also churning through an abundance of unwanted data traffic on AT&T’s network, again over their cellular connection even when Wi-Fi was active. Sound familiar? In some cases, daily unintended payloads of up to 50 MBytes were claimed, leading to AT&T subscribers with even 2 Gbyte/month DataPro plans exceeding their monthly allocations in conjunction with moderate email, web and other normal usage.
One week after Slashdot’s initial coverage first appeared, Microsoft publicly indicated that it was looking into the issue. And earlier this week, the company proclaimed that the culprit had been found, although it didn’t explicitly identify the ‘third party service’ that was responsible. Assuming Microsoft’s estimate that the issue only affected “a small (low single-digit) percentage of Windows Phone customers” is correct, the offending application probably wasn’t one of the more popular ones such as Facebook and Twitter…that is, unless Microsoft was playing some verbal sleight of hand and “Windows Phone customers” meant all Windows-powered handset owners, not just the now-diminutive fraction of folks running the latest-and-greatest mobile O/S iteration.
So, in revisiting my prior assumption, could one of the several dozen third-party applications installed on my friend’s iPhone 3G be to blame for the unintended data traffic? Perhaps, particularly considering that since her handset is jailbroken, some of those apps came from Cydia and therefore completely bypassed the Apple approval process. I’ve got a similar app suite installed on the iPhone 3GS that I was until recently regularly using, but since I have a ‘grandfathered’ unlimited-data plan, I’ve never bothered closely looking at the data traffic reported on my monthly bill and therefore wouldn’t have noticed any discrepancies. Truth be told, I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t consider the third-party possibility in the first place…
In summary, the lesson here is (at least) three-fold:
- Application developers, don’t assume that your customers are on unlimited- (or even high-)allocation data plans that might allow you to be ’sloppy’ with your apps’ data access patterns. And when the handset running an app is connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi, don’t route the data over the cellular network instead.
- O/S developers and app store providers, carefully scrutinize submitted apps for inappropriate data traffic (especially over cellular connections) during the review process, and
- Consumers, be wary of downloading and installing suspect apps, such as those from unknown developers, those which haven’t gone through a thorough vetting process, those with little existing-user feedback or those with predominantly low rating scores.