Watch For Mysterious Data Usage On Your iPhone

If you’re on one of AT&T’s limited data plans, you’d better start carefully monitoring the data usage, because some customers are noticing unexplainable daily hits on their accounts. The support forums at Apple are filled with pages of theories and complaints from frustrated customers, but our tipster David got the following admission directly from an AT&T rep: “She told me that most, if not all, 3g-capable iPhones were being charged erroneously like I had been experiencing. She told me AT&T was unaware of why the data was being charged, and where it was coming from.”

The transmissions usually occur in the early morning hours, and although there are lots of theories floating around, none fully explains what’s going on.

On my own most recent bill, there’s a daily transmission every morning between 1 and 5 a.m. (when I’m usually asleep), for a total of 23.5 MB of unaccounted for data against my monthly limit. Because I carefully restrict my 3G data consumption, this hasn’t proven an issue for me yet. But that’s not the case for everyone: David says he was hit with a single transmission of over 50MB one morning that put him over his monthly limit, which meant he had to pay AT&T more money for data he never used. Neither he nor AT&T can explain what was transmitted to account for that high number.

If you read his full post you’ll see that AT&T has no idea what’s going on. The initial CSR lied to him, the second one talked down to him, and then he was ignored completely until he shamed AT&T earlier this week via Twitter. That’s when someone at AT&T contacted him directly. Unfortunately, this still didn’t fix the problem:

…Much to my surprise, I received another call from AT&T, this time from someone much higher up in AT&T. The woman informed me that I had brought erroneous data charges to the attention of AT&T. She told me that most, if not all, 3g-capable iPhones were being charged erroneously like I had been experiencing. She told me AT&T was unaware of why the data was being charged, and where it was coming from, but that the issue would be fixed shortly and that all the erroneous charges would be removed. I was shocked that AT&T would finally admit to a problem this large, especially considering that chunks of incorrectly-charged data could quickly eat-up the relatively skimpy data plans that AT&T now offers.


ADDENDUM: (9/1/10)

I was able to check my data billed this morning, nothing had been removed and instead I was billed for another large chuck of data. This is really starting to cause a headache for me because now I have used up half of my allotted data for the month, with 25 days left, and I have to keep track of what I know I didn’t use so I can dispute it later.

If you want to keep track of your real data usage so that you can compare it with what AT&T says you’ve used, you can reset your iPhone’s built-in usage counter when your billing period resets each month. On your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Usage > Reset Statistics. (Don’t confuse this with the reset button in the “General” pane.)

Note: cat usage is demonstrated with original Edge-only iPhone, so it cannot explain 3G data usage.

“Topic : Unknown data usage early morning” [Apple Support Forums]
“AT&T Admits to iPhone Data Calculation Errors” [Stupid Hipster Doofus]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ShruggingGalt says:

    The iPhone is trying to phone home to the mothership like it’s been instructed by the Creator in Cupertino.

    • DcChick says:

      As an Apple employee, I can assure you that this conspiracy theory is false. :)

    • physics2010 says:

      Sounds like a great opportunity for someone to make a data usage logger and sell it to all of these folks for 0.99, but it sounds like the iphone won’t let you access the stack. Instead set your iphone not to lock so wifi stays on all night, and then just sniff your wireless traffic. I’d do it myself, but the “mysterious” usage doesn’t show up on my unlimited data account.

    • istheleftright says:

      The reason it is calling is because it wants to know the date of termination.

  2. Taliskan says:

    This was also covered a bit on Gizmodo, the comments there were interesting to read in addition to the Apple forums.

  3. ycnhgm says:

    How about the apps on those phones that check for updates or call back home or do some other things in the background? I am always suspicious about what kind of data goes in and out of my phone. A limited data plan without control what exactly happens on my phone is a setup for extra charges left and right.

  4. jshier says:

    I thought this was due to AT&T’s website not updating your data usage in real time? They update over night, explaining the middle of the night transfers. It’s just your transfers for the previous day being added to what you can see. Likely hits other users but since the iPhone is the most popular AT&T phone, it gets reported the most.

  5. Nogard13 says:

    It’s due to all your Data Usage from the previous day being lumped into one entry by ATT so it looks like a huge chunk was used when you were sleeping or the phone was turned off, but it really wasn’t.

    Nothing to see here, so move along.

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

      I think if it were that simple, AT&T would have figured it out. The usage shows up as you use it. I only have a data plan at all because it is required (or so I’m told) with any smartphone on AT&T’s network so I turn off the 3G data capability until I need it. Updates for apps aren’t done until you initiate it yourself, so that’s not the culprit either.

  6. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    That’s the ugliest cat I’ve ever seen.

    • AstroPig7 says:

      That’s the lamest attempt to troll I’ve seen in a long time.

      • Akanbe says:

        The same exact post makes up the majority of his posts. They obviously don’t care if people troll or not.

        • segfault, registered cat offender says:

          It’s not a troll, it’s civil disobedience over the pointless, excessive inclusion of cat pictures on this site. Someone must have a cat fetish.

          • Conformist138 says:

            When will we stop being surprised. Cat people and internet seclusion sort of go hand in hand.


          • AstroPig7 says:

            Right, because you pay damn good money to access… wait, no you don’t. It’s their site, so who cares? You aren’t engaging in civil disobedience, you’re making yourself look pathetic, and using that term to describe your actions is frankly insulting.

  7. aaron8301 says:

    You know that AT&T rep got fired.

  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Cyberdyne is finally taking hold.

  9. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    Meanwhile, at T-mobile…

  10. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’d put dollars to doughnuts that this has already been going on but no one cared b/c they had unlimited data before.

    • BridgetPentheus says:

      I’d say you’re right b/c in the U.S. I was using according to AT&T almost 1gb a month that I couldn’t figure out where in the world it was coming from, (I don’t use streaming apps, etc) so when I moved overseas I got the 1gb a month plan to be safe, 3 months later I’ve used about 300mb total….

  11. michael.seth.novick says:

    I sent this to Consumerist in June. I kept wondering why it wasn’t posted. And I think it’s because everyone immediately thinks it’s the previous days usage lumped into one big entry. THIS IS NOT TRUE. If you read one of the 42 pages of complaints on the Apple Forum, you will see that many users (including me) have all their data uses listed throughout the entire day in various amounts in addition to a huge one at 2am. Some of us have turned off Edge/3G completely for an entire day and there’s still a huge amount of data transfered at 2am. So don’t shrug this off as being a previous day’s data use. If it was that, either Apple or AT&T would tell us that. Instead, they have no idea.

    • jessjj347 says:

      I think that people only care now that they don’t have unlimited data plans. I’ve noticed this happening for months as well.

      I stumbled upon one forum where a guy was performing an experiment, where he changed settings and the like to try and figure out what the data is….not sure what came of it.

    • MeowMaximus says:

      You know that there *IS* a simple solution to this problem…
      … dump your iPhone, and get a Droid. No more CrApple, no more AT&T – problem solved!

  12. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Someone on the Apple thread seemed to figure out that it was an email attempting to be sent each night but which was failing and remaining in the Outbox repeatedly.

    Others reported that by turning off the phone in the night it only postponed the large data send wihch would then occur first thing when the phone was enabled again.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Wouldn’t this be disproven once you made sure that you didn’t have any messages in your outbox and still kept getting hit with the mystery data usage?

  13. sp00nix says:

    It’s apple streaming subliminal messages while you sleep.

  14. Emily says:

    That’s when the iPhones talk to each other to plot the rise of the machines.

  15. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    my cat prefers the EVO.

  16. Harry_Greek says:

    Oh, a crappy and shaddy mobile phone provider continues having problems with a product it can not support properly – what else is new?

    Oh, wait – let me guess,… the iPhone is at fault here, right??

  17. Alex says:

    Looks like this is showing up on my bill as well (Old 3G). I still have an unlimited data plan, so I don’t worry about hitting the cap. Shame about all those other people who opted for the capped plans though.

  18. Overstim says:

    This is happening to me too! Ive been on the 200MB plan for 2 months, and both months I got awoken by a text message at 6AM saying I was over my limit, but I hadnt been using any data, push mail was off… i didnt know what could be causing it. Two months now Ive been charged an extra $15 for data.

  19. madtube says:

    I raised holy hell with AT&T a few weeks back about this. Their “update data packages” mysteriously started happening right after I switched my wife’s data plan to the tiered plan. The CSR was telling me the OS was being updated. Anyone with an Apple device knows that is complete BS; the updates are done via iTunes. Even carrier settings are done through iTunes. After wading through bullsh-t so deep I might drown by AT&T, they agreed to give me back my unlimited plan. Since I switched to the Death Star, I have not had a problem with them until now. I was even willing to give the benefit of the doubt until the rep told me I did not know anything and lied to me. It pi$$ed me off to no end.

    Asshats. All of them.

  20. packcamera says:

    Forgive my iPhone ignorance, but is this an issue with the iPhone or AT&T? Does this affect iPhone owners with different cellular providers (T-Mobile or non-US)?

    • Duffin (Ain't This Kitty Cute?) says:

      It might, but considering if you’re on T-Mobile, you don’t have to worry about a freaking data “allowance”, it doesn’t really matter. Why people still use AT&T is beyond me…

  21. keepher says:

    Actually this isn’t new and did not involve 3G phones when it first started happening to us several years ago. Neither of us used our phones for data, voice only. In the middle of the night the phone would light up and would show data usage on our bills. And considering 99% of the time we were asleep when it occurred either one of our cats were accessing the web while we slept or we have a gremlin running around here we’re unaware of.

  22. invisibelle says:

    I have nothing to contribute except: CUTE KITTY!!

  23. paul says:

    (Did not read TFA)

    So, if you turn your iphone off at night, or for a few days, does this data usage still appear?

  24. Pax says:

    Well, THAT sets my paranoia-reflex all a-twitchy-like!

    I don’t own a 3G phone, but if I did, I think I’d be popping it in a faraday cage whenever not in active use. O_O Transmit through THAT, you nosy little spying f*cker!

  25. INsano says:

    Gosh, it’s just a terrible coincidence they instated monthly usage caps recently isn’t it? AT&T already making a strong showing for WCIA bracket for the coming year.

  26. Wolfie XIII says:

    It’s russian hackers – they have infected all of your phones and are stealing your data in the name of the US goverment. So smile and remember Big Brother is watching you.

  27. MarcusT says:

    As someone who may or may not work for a wireless giant, let me say you are all freaking out over nothing. It is easily explainable: Sometimes it takes X amount of days/hours to report all usage. Just because most of it appears in a nice, neat timeline, doesn’t mean all of it will.

    In addition, did you ever think it might be those applications you have installed that are checking or downloading updates automatically?

  28. STrRedWolf says:

    2 am? It’s the iPhone pulling a Fraudulent Website list, updating it. This should only happen over Wifi and while plugged in, not over 3G and out of the dock. In other words, an Apple bug, not an AT&T issue.

    • romewhisky says:

      When you put the phone to sleep, it drops the wifi connection and goes on to the AT&T net. You can see this when you wake the phone: for a split second the “3G” appears and is then replaced by the wifi icon. This of course assumes you’re in the wifi coverage when you wake the phone.

      It took me a while to figure this out, and it is not well known by either Apple or AT&T CSRs.

  29. romewhisky says:

    I first noticed this back in April, and have been sparring with AT&T and Apple since then. My last data usage bill was for 1.8 GB, with a new record for a single middle of the night transfer of 153 MB. I can refute all of the explanations they’ve tried to foist on me. For example, if it really is tallying up your data usage for the day, why do I see data transferred billed during the day? And why does it take 153 MB to tell AT&T I’ve used 2.5 MB that day? Bottom line, they don’t know what’s going on, and I won’t buy my wife an iPhone without an explanation or a return to an unlimited plan.

  30. Slave For Turtles says:

    As someone with an Android phone with AT&T, I’ve noticed a recent increase in my data usage (I have an app installed that keeps track of that). I wonder if it’s related, but it’s still not THAT much data over what I usually use.

  31. Brunette Bookworm says:

    Are only users who don’t have the unlimited plans experiencing this? I just checked my usage and since August 24th I only show 27.3 MB so I’m not experiencing large, early morning data use. Has everyone made sure that if they upgraded to iOS 4 that ALL the apps are closed since you can now leave some open and switch between them? Perhaps some people who have this problem have apps open that are connecting to the cell network.

  32. Boo LaRue says:

    Add me to the list of “the screwed” in this matter. I just spoke with an AT&T rep who adamantly accused me of using my iPhone in the middle of the night to access the internet. Further, she said that if I wasn’t doing it, someone else was! I get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work, and there is no way in hell that I am using my phone at 2 and 3 in the morning to access the internet. I have filed a BBB complaint so we’ll see if there’s any kind of relief coming.