Apple Inc., the Cupertino giant, faces yet another lawsuit. This one got filed against the tech giant for the feature enabling automatic switch over to mobile data in its new iOS 9, which automatically routes the device over to mobile data when Wi-Fi connectivity goes weak.
The feature called “Wi-Fi assist” which is actually designed to give Apple iPhone users a smooth and consistent experience while using the internet turned out to be troublesome for the Apple iPhone users. Some Apple iPhone users are delighted that Wi-Fi assist enables them to stay online even when they enter Wi-Fi dead zone, others particularly with limited data usage plans are running massive mobile data bills. However, the company has included some restrictions on the feature such as it won’t work when users are on data roaming in another country. Moreover, not all apps are supported by this feature.
The main function of the Wi-Fi assist feature is to sense when there are issues with the wireless network the phone is connected to and instantly switch the device over to mobile data without popping any notification for the user. As a result, the users continue using their mobile data believing they are using the Wi-Fi network.
The feature of Wi-Fi assist was enabled, by default, for Apple iPhone users once they upgraded to iOS 9. Consequently, the users began incurring huge and unexpected spike in their mobile data bills. To disable the feature, the users had to go through their settings (Mobile data> Wi-Fi assist) something users did not discover until receiving that first fat cellphone bill.
Now, Apple has been slapped with class action lawsuit on October 23, 2015 alleging the company did not warn users sufficiently that the new Wi-Fi assist feature in iOS 9 will, by default, switch to use data from their cellular plan when Wi-Fi connectivity is low. As a result, the plaintiffs received surprisingly big mobile data bills.
The complaint has been filed by a California couple William Scott Phillips and Suzzanne Schmidt Phillips who allege that new feature of Wi-Fi assist caused them to use more cellular data than expected. The complaint claims that users who do not understand how Wi-Fi assist functions or even know that it exists, unknowingly used more mobile data than expected, thereby leading to exorbitant mobile data bills. The new class action lawsuit demands reimbursement from the company for any overages.
The overall amount in the controversy exceeds $5 million, says the complaint. The lawsuit also alleges that Apple did not clarify the working of the feature properly until after initial complaints. It was much later that Apple updated its website to explain that users may use more mobile data when Wi-Fi assist feature is turned on but that this should only be a small percentage more than previous usage.
The lawsuit asserts that this is not enough. According to the complainants, the update came late and still tones down the possible consumption a user could bill. An average user uses iPhone for streaming videos and music and for running other applications, which consume considerable amount of data.
The suit states, “Defendant’s above corrective action, however, still downplays the possible data overcharges a user could incur. Reasonable and average consumers use their iPhones for streaming of music, videos, and running various applications — all of which can use significant data. Defendant’s corrective statement does not disclose any basis for its conclusion that an average consumer would not see much increase in cellular usage.”
The suit was filed individually for the Phillips and on behalf of other users who had to pay alarmingly high bills. The complaint says that there is “no warning or disclosure when the phone switches from Wi-Fi to cellular data.”Though the lawsuit does not disclose the exact damages the plaintiffs incurred, but it does allege that plaintiffs and other Apple iPhone users were deceived about Wi-Fi Assist’s mobile data usage. In the $5 million lawsuit, the plaintiffs have accused Apple of violating California’s Unfair Competition Law, the state’s law to prevent false advertising and negligent misinterpretation.
The feature had received mixed response from users since its debut along with iOS 9 in mid-September. Several reports and blogs called it a double-edged sword referring to its pros and cons. Some iPhone users reported about the new feature on social media while some iPhone users questioned on Apple’s support forum to confirm if the reports were accurate.
Apple is not the only company that sports a feature similar to Wi-Fi assist. HTC, Samsung and LG have a similar feature on their handsets, too. Samsung’s feature is called Smart Network Assist. However, no Android phone manufacturers have come across a similar lawsuit.
Although there is no guarantee that the lawsuit will be successful but if it does, it would bear huge financial liability for Apple Inc. But, even Apple’s competitors would not want the company to lose owing to similar feature in their phones. If Apple is penalized for paving to incur huge bills for iPhone users, other smartphone manufacturers are likely to receive legal notices soon as well.
To disable the feature, users can open the settings app, go to cellular and then toggle the feature off. Users can also opt for changing individual app settings and disable mobile data for apps, which consume significant amount of data. This can completely solve the problem by identifying Wi-Fi dead zones in the house and then troubleshooting to experience glitch-free internet surfing on Apple iPhones and other devices.