Apple Faces $5M Suit Over WiFi Assist Data-Hogging Claim

The WiFi assist feature is turned on by default in iOS 9 and lets devices switch to cellular data if WiFi connections are weak.  

Apple, WiFi Assist, iOS 9, WiFi, cellular data, mobile data, lawsuit

A California couple has sued Apple for $5 million, alleging that the WiFi Assist feature in its latest iOS 9 mobile device software switches to cellular data from WiFi unexpectedly, causing users to more easily run over their data limits and gain extra charges from their mobile carriers.

The couple, William Scott Phillips and Suzanne Schmidt Phillips, claim in their lawsuit that "they were not properly informed that the new WiFi Assist feature on its iOS 9 platform will use [a customer's] cellular plan data in order to work," according to an Oct. 26 article by ModernReaders. The class-action lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in the Northern District of California and seeks a jury trial and damages of at least $5 million for the plaintiffs who join the case.

Apple's WiFi Assist feature, which was included in iOS 9 and is turned on by default when the operating system is installed on Apple mobile devices, allows users to automatically switch their mobile devices to cellular networks when they experience a poor WiFi connection, according to Apple. WiFi Assist activates and automatically switches to cellular and works with most apps like Safari, Apple Music, Mail and Maps, according to the company. When WiFi Assist comes on, users see a cellular data icon in the status bar on their device to let them know that cellular data is now being used, the company added.

In its documentation for WiFi assist, Apple says that users may use more cellular data when using the feature, but that "for most users, this should only be a small percentage higher than previous usage."

Users can turn off WiFi Assist in iOS 9 by going to Settings > Cellular, and then scrolling down and tapping the WiFi Assist feature, according to Apple.

The couple's lawsuit "alleges that Apple has the obligation to reimburse customers who were unaware or unfamiliar with WiFi Assist on iOS 9 and had gotten overcharged on their cellular bills as a result," the story reported.

The lawsuit alleges that Apple failed to properly explain WiFi assist on its support site until several articles were written about it, according to the report. "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 [about how WiFi Assist works] does not disclose any basis for its conclusion that an average consumer would not see much increase in cellular usage."

The Phillips' lawsuit does not mention how much they were forced to pay in extra data charges due to the feature when they upgraded their iPhone 5s devices to iOS 9, the article said.

Apple did not respond immediately to an eWEEK request for comment on the lawsuit.

Apple released its new iOS 9 mobile operating system on Sept. 16 for download by users. The latest operating system addressed a long list of security vulnerabilities, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The iOS 9 patches deal with a particularly dangerous spoofing risk in the Mail application that a security engineer reported to Apple. Apple Pay also received a patch for a vulnerability that incorrectly implements transaction log functionality on some configurations. However, the largest single source of patched vulnerabilities in iOS 9 is found in the WebKit rendering engine, which is being fixed for 34 different issues.