Cautionary Tale: This iPhone Feature Led to a $2,000 Monthly Bill

A teenager (and his family) found out the hard way that a setting on his iPhone was allowing him to devour his data allowance at a frightening pace — and outrageous cost.

San Francisco teen Ashton Finegold was floored when his dad told him he had racked up a $2,000 phone bill in one month by going over his plan’s data cap.

Yikes.

The family’s cellphone bill is typically around $250.

“I thought my dad was going to kill me,” Finegold told CBS Miami.

Finegold said “Wi-Fi Assist” is to blame for the outrageous bill. Enabled by default on Apple’s newest operating system (iOS 9 and later), Wi-Fi Assist is designed to provide users with the best and most consistent Internet connection.

So if you’re in an area with a weak Wi-Fi signal – like Finegold’s bedroom – Wi-Fi Assist automatically connects your phone to your wireless carrier’s cellular data network instead, CBS explains.

Finegold said he thought he was connected to his family’s Wi-Fi system while streaming and surfing the Web in his bedroom. Unbeknown to him, the weakness of the Wi-Fi signal in his bedroom allowed Wi-Fi Assist to switch the phone to cellular data, which effectively gobbled up more than 144,000 megabytes of data in one month, according to CBS.

Finegold did receive a warning text from his wireless carrier, AT&T, notifying him that he was nearing his data limit, but he disregarded it.

Although some Apple users like the feature, which was first introduced in September 2015, because it allows them to stay online even if their Wi-Fi signal drops, other consumers with low-usage data plans say the feature is to blame for some costly surprises on their phone bills.

Apple Insider reported in November that Apple was facing a second class-action lawsuit over Wi-Fi Assist overages.

This was the first I’d heard of Wi-Fi Assist. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to check and see if you have it enabled on your iPhone (or iPad).

Simply go to “Settings” on your Apple device, and then select “Cellular” and start scrolling down past all your apps. This could take a minute, depending on how many apps you have installed on your phone. At the very bottom of the options, you’ll see “Wi-Fi Assist.” If the feature is on, simply swipe to the left to turn it off.

Unbeknown to me, Wi-Fi Assist was running on my phone. But it’s not anymore.

Concerned about exceeding your data plan? Check out “10 Simple Ways to Cut Costs on Data Usage.”

Do you think Apple is to blame for Finegold’s outrageously high phone bill? Had you heard of Wi-Fi Assist? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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