Lawsuit accuses AT&T of overcharging iPhone, iPad customer data use

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
A new class-action lawsuit filed against AT&T has accused the carrier of measuring data use for the iPhone and iPad "like a rigged gas pump," and asserts that the company overstates web server traffic by as much as 300 percent.



The complaint from Patrick Hendricks of Alameda County, Calif., claims that the plaintiff and his counsel hired an independent consulting firm to assess AT&T's billing practices for data use. The analysis allegedly found that AT&T's bills "systematically overstate web server traffic by 7% to 14%." In some cases, that traffic was said to be overreported by more than 300 percent.



As an example, the suit claims that an iPhone user on AT&T's network who downloads a 50KB website would usually be charged 53.5KB for a 7 percent overcharge. If the data were to be calculated 300 percent higher, it would register as a 150KB use of bandwidth.



The lawsuit also alleges that AT&T "bills for phantom data traffic when there is no actual data use initiated by the customer." The independent consulting firm hired by Hendricks allegedly took a new iPhone, disabled all push notifications, location services, had no e-mail account configured, and closed all applications. Over 10 days, the phone allegedly used 2,292KB of AT&T's data plan.



"This is like the rigged gas pump charging you when you never even pulled your car into the station," the complaint reads. AT&T is the only defendant in the suit, which does not target Apple.



The suit also asserts that AT&T's billing system does not accurately record the time and date when data usage occurs. This, Hendricks argues, makes it more difficult for customers to monitor their data usage, or spot potential overcharges.







Hendricks is an AT&T customer with an iPhone, and he has the carrier's low-end 200MB data plan for $15 per month. The suit states that in his billing period for the October-November period of 2010, he used 223MB of bandwidth, incurring a $15 additional charge.



"Many of these charges were for phantom data transactions that either never happened or were never initiated or experienced by Mr. Hendricks," the complaint reads. "The remainder of these charges were systematically inflated in terms of the actual amount of data used."



AT&T responded to the complaint and noted that it had only recently heard of the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 27.



"We intend to defend ourselves vigorously," a company spokesman reportedly said. "Transparent and accurate billing is a top priority for AT&T."



The complaint attempts to prove that AT&T has wronged the class-action party on five counts, including breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices in violation of the Unfair Competition Law in the California Business and Professions Code. The suit seeks compensation for the alleged data overcharges, as well as punitive damages for the company's claimed practices.



AT&T began capping new iPhone and iPad data plans last June, with a new tiered structure that offers 2GB of data for $25 per month, or 200MB for $15 per month. The company has also reportedly been offering potential Verizon iPhone switchers the ability to reenable unlimited data on their plan.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 89
    Wouldn't the best way to compare what your iPhone says and AT&T says is reset your usage on your phone the day of the start of the new billing cycle?
  • Reply 2 of 89
    I called ATT to complain about it happening to me about a month ago. I've been resetting my iphone4 and documenting my data use. Then comparing it to what ATT shows on my account. ATT shows a lot more data usage.



    ATTs response to my complaint was their data records were correct, so my phone must be wrong.



    Good to know I'm not alone.
  • Reply 3 of 89
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Once again, attorneys who have no clue how technology works stirring up trouble....





    If you download a 50 kb web site, there's no reason to think that you'll be billed for exactly 50 kb. There is overhead in the transaction - some packets that are not properly received, for example. Or validation information to ensure that the information was properly sent.



    I hope AT&T sues these people for making false accusations and libel.
  • Reply 4 of 89
    cory bauercory bauer Posts: 1,286member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DWsurfer View Post


    I called ATT to complain about it happening to me about a month ago. I've been resetting my iphone4 and documenting my data use. Then comparing it to what ATT shows on my account. ATT shows a lot more data usage.



    ATTs response to my complaint was their data records were correct, so my phone must be wrong.



    Good to know I'm not alone.



    Likewise. A much as a hate frivolous lawsuits (the guy's only out $15), apparently this is what its going to take to get some straight answers from AT&T.
  • Reply 5 of 89
    cubertcubert Posts: 728member
    "The independent consulting firm hired by Hendricks allegedly took a new iPhone, disabled all push notifications, location services, had no e-mail account configured, and closed all applications. Over 10 days, the phone allegedly used 2,292KB of AT&T's data plan."



    Wow! That's pretty damning evidence!
  • Reply 6 of 89
    xsuxsu Posts: 401member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


    Once again, attorneys who have no clue how technology works stirring up trouble....





    If you download a 50 kb web site, there's no reason to think that you'll be billed for exactly 50 kb. There is overhead in the transaction - some packets that are not properly received, for example. Or validation information to ensure that the information was properly sent.



    I hope AT&T sues these people for making false accusations and libel.





    If packets are lost on the way, how can that be counted as consumed by the phone? If someone was sending you a package, and it was lost on the way, how does that count as you having received it?
  • Reply 7 of 89
    al_bundyal_bundy Posts: 1,525member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DWsurfer View Post


    I called ATT to complain about it happening to me about a month ago. I've been resetting my iphone4 and documenting my data use. Then comparing it to what ATT shows on my account. ATT shows a lot more data usage.



    ATTs response to my complaint was their data records were correct, so my phone must be wrong.



    Good to know I'm not alone.



    as someone else said, the data on the iphone probably doesn't record TCP and other protocol overhead which in a poor signal environment can be almost the same amount as the data you are trying to get.



    in english it means that say you download a 1MB webpage. as the data is being sent to your phone it sends back verification data every so often saying it received the data already sent. that way the webserver knows which data to resend and what has been received. and in a TCP/IP packet there is a lot of protocol data used for transmission.



    so that 1MB webpage may mean 2MB of raw data used
  • Reply 8 of 89
    shadashshadash Posts: 470member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


    I hope AT&T sues these people for making false accusations and libel.



    Do you work for AT&T? Or to put it another way, have you seen Dwight on the Office? I think you two were separated at birth.
  • Reply 9 of 89
    al_bundyal_bundy Posts: 1,525member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by xsu View Post


    If packets are lost on the way, how can that be counted as consumed by the phone? If someone was sending you a package, and it was lost on the way, how does that count as you having received it?



    because that's the way the internet works and was designed to work. the data crosses several networks owned by different companies and there is always chance of packet loss for different reasons
  • Reply 10 of 89
    Why can't someone file a class action suit on price gouging SMS text messages?
  • Reply 11 of 89
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by al_bundy View Post


    because that's the way the internet works and was designed to work. the data crosses several networks owned by different companies and there is always chance of packet loss for different reasons



    Is it also supposed to work by having you use 2,292 KB when you absolutely aren't downloading anything at all?



    Quote:

    The lawsuit also alleges that AT&T "bills for phantom data traffic when there is no actual data use initiated by the customer." The independent consulting firm hired by Hendricks allegedly took a new iPhone, disabled all push notifications, location services, had no e-mail account configured, and closed all applications. Over 10 days, the phone allegedly used 2,292KB of AT&T's data plan.



  • Reply 12 of 89
    al_bundyal_bundy Posts: 1,525member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by NPrtmn4evr View Post


    Is it also supposed to work by having you use 2,292 KB when you absolutely aren't downloading anything at all?



    and how are phones supposed to communicate with towers for things like dhcp renewal, and other management traffic?



    everyone always wanted the carriers to be dumb pipes and this is it. you pay for all the raw data you consume
  • Reply 13 of 89
    Awesome. I've always suspected carriers were doing this behind the scenes. It's an obvious way to make extra money? most people don't understand the technology and will simply pay the bill, whatever it is. That's why there are no apps or easy way to track how much data you are using? they are hoping you will spend more then you think you will. And if you don't, why not tack on a bit extra, since nobody will know any better? Unless you are smart like plaintiffs in this suit, there's no way you could prove AT&T overcharged you.
  • Reply 14 of 89
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by enjourni View Post


    Awesome. I've always suspected carriers were doing this behind the scenes. It's an obvious way to make extra money? most people don't understand the technology and will simply pay the bill, whatever it is. That's why there are no apps or easy way to track how much data you are using? they are hoping you will spend more then you think you will. And if you don't, why not tack on a bit extra, since nobody will know any better? Unless you are smart like plaintiffs in this suit, there's no way you could prove AT&T overcharged you.



    There's a very easy way to track usage, actually. AT&T's mywireless app is stupid simple to use, and comparing that with the iPhone's own built-in data tracking in the settings is not too difficult.
  • Reply 15 of 89
    I also wonder how much of that data is what's being passed to AT&T in the wee hours of the morning.
  • Reply 16 of 89
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by al_bundy View Post


    and how are phones supposed to communicate with towers for things like dhcp renewal, and other management traffic?



    You are talking about two different things. A person doesn't pull up their phone and say "gee, I think I'll request DHCP renewal." So WHO is actually consuming data in this case? The user, or the phone itself? If the phone is made to request more data then normal in idle state, is that the fault of the user, or the phone?



    So what should the user be responsible in paying for? If my deliberate attempt is to make my phone not communicate any data (which is what the testers tried to do), and my phone does anyway, how is that my fault? Why should I pay for activity I didn't intentionally request?



    To play both sides here, I see the carriers argument. They want to charge for data used, regardless of who or what requested it. However, the only real FAIR way to charge people for data is to clarify what types of traffic are user-initiated vs which are phone-initiated. Then either charge a flat fee for the phone-initiated traffic, or not charge for it at all.



    I don't see that a user should be penalized for having to pay more on their bill for requests and traffic that they didn't intentionally initiate.



    [An additional thought]



    What I really would like is an app that provides push alerts once a certain amount of data consumption has been reached. Then you can at least (try) to control how much data you are "spending"
  • Reply 17 of 89
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hittrj01 View Post


    There's a very easy way to track usage, actually. AT&T's mywireless app is stupid simple to use, and comparing that with the iPhone's own built-in data tracking in the settings is not too difficult.



    Cool, thanks. I didn't know about the mywireless app
  • Reply 18 of 89
    aaarrrggghaaarrrgggh Posts: 1,580member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by al_bundy View Post


    and how are phones supposed to communicate with towers for things like dhcp renewal, and other management traffic?



    everyone always wanted the carriers to be dumb pipes and this is it. you pay for all the raw data you consume



    If the telcos were truly dumb pipes, I would agree a little. Network overhead is not device usage though, and should not be charged as such.



    I personally think AT&T needs to ratchet up the caps every few months. The low usage plans are a joke, and become moreso as time passes. The bottom rung should be at least 300MB now. If you don't make it cost-effective then people will move data back to wifi, cutting out the carriers.
  • Reply 19 of 89
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DWsurfer View Post


    I called ATT to complain about it happening to me about a month ago. I've been resetting my iphone4 and documenting my data use. Then comparing it to what ATT shows on my account. ATT shows a lot more data usage.



    ATTs response to my complaint was their data records were correct, so my phone must be wrong.



    Good to know I'm not alone.



    Yes - me too. I suspected this was happening and left my phone with all data communication turned off (in a Wi-Fi area just in case) for a few days. ATT recorded usage of about 2% of my data plan.



    I rang to complain and they were unable to explain despite being put through to some special technical person. Their only 'excuse' was that it was not a big percentage of my data plan.



    Even if there is some background setting of the network that's responsible, this should be made very clear. If you are given a 200MB data plan to use but a significant percentage is used up without you doing anything then that is false advertising. It's even worse if they're just mis-recording the data use.



    (Oh - and yes to a SMS price fixing investigation, too.)
  • Reply 20 of 89
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,134member
    I betcha AT&T counts uploading as data "use".



    However, weren'yt there reports of phantom data from iPhones reported in the past?



    Yup: http://www.thehulltruth.com/dockside...ata-usage.html
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