02/24/2013 04:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Apple's iPhone 5 Crisis: A Data Vampire on the Loose

Cupertino remains silent as customer complaints grow

Those of us who've been on Apple devices for a long time know that Apple's history of providing mobile connectivity via the cloud has a murky past. MobileMe was a buggy, unloved sync nightmare that left Apple users with missing data and failed backups. So, when Apple announced a transition to a new product, users where both hopeful and wary. Could there really be a rock-solid cloud product that would emerge from the ashes of Mobile Me?

So far, there's been little reported -- but now after two full revisions of iOS6, it appears there may be a bug running wild in the ecosystem that may be simply too big (and expensive) to acknowledge.

If its true, Apple has a data vampire that is sucking the dollars out of an unknown number of Apple customers -- raising the spectre of iCloud problem with no fix in sight.

The issue began when iOS six was released, and in particular iPhone 5 users began to report huge spikes in their data usage. Verizon at first seemed hardest hit - and there was a promise of a patch for those users.

As ZD Net reported:

It turns out that while some of you have been watching videos, playing a game, whatever, on what you thought was a Wi-Fi network, you were actually running up your giant 3G data bill. Apple hasn't commented on this, but on September 30th, Apple quietly released a bug fix for the problem for its Verizon customers.

Here's the Apple Post on the subject:

Sep 30, 2012
iPhone 5 (Verizon): About carrier settings update 13.1

Summary An important new carrier settings update is now available for iPhone 5 on the Verizon Wireless network.

This carrier settings update resolves an issue in which, under certain circumstances, iPhone 5 may use Verizon cellular data while the phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

And just so you don't think this is a small problem, 178,703 visitors to the Apple support site have looked a just this post, so clearly this is a significant number of users looking to find and solve this problem.

On October 1st, CNN reported the problem persists.

"IPhone 5 WiFi bug leads to giant cellular data overages

Scores of iPhone 5 users hit Apple's support forums over the past week to exchange anecdotal reports on a scary bug: Their phones appeared to be sucking down cellular data even when they were connected to a Wi-Fi network, resulting in big overages as they blew through their monthly data caps."

Over the past four months -- I've been on constant contact with Apple and AT&T on this issue, and while neither company officially acknowledges any problem, both are acting as if they know that something is seriously wrong. AT&T for it's part has been pro-active about refunding all the data overage, now reaching hundreds of dollars. But as they believe it's related to an Apple bug, there is little they can do little other than wait for a fix.


Apple's behavior has been far more suspect. In my case, proposed 'fixes' have included upgrading the iOS (twice), replacing the handset, and suggesting a complete DFU wipe of the new device. In each case, the Data Vampire was back almost immediately. They suggested that the problem may be in iTunes match, or in some confusion where a stronger LTE signal overrides a weak WiFi signal. The simple fact is they don't seem to know.

What's concerning is that Apple appears to have no way to let you see just what Apps or system operations are using the data -- and an App that was initially approved in the App Store that would have given users granular data into phone data usage was somewhat mysteriously pulled from the App store.

Is the problem in the iCloud?

Apple users are now flooding the Apple support boards with reports of run away data usage.

jcenters Doesn't matter what you turn off. As long as there's an iCloud account on your iPhone, it will constantly use data, even over cellular and chew up your data cap.

The problem has become so frustrating, that iPhone 5 users are now filing FCC complaints -- a step that gives you a sense of just how frustrated customers are.

LKSchott Re: The iPhone 5 uses Cellular Data over WiFi?
Feb 22, 2013
I did in fact file a formal complaint with the FCC against Apple & AT&T at Today I just received a voicemail from AT&T and the lady said she wanted to discuss my FCC complaint with me. She certainly sounded annoyed and less than enthusiastic on the voicemail, so I'm not that excited about calling her back. I will talk to her but I'm just so so so tired of talking to AT&T and Apple personnel who have no real answers for me and simply tell me the data usage doesn't lie so there must be *something* that I am doing differently. I have not changed the way I use my phone and somehow I'm using over 10x the data I normally did in the past for years and years on my other iphone. It's so frustrating to feel like no one "believes" me. Argh...

This thread on the Apple discussion board has more than 170,000 views -- and posts that read like this:

DJPlayedYA The first two days after I received my iPhone 5, I racked up 400MB of Cellular Data. 99 percent of the time I was using my phone, I was connected over WiFi. So I ran a test on my own by watching a YouTube video over WiFi and then looking at my Cellular Data under the Usage menu. Sure enough, it had went up by around 10MB. I called into Apple Support and asked them what was going on. They thought that it might have been a problem with my phone or my house's WiFi connection. After them walking me through a series of test and restores, the lady semi-acknowledged that it could be a problem with how their phone interacts with the new LTE network.

seven8nine We have three iPhone 5's and they all exhibit this issue. For a test, last night before bed I reset the data statistics on one phone, made sure the phone was on wifi (the access point was 8 feet away), and in the morning it had used 300KB of data.
The previous night my son's phone showed that it used 2GB of data while he was sleeping. We are a little shell-shocked!

Malc Mitch I somehow managed to burn up 1.8gb of data over 5 days on my iphone 5. This had never happened in my past 4 years of owning an iPhone. Apple has no idea what's causing this. I can't believe I'm about to hit my full months data limit in 6 days when I connected to wifi 75 percent of the day. This is just extremely weird and costly.

MTG68 Apple told you there are no excessive data usage issues with IOS6? Haha, that's typical. But that's Apple for you, never admitting to a problem, always pretending to be perfect. Thanks Apple, after the maps fiasco I thought you couldn't get any worse, I guess I was wrong.

Apple and AT&T are offering customers no concrete solutions, a bizarre mix of homespun fixes like 'turn off cellular data when you're in your Wifi zone', and no shortage of heavy-handed reprimands. My first support to AT&T back in September had a rep telling me to 'Take responsibility for my data usage' -- needless to say, a manager quickly apologized after I pointed out that 3GB of data in eight days was almost impossible to consume, even if I was on some sort of cellular data bender.

On thing is for certain. The iPhone5 with iOS6 has a data leakage problem. A big one. And Apple could be on their way to a crisis that will make the Maps issue and Antenna Gate look like the minor leagues.

Consumers are being overcharged what must be easily millions of dollars - and with the FCC now on notice, this problem is going to get wider attention. The difficult truth is that with more and more apps storing in the cloud, updating automatically, and 'unlimited' data plans now a thing of the past -- this complex and costly problem may be hard to fix any time soon.