There's only one way to describe it - Data Insecurity.
From the day I owned my first iPhone I've been a customer of AT&T. And certainly there's been some drama between the two camps. But no doubt, its been a marriage of convenience. And it mostly worked out, until now.
But over the past seven months I've found myself inside a massive battle between AT&T and Apple, a battle that insiders tell me isn't one I'm facing alone. Apple and AT&T are at war - pointing fingers and placing blame. And customers are footing the bill - absorbing thousands of dollars in 'leaked' data charges.
It began with the release of iOS 6 on the iPhone 5 in late September of 2012 - and the companies have been at war ever since.
I'm going to chronicle the issue, and the issue of thousands of customers, and then share with you the inside information that leads me to believe that this is more than simple a tech problem run amuck. It's actually the first stage in a divorce between the two companies as what was once a beautiful marriage falls apart.
October 2012. It begins.
At first I thought it was just me. The first bill I got after the iOS upgrade had a huge data overage charge. My call to AT&T was supportive and helpful. "Yes, it's a bug" the AT&T operator said. They agreed to report it to Apple and credit me back the data charges. By November - the phone was still consuming data at a prodigious rate. The Apple genius bar suggested that I replace the phone itself, which I did. But still data leak was huge. Again, I wiped the phone and reset the apps. Time and time again my efforts with Apple to solve this continued, and AT&T kept rebating my data use.
This was a complex problem. Apple had just released iCloud, and more and more of Apple's software had hooks into the cloud. iTunes Match was suspected to be a culprit. Then various other communications between the software and the phone were investigated.
The issue made tech news almost immediately. The headline on CNN read: "IPhone 5 WiFi bug leads to giant cellular data overages" and Apple acknowledged it and patched it for Verizon almost immediately.
But the AT&T / Apple problem was handled in a far more mysterious way. It became clear that Apple and AT&T weren't talking to each other.
November 2012. The war in intensifies.
On the Apple Boards there was no doubt what was going on. One thread titled: iPhone 5 AT&T data usage spike (same as Verizon) now has 34266 Views.
Another post, Ios6 causing excessive data usage? has a whooping 107,368 Views
December 2012. Apple and AT&T throw down. It's getting a touch rediculious people. Thinking this is a settings or app issue just allows Apple to deny the issue. As rollcamera said, IT IS THE iOS!!!!!! Anything after 6.1.0 on the iphone 5 is plausable to data leak, but Apple wont address the issue, because not ever iPhone5 running 6.1.1 or newer is having the issue....
December 2012. Apple and AT&T throw down.
By December of 2012 - the situation was out of hand AT&T was rebating hundreds of dollars in overages a month, and I could only assume that users who didn't check their bill closely, or had it paid by a corporate parent, were absorbing in cumulatively what had to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in wrongly billed data usage. AT&T admitted it - and blamed Apple. And after a series visits to the Apple store - I ended up on the phone with a Senior Advisor at Apple who agreed to review the problem.
His response - still has me baffled. Read it for yourself:
have reviewed your message regarding the data usage. What I have researched about this issue is the data usage from your iPhone can be high and I understand that a plan with data can be costly. But my input about that is if you can be ok or are able to better manage the data usage the iPhone has, that is great. However, if you feel it is best to change in order to keep a handle on the data your phone uses, that's ok. I am glad to help you with this issue in any way I can.
Sincerely, ~ Rob Armstrong
Apple iOS Senior Advisor
Wow. Rob Armstrong is offering to help me 'change' - and given my calls to Apple the theme is now clear. They'd rather have me on Verizon, where they've patched this problem clearly, publicly, and promptly.
At the same time - I'd begun to shift my conversations with AT&T from private calls with support people to a public conversation via Twitter that began at SXSW. Interestingly, this was the most responsive and human AT&T had ever been. Their twitter advocate - BeccaG, staffs the ATTCustomerCare account.
Here too - lots of missed connections. BeccaG connected me with "Nancy" from AT&T, who would call me directly (often at 8pm) but never leave a number or an email address. For weeks she said she was trying to set up a call with Apple, but she couldn't get her Apple contact to return her call. Nancy was replaced by Rob, who after research, determined that my phone was 'using' the data - and therefore I would no longer be rebated the overages.
PAUSE. There's a problem.
The nice folks at DataMan Pro gave me their app, and sure enough - the phone was consuming the data, but at the iOS level, not with a run away app.
For the first time I was feeling what being caught in the middle of the AT&T / Apple war of data usage felt like, and I was finding that I was uncomfortable with my iPhone.
Now just to be clear I'm not a data-holic. I'm not even a data user. I don't stream video. I don't stream music. I don't upload or download big files. All I do is read email and occasionally browse the web. I'm on WiFi at home, and at the office. So the only time I use data is when I commute to work, or go to a meeting out of the office. Yet I'm recording 15 GIGS of data usage a month.
Here's my usage before iOS6:
And here's what happened the moment iOS6 was released:
For those of you who don't know the difference between a Gig and a Meg, using 15 gigs a month would be the equivalent of draining an entire tank of gas in your car driving around the block. It's simply not possible.
AT&T sent me a massive list of things to do to 'fix' my phone, which I've posted here: http://www.steverosenbaum.me/pages/attapple.
But what it comes down to is this. Shut of Cellular - by hand -whenever you're not using it. Total madness.
And Apple's advice was not less helpful. Switch to Verizon, they've got this data leakage problem solved.
I reached out to an AT&T Spokesman Mark Siegel and asked this question:
"Is there any possible explanation of how a user, without accessing any streaming video or audio, could consume 65.82 gigabytes of data over the past 9 months?"
His answer, not surprisingly - was bizarrely disconnected.
We appreciate your feedback and have taken it to heart. While your situation appears to be an anomaly we always want our customers to have the best experience possible, and we're working every day to make our customer experience even better.
Mark Siegel AT&T spokesman
It is hard to understand how an issue with more than 100,000 views on the Apple boards is an 'anomaly' - but that's AT&T's take on the matter.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the data usage charts and see that something is deeply wrong with iOS6. But both AT&T and Apple have taken a 'blame the customer' approach that is certainly going to create a consumer awareness of just how quickly both phone manufacturers and network operators are shifting bandwidth from a flat-fee product to a massive profit center.
And it's worth remembering as Forbes writer Connie Guglielmo, reports that "during the first year of the deal AT&T sold the iPhone starting at $499 and agreed to give Apple an unheard-of cut of its customers' monthly bills, estimated to be a $720 million slice of revenue." Simply put - AT&T wants more data driven revenue, and while they can't fix Apple software, or address conflicts or bugs in apps on your phone, they can track how often your phone is connected to their network, and bill whatever data the phone sucks down, with little concern about why the data is delivered or if the consumer legitimately used it. Strangely, they stand to benefit from Apple's willingness to ignore data leakage.
But one thing is clear. AT&T isn't talking to Apple. And Apple isn't talking to AT&T. Finger pointing at the highest level of the companies is leaving customers caught in the middle. And the iOS data leakage problem may be the last straw. Customers have contacted the FCC , who is investigating the charges. And AT&T staff, frustrated by being unable to get their Apple compatriots to return a phone call, now say there are rumblings of a high level meeting to address the issue.
At this moment, AT&T appears to at least be trying to solve the issue, while Apple hasn't even acknowledged that the bug that impacted Verizon exists with AT&T customers. Meanwhile, my sources tell me that after seven months of complaints, AT&T and Apple may have agreed to have a meeting to discuss the data leak issue. That would be a good first step.
UPDATE: Without anyone admitting responsibility, or taking ownership of the customer over-billing that clearly has taken place - Apple did update the iOS to 6.1.4, and in doing so appears to have maybe solved the problem. This chart of my actual usage tells the story clearly.
This is with no change in usage, no change in apps. The ONLY change is the update iOS from Apple. And while it's great that it appears to be fixed, the combination of now being on a paid data usage plan (as opposed to the 'unlimited' plan prior to the iPhone5, along with what appears to be a serious rift between Apple and AT&T leaves me with a deep feeling of data insecurity - and the uncomfortable concern that this won't be the last time I'm stuck between the two behemoth companies trying to get my data costs billed fairly. It's a real and ongoing concern.