Apple faces class action lawsuit over Wi-Fi assist data usage

Apple is facing a $5m lawsuit over a feature in the new version of iOS which uses mobile data when Wi-Fi connectivity is weak, reports The Guardian.

The feature, named “Wi-Fi assist”, senses when there are problems with the wireless network the phone is connected to, and instead routes the device over mobile data.

Controversially, the feature is enabled by default in the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, and it isn’t always clear when it is active (the only explicit acknowledgement is that the Wi-Fi logo in the top-right of the phone’s screen becomes greyed out). As a result, users have reported accidentally running up large bills for mobile-data usage when they used their phones while believing they were on their home Wi-Fi.

Now, AppleInsider reports that a California couple has launched a class-action lawsuit after they received one such overage bill, arguing that Apple should reimburse affected customers. The plaintiffs, William and Suzanne Phillips, allege that, because the feature is enabled on every iOS 9 device, the total potential damages exceed $5m.

After the initial complaints, Apple updated its website to make clear that users “may use more cellular data” when the feature is turned on, but that “this should only be a small percentage higher than previous usage”.

The lawsuit argues that this is not enough. It says the advice “still downplays the possible data overcharges a user could incur,” and that “reasonable and average consumers use their iPhones for streaming of music, videos, and running various applications – all of which can use significant data.”

As a result, Apple is charged with negligent misrepresentation and with breaching California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.

Apple is not the only company that ships a feature similar to Wi-Fi Assist. Samsung, HTC and LG all have equivalent features on their own phones (Samsung’s is called Smart Network Assist); none of the Android manufacturers have faced a similar lawsuit, however.