Thursday, March 19, 2015

iOS Hotspot Issue Could Cost You!

We noticed in the last few months extra charges on our cellular bills-- more than $200!-- for excessive data usage. In looking into the cause, we found that it was because we had apparently overused our data plan by leaving our iPhone Personal Hotspots on. Or so we thought.

The first time it happened we paid the bill and said, "Shame on us. Everybody remember to turn your Personal Hotspot off when it's not needed." Then it happened again. To me! And I've been very intentional about only turning that feature on when I need it, and turning it off when I don't.

Here's what I've learned: if you have devices that have the same AppleID as your iPhone, they can turn the Personal Hotspot on without you even knowing it! This is true for iPads, Macs, and more!

Imagine the scenario:
You're walking through a park where there's no public WiFi. Your iPhone is in your pocket, and you're carrying your WiFi-only iPad. Because the iPad can't find a WiFi to connect to, it automatically tries to connect to your iPhone, turning on the Personal Hotspot without you even knowing it! And it does not turn off the hotspot when it's done. And that's where the potential data overuse fees can kick in.
Talking with Apple engineering, these are currently the only ways to prevent that from happening; do one of the following:
  1. Turn off Bluetooth on your devices (other than the iPhone) and WiFi on your Macs, or
  2. Sign out of iCloud on your devices and Macs, or
  3. Have your devices and Macs forget the network password for your iPhone hotspot.
The problems with those are, respectively:
  1.  If you use Bluetooth on your devices (like your iPad), you will need to manually turn it on to do so and then must remember to turn it off when done. But what if you forget to turn off your iPad's Bluetooth?
  2. If your devices get lost or stolen you won't be able to use 'Find My Device'.
  3. If you use a strong password for your hotspot, remembering and entering the password is cumbersome at best.
What Apple agreed was that the best solution would be to add a control to iPhone iOS where the default setting would be to not allow other devices to automatically turn on the hotspot, but allow the user to change that if desired. If the user changes that setting, the liability for cost would be on the consumer.

What started out as a great idea by Apple needs just a little tweaking-- hopefully soon-- to make it truly good. If I were an attorney and discovered this issue, I would be seeing dollar signs and think class action lawsuit, which only the attorneys really benefit from.


Anonymous said...

This is not my experience. While I have been able to connect to my iPhone hotspot when hotspot is not turned on, I had to manually go in and connect my iPad. It has NEVER automatically connected when it was turned off.

Not to mention, how much extra data could your iPad be using when it is not in use? It is really using so much (while not in use!) that it is causing data overages?

Nick Nicholaou said...

Hi Anonymous Person!

It may be dependent on the device (we're on iPhone 5 and 6) or the version of iOS (we're on 8.2). VerizonWireless confirmed this behavior (and was as surprised as we were!), and Apple confirmed it. Consider yourself fortunate so far.

@BearsFan34 said...

Am also with "Anonymous" here. iPhone 5S and my iPhone 6 Plus in our household; plus an iPad Mini 1st Gen and my iPad Air 2 (and a few Macs).

On our iPhones, Personal Hotspot is always OFF anyway, as in iOS 8 like you sez iOS devices/Macs can join an iPhone as a data hotspot even if "Personal Hotspot" in Settings on iPhone is turned OFF.

Not *once* has any other device outside of what I listed above ever connected to either of our iPhones and drained data from it. At home, we're connected to wi-fi 24/7, so obviously that won't happen. And to join one of our iPhones for data, the iPad/Mac/device has to explicitly wait for the iPhone to show in the available networks area before clicking/tapping on it & attempting to join.

Like at my dear Mom's house. No internet there; so when we're over & need internet, we use our iPhone with the iOS 8 built-in hotspot feature. If I connect my iPad Air 2 to my iPhone or my wife's iPhone, yeah…it stays connected. For about 5 minutes after putting the iPad to sleep. If I put the iPad Air 2 down & come back in 10 minutes or 30 minutes, I have to join my iPhone all over again. We keep Bluetooth and wi-fi ON at all times--our cars have Bluetooth connectivity now so it's never switched off.

Even in the car on the way home from my Mom's--I have to join an iPhone's network all over again. Once we get to my work/church or our house, where there's wi-fi, not one time have I ever seen a device try to grab data from one of our iPhones. And we always make sure we select the "auto join this network next time" setting. We've yet to see this become an issue of data drain.

So I think maybe some clarification here--the explicit setting of "Personal Hotspot" in the Settings app is what you're saying needs to be turned off, correct? If so, then yes absolutely.

Otherwise, I've yet to see this scenario play out. We're an iOS shop for mobile phones, it's all we support--I've even done a demo of this very function in a staff meeting before to our Mac users, showing how a (modern) iPhone can be used automatically for internet access where there isn't any available--and I've yet to hear of this issue.

I can't imagine what's causing this in your case, other than that specific "Personal Hotspot" setting being always set to ON.

Anonymous said...

Nick Nicholaou is correct! The key is same AppleID as your iPhone.