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Networking IOS The Courts Wireless Networking Apple

Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over iOS Wi-Fi Assist (appleinsider.com) 212

An anonymous reader writes: A class-action suit has been filed against Apple in U.S. District Court over Wi-Fi Assist being turned on by default in iOS 9. Wi-Fi Assist is designed to switch to cellular data when a user is trying to perform an action over the internet on a poor Wi-Fi signal. This has the natural side effect of using cellular data. Since iOS 9 turned it on for many users, they weren't necessarily expecting that extra use, causing some of them to exceed their data caps. A former Apple employee who was in a leadership position for Mac OS X Wi-Fi software has commented on the issue, saying that the Wi-Fi Assist mess was unavoidable given how Apple's management treats that part of the business.

Quoting :"[O]ne particular directorial edict which I pushed back against at the end of my tenure sticks out as not just particularly telling, but deeply misguided: 'Make it self-healing.' Self healing in this context meaning that the networking system, Wi-Fi in particular, should try to correct problems that caused the network to fail, which, if you have spent any time trying to diagnose networking issues is a clear misunderstanding of the issues involved. ... Asking the devices which connect to this vast complex network of networks to detect, and then transparently fix problems in the infrastructure without the permission of the administrators is, well, it's absolutely the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management. Real pointy-haired boss territory."

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Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over iOS Wi-Fi Assist

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  • I like the IDEA of Wi-Fi Assist, as it comes in handy when you're on a crummy WiFi connection like the kind that you'll find at a hotel or on a train.

    It just shouldn't be turned on by default without prompting the user, though. Nobody likes surprises like that, especially if you're on a metered data plan like most of us are.

    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:47AM (#50797027)

      What I would like to see is an indicator on the iOS top bar ('status bar') that lets a user know how when cellular data is in use on a network connection, and by how much in assistance to a WiFi connection. Instead of adding a new symbol to the status bar, we could turn the WiFi radiating-lines icon red to indicate that cellular data is in use. If WiFi Assist is in use to supplement a wobbly WiFi connection, we could turn a pie wedge of the WiFi icon red to indicate the proportion of cellular assist. The size of the red sector compared to the icon as a whole would shift to indicate the percentage contribution of cellular, in the same way that the number of dark radiating lines in the icon describes the strength of the signal.

      • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @10:02AM (#50797321)

        When it flips to WiFi assist, the WiFi symbol in the status bar changes to 4G, 3G, LTE or whatever cellular network is being used.

        AFAIK, it's not a matter of what percentage goes via WiFi and what percentage goes via cellular. It's more of a switch from one to the other.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:32PM (#50799487)
        It's fascinating watching the mental gymnastics people are going through to try to preserve their desire to have both "it just works" and "I want to control it" coexist.

        Android just lets you set a threshold for how many GB (or MB) of cellular data you can use in your billing cycle. When you hit it, it warns you or automatically shuts off cellular data. Yes it's an extra step and requires you to know when you billing cycle starts and what your data cap is, so isn't as simple as "it just works.". But it seems to me it's a whole lot simpler than the convoluted colored pie wedge indicator icon idea you've come up with. What good is knowing what proportion of your current data use is cellular, if you don't know how close you are to your cap?

        If you let yourself be pigeonholed by artificial absolute rules (e.g. "in the interest of simplicity, it must just work"), you needlessly limit the possible solutions. Which can result in the simplest solution compliant with your "simplicity" rule being a lot more complicated than the simplest solution which does not comply with your "simplicity" rule. The only absolute rule is that there are no absolute rules (except this one).
    • by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:47AM (#50797031)

      Metered plan is such a nice term for what these providers do.

      Why not something more accurate, like "data rape" or "wallet diddle" plan?

      • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @09:56AM (#50797297)

        I think metering is fair on mobile wireless.

        Well, OK, it's not fair, but it's more fair than not having any metering.

        Mobile wireless is a limited and non-fungible resources. On any given cell at any given time, there's a limited amount of bandwidth to be shared around. If that cell has enough bandwidth to serve everyone using it, they should be able to fill their boots. If that cell is congested, you need some mechanism to prevent all the bandwidth being consumed by a few users. When I'm in a setting like a railway station with a thousand people all wanting some bandwidth, it makes me angry to see the people streaming video on their phone like their entertainment is more important than everyone else who wants their email and IM to work.

        What we have now does not really work ; it's a pricing mechanism of deterring excessive use, but it doesn't assign prices correctly, it just bills your bandwidth use at a flat rate. Bandwidth that is uncontested should be cheap, or free. Bandwidth that is contested should cost more. What really needs to happen in these circumstances is a kind of Dutch auction, where every handset has a notion of what price it's prepared to pay for bandwidth, and the cell sets the price according to how congested it is. But this would be too complicated to sell to most people.

        Unmetered wireless bandwidth is not fair, because it's only "too cheap to meter" when the cell has very few clients. Part of the drive for 5G is to push things to this point - 4G too (or else why would they provide such tiny caps with such huge bandwidth that you can burn through it all in minutes - it's not about giving your more bandwidth, it's about having enough bandwidth to serve more customers). As long as we keep up thinking of new media that consume more bandwidth, wireless will not be good enough to serve crowded cells.

        • Mobile wireless is a limited and non-fungible resources.

          It also has zero shelf life. Data used in the middle of the night in some area where there are few other users has no impact on the rest of the network. Counting data over a month makes little sense in this context.

        • it makes me angry to see the people streaming video on their phone like their entertainment is more important than everyone else who wants their email and IM to work.

          And what makes you think your work is so much more important than someone else's entertainment? Seriously. Your work does not trump someone else's play simply because it's "work".

          Besides, IM and email are low bandwidth activities. The streaming video should be rendered unwatchable by network congestion long before you have any difficulty wit

        • On any given cell at any given time, there's a limited amount of bandwidth to be shared around. If that cell has enough bandwidth to serve everyone using it, they should be able to fill their boots. If that cell is congested, you need some mechanism to prevent all the bandwidth being consumed by a few users.

          What you're describing is Quality of Service, not metering. Why should I be subject to exactly the same rules in a congested inner city cell as an almost empty suburban one? My data cap is a data cap regardless if I'm using it at peak hour or at 3am when the only other traffic on a cell is keep alive signals.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          What we have now does not really work ; it's a pricing mechanism of deterring excessive use, but it doesn't assign prices correctly, it just bills your bandwidth use at a flat rate.

          This is why I prefer using pre-paid/pay as you go plans. They literally cant charge you more than what you've already paid.

          Bandwidth that is uncontested should be cheap, or free. Bandwidth that is contested should cost more.

          This would be a fairer and more accurate system but it will never happen because:

          1. It's too complex to explain to the average iphone using simpleton.
          2. It's too complex to explain to the average iphone using simpleton. I know this is technically only one point but it's big enough to mention twice.
          3. It would require telco's to dynamically adjust pricing based on current bandwidth

      • by Revek ( 133289 )

        We, the ISP came up with the name. Not really, its what Cisco calls it in the the configs. It may make you mad you have to pay for data and the ISP has a meter just like the other utilities. I guess you wan't unlimited data,gas,electric and water to right. Since metering is evil.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          It makes sense to object to transfer metering. Gas, water, and electricity are metered based on what adds cost. There is no appreciable cost to transfer a byte of data. Maintaining the capacity to transfer data is what costs which is why non-consumer data is billed based on 95th percentile of the RATE.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        Metered plan is such a nice term for what these providers do.

        Why not something more accurate, like "data rape" or "wallet diddle" plan?

        Entitlement Complex Enrager plan?

    • i dont disagree with that in the slightest

      the other side of me says

      ....... its a cell phone...... its going to use cell data... you should pay attention to what your phone is doing, not blame the company for giving you options (even if you need to turn said option off)
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Nokia had a far better solution on the N900 - it does the OBVIOUS and asks you if you want to connect via the phone network if WiFi is not availabe.
  • by timholman ( 71886 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @07:42AM (#50796883)

    Asking the devices which connect to this vast complex network of networks to detect, and then transparently fix problems in the infrastructure without the permission of the administrators is, well, it's absolutely the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management. Real pointy-haired boss territory.

    Except that what Apple is doing with WiFi Assist is hardly so cryptic. Transparently switching from one network to another (both of which the user has permission to access) in order to maintain a data connection is hardly "the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management". I would say that it is the sort of behavior that most people would expect in the modern mobile era.

    Apple's mistake was not in creating the feature. Their mistake was in implementing the feature as being "on" by default without considering the ridiculously low data caps of many cellular contracts, and the ridiculously high overage fees of some of them. In the next iOS update WiFi Assist will be turned "off" by default, and this entire "controversy" will be filed on the shelf right next to Bendgate.

    If Apple really wants to shake things up, they need to build their own cellular network with 100 GB or 200 GB data caps. Sprint looks like a good candidate to buy in the U.S. given its current financial situation. Do that, and people won't be bitching about WiFi Assist; they'll be praising it as the new normal.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @07:50AM (#50796905)

      Apple's mistake is not implementing something to allow users to know how much cellular bandwidth they've consumed and to prevent these device from going over preset limits.

      Personally, I'm on T-Mobile (with Android), so I don't get billed for going over any caps, but if I were on AT&T I'd be wary of iPhones and watch data usage like a hawk.

      It is trivial on Android to set cellular data limits -- iPhones expect everyone to have unlimited data plans.

      • by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:30AM (#50796981)

        It would seem to be pretty trivial to implement a feature where the phone is aware of the account's data plan details (used, available, etc).

        The phone could then have some user configurable warning threshold when the plan's available data goes below that threshold.

        Apps and features (like wifi-assist) could then have a setting that allow/prohibits them to use data when the threshold has been exceeded.

        If there was some standardized method of obtaining and communicating this info, shared data plans could manage these settings on the carrier account page per device -- individual caps, thresholds relative to individual caps or total shared caps.

        • Being able to see cellular data usage compared to plan limit in real time would be a great idea. Currently I have to keep going into a MyVerizon app to see where I stand in data usage.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          If they wanted to not be dicks they'd use the system I have here in Norway. At 80% of my quota I get a notification that I'm nearing my limit and a link to the web page where I can watch it and buy more. At 100% I get the same message and the connection is severely throttled. Since they know the IP they assigned to the phone, there's no login or anything like that it's a plain web page. And the "buy more" is basically just a drop down list of quotas and prices and a button, they already have all your billin

          • Trust me, there are a lot of subscriptions in Norway that don't do this.
            I've been going over all of them over the past few months for a project I'm working on, and *a lot *of subscriptions has some kind of a "trap" that will lure some percentage of users into overage territory.

        • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @12:39PM (#50798001)

          The phone could then have some user configurable warning threshold when the plan's available data goes below that threshold.

          Android phones already have this.

          The rest of your idea sounds great. It would be awesome if the system could define priority levels for traffic so that some traffic cuts off (youtube etc) if you're in a "warning zone". I can already set it to automatically cut off when I exceed my limit however..... that depends entirely on the ISP metering the same way the phone does. Somehow they never agree.

      • Apple's mistake is not implementing something to allow users to know how much cellular bandwidth they've consumed and to prevent these device from going over preset limits.

        That wasn't a mistake, it was Apple doing it right. They knew their customers didn't want to deal with this shit. What happened was they arm-twisted AT&T to only offer unlimited plans so that the customers didn't need to worry about data usage. When Apple's contract with AT&T ended they were like "Oh look, now we can abuse our customers!"

        The problem isn't that the phones don't make it glaringly obvious how much data you're using (actually they do provide several tools to manage that, although you'

        • 4 hour lag in billing is nothing, thats actually incredibly responsive. Frankly, if your wife has 200 MB of data to use, she should be sending text messages, emails and thats about it. NO browsing facebook, (use messenger) no web pages, jsut text. I have an android tablet that came with 200 mb of free tmobile data every month. I realized right away that it would only be good for emergency texting etc.
      • by ruir ( 2709173 )
        If I were Apple I would not ever implement something like that. In the happy sue mentality of the USA, it would be just a disaster waiting to happen.
    • If Apple really wants to shake things up, they need to build their own cellular network with 100 GB or 200 GB data caps. Sprint looks like a good candidate to buy in the U.S. given its current financial situation.

      Please, not Sprint. I tried them briefly in San Francisco. Standing on Market Street, I barely got 1 Mbps. I went back to Verizon and got an order of magnitude better.

      • "Standing on Market Street, I barely got 1 Mbps" If you cant work with a 1mbps pipe, i just dont know what to say...
    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Seems like they could have added a notification to the tray when they want to trigger it, perhaps with a 'always do this' option.
    • Asking the devices which connect to this vast complex network of networks to detect, and then transparently fix problems in the infrastructure without the permission of the administrators is, well, it's absolutely the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management. Real pointy-haired boss territory.

      Except that what Apple is doing with WiFi Assist is hardly so cryptic. Transparently switching from one network to another (both of which the user has permission to access) in order to maintain a data connection is hardly "the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management".

      The problem is that Apple has made a lot of things so easy, users expect everything to be so easy. Apple has basically created this problem for itself. One solution that comes to mind is a nag-screen-like alert that warns users of a switch in network type. Make it red with a biohazard symbol to make sure nobody ignores it.

      • One solution that comes to mind is a nag-screen-like alert

        God that would be annoying. Maybe Apple should have made WiFi Assist opt-in rather than opt-out, but I really don't see the problem with this feature. It's limited to foreground applications, and respects settings that various apps (like Netflix) shouldn't use cellular data. The network status display also changes when the feature turns on.

        On the other hand, I've had countless cases where I had to switch off WiFi to get off a weak or extremely slow network and switch to LTE, it always seemed stupid the O

        • Argh, second to last paragraph is supposed to say:

          The only problem I can see is when the network status isn't visible, like when the "< Back to App" display is on, or when the app is fullscreen. Apple should probably make sure the network display shows up for a few seconds when the network switches for any reason.
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Why a data cap at all? There is no need for data caps besides greed. Data caps are not a response to any technical issue, data caps aren't even relevant in the industry of data communication.

  • To ban the sale of apple devices to people who dont know to turn off a default optiion. You can clearly see the the data conn active in the top bar.
    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:08AM (#50796941)

      In my opinion, the only company who does data caps in a fair way is T-Mobile. You still have a data limit, but rather than unexpected charges on your account you get a slowdown in speed. Now, it would be nice if they had more options for increasing the limit - even temporarily - but that is the only customer-friendly way to approach data caps. It is very easy to have an "oops" moment and exceed your data plan. You can blame people for being stupid, but even smart people make mistakes.

      • I've been saying for years how happy I am with MetroPCS. I always had a flat rate for unlimited phone calls. Now I have a flat rate for unlimited data used on my phone.

        The only cap is if I have my laptop tethered to my phone, or have the mobile hotspot active on my phone. Then it slows down to 3G speed after a couple GB of pass-thru data. Tethering and hotspot are very useful when needed, but I haven't come near the limit, since I only have to use it occasionally when on the road, and need to use the laptop

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:30AM (#50796983) Journal

      To ban the sale of apple devices to people who dont know to turn off a default optiion.

      That would mean losing about 90% of iPhone sales.

      Remember, Apple has "strategic partnerships" with wireless providers. Do you really not think there was a discussion about this anywhere among the Apple executives and the brass from the telecoms?

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Dingdingding!

        The cellular providers need to be dragged into this as well, as the scent of collusion is very strong in this case.

         

      • I thought mobile bandwidth was limited due to equipment (physical and logical) limitations. I've always been encouraged, in mobile company literature, to reduce wireless usage as much as possible. Keep the bandwidth available for others. But it's okay for Apple customers to use that bandwidth to the n'th degree?

        So... this is who we're supposed to keep the bandwidth available for? I think I just opened a can of worms, but please don't attack the 'opener'.

        Amen to Khyber's response to this parent.. I smel

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      To ban the sale of apple devices to people who dont know to turn off a default optiion. You can clearly see the the data conn active in the top bar.

      Maybe there's an icon, but why add such a stupid feature in the first place? Do you think most users want to continuously monitor the top status bar or even know such a feature exists?

      If the wifi connection is iffy, the user can always manually switch to the expensive cellular connection. Automatic switching is bad because it's expensive. Requiring users to hunt

  • are you kidding me?

    this is a pretty awesome feature, and very apple'y in that it does things under the hood without bothering the user with stupid prompts. as long as the user consented to it, there should absolutely be no problem with it. now since it seems they didn't request that user's consent, and since people were charged money because of that, looks like there may well be grounds for a lawsuit. but the quote from an employee presented doesn't mention that!

    there *may* have been technical (and possibly

    • The guy is the programmer of the iStumbler network monitoring app. An app of the type where the UI only makes sense to the programmer that created it. And for which the documentation does nothing to explain to someone who doesn't already understand it.

      I'm on the PHBs side on this one. I'm not surprised Apple pushed him out.

      WiFi Assist is the best feature of iOS9 for me. iStumbler is something I once downloaded, and regretted the time it took to look it over.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        That's the *best* feature? Really? Really? Not the ability to make a fucking phone call but WiFi Assist is the *best* feature "for me."

        What's this? I don't even... Do you get paid to post that shit? I don't think I've ever accused anyone of being a shill (except for gangadude who invites it with his signature and then only in jest as a 'shill for the marijuana industry') but I am wondering if this might actually be a paid post. No, not the ability to make a phone call, that's not the best feature. The best

        • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

          That's the *best* feature? Really? Really? Not the ability to make a fucking phone call but WiFi Assist is the *best* feature "for me."

          What's this? I don't even... Do you get paid to post that shit? I don't think I've ever accused anyone of being a shill (except for gangadude who invites it with his signature and then only in jest as a 'shill for the marijuana industry') but I am wondering if this might actually be a paid post. No, not the ability to make a phone call, that's not the best feature. The best feature is a wireless assist technology that, it appears, causes people to spend money they didn't know they were going to be obligated to pay.

          Yup. That's the absolutely bestest fucking feature on the phone. I hope, for your sake, you're drunk or have the phone shoved up your ass so that you're able to get a little prostate massage from it. Want me to call so it vibrates?

          Best feature... *sighs*

          He said the "best feature of iOS9", as in "the best feature that was added with the update".

          The phone already made calls. It wasn't a new feature added in the update to iOS9.

          It seems like you've lost the ability to read and parse the English language as the red mist of apple hate has descended on you.

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            No, he said the best feature of and not the best new feature of - seems like you're interjecting words because you think it's smart. It's not. I can read. Can you? Do you often run around inserting words into people's mouths? You're as retarded as they are, or so it seems. "He meant what he didn't say - can't you read!!!" Wow... Just, wow...

            • As the other poster says, you don't understand how the English language works. By specifying iOS9, it means things that aren't in other version of iOS.

              And you really have something lacking in your life to get so upset about what you thought someone said about a phone. Go outside, take a walk, smell the flowers, say hello to someone.

              • by KGIII ( 973947 )

                Uh huh... If you meant that then you'd have said that. It's nice that you tried the same excuse that the AC used. You couldn't even come up with your own excuse. Pathetic. *snickers*

    • by porges ( 58715 )

      The guy seems to be talking about some other crazy thing, where he says:

      Asking the devices which connect to this vast complex network of networks to detect, and then transparently fix problems in the infrastructure without the permission of the administrators is, well, it’s absolutely the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management. Real pointy-haired boss territory.

      -- "fix problems in the infrastructure?" What? This is working around problems. The phone isn't being asked to reconfigure everyone e

  • by frnic ( 98517 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @07:46AM (#50796893)

    It's good to see the first three posts are neutral to positive toward Apple. But, it won't last.

    Just another article written specifically to say, "Apple does it wrong, and needs to do what I think they should do, so their non-customers will be as happy as their customers".

    • Apple is merely doing this how Android does it. I'm a little surprised people could be using a mobile device and yet think they are *not* going to use mobile data. I think Apple's problem is that their customers are overprotected. Generally Android customers are willing to learn a little about technology and understand how things work. Apple customers practically want the device to read their mind and do what they want it to, and Apple makes it seem that way by actively holding back features that could
  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday October 25, 2015 @09:02AM (#50797091) Homepage

    how about a class action against Microsoft which made millions of PCs download 3GB being MS Windows 10 -- just in case they wanted to upgrade. This pushed people over monthly broadband limits, sometimes at great expense. Apparently possible to disable, but the default was on.

    While they are at it: another class action suit for spying on their users and exporting private data to the MS servers; again on by default and impossible to switch off completely.

    • I came to say exactly this. And we should be getting to this because it seems it's the only way Microsoft will stop taking such liberties with our PCs.
      I have no hopes they'll ever release a version of Windows that I want to use but this would at least send them the message that they can't do whatever they want with out PCs and have no consequences.
  • If you don't want an app to use cellular, go and turn it off. My 11 year old daughter knows how to do this since her pre-paid phone gives her about 300MB a month. For those that are on limited cell plans, you should have already been doing this before wifi assist existed.

    I think wifi assist is a pretty awesome feature, no more Slack not working when I leave buildings (I travel between school buildings a lot during the day).

  • I've noted this for a while, that even with a perfectly good WiFi connection ("good" = streaming video bandwidth) my iPad insists on using cellular data for some network functions. So I leave the cellular data turned off unless I actually need it.

    The motivation when I bought it was that I could use cellular data to access flight planning and weather information if I land at an airport that has cell coverage but no WiFi. It has served this function just fine, but somebody at Apple needs their ass kicked ve

  • Do iPhones not have a way to easily turn off mobile data? On Android it is right at the top.

    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      Do iPhones not have a way to easily turn off mobile data? On Android it is right at the top.

      They do. It's in the settings near the top and is pretty granular (you can turn 4G on and off, and also control specific apps).

      The problem with the new feature was that it was on by default and the setting to control it was at the bottom of the app list in the cellular settings.

  • For many portable devices, "self-healing" is a standard behavior. They're supposed to detect the strongest available and accessible wi-fi link, to select it automatically, and to switch transparently to or from that channel as it improves or degrades, and to incorporate locally provided authentication credentials with no user involvements.

    Since most of the network problems for portable devices are, in fact, local and local configuration issues, it is completely reasonable to expect a portable that costs a w

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