Apple is facing a lawsuit over a new software feature that lets iPhones switch to cellular data when the Wi-Fi signal is weak.
Wi-Fi Assist has provoked complaints from customers since Apple introduced the feature in mid-September with the latest version of its iOS software for iPhones and iPads. Many have complained that Wi-Fi Assist is switched on by default in iOS 9 without them knowing it, causing them to run up large data bills while they think their iPhones are relying on Wi-Fi.
A couple who has been on the receiving end of such a bill on Friday filed a complaint, first spotted by AppleInsider, in US District Court in San Jose, California. William Scott Phillips and Suzanne Schmidt Phillips, both of Edgewater, Florida, say that because they didn’t know about the feature, Apple should be responsible for picking up their bill, as well as the bill of any others like them. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for their lawsuit. Their filing contends that the overuse charges top $5 million for everyone affected.
Wi-Fi Assist lets iPhones automatically switch to using data when Wi-Fi signal drops. It was designed to give iPhone users the smoothest and most consistent experience possible when using the Internet. Some Apple customers are pleased that Wi-Fi Assist allows them to stay online even when their Wi-Fi signal drops. Others, especially those with low-usage data plans, have complained about unexpected charges on their phone bill.
The mixed reactions to the feature led the Cupertino, California, company to publish an online guide to Wi-Fi Assist in early October.
“Because you’ll stay connected to the Internet over cellular when you have a poor Wi-Fi connection, you might use more cellular data,” it explained. “For most users, this should only be a small percentage higher than previous usage.”
For the plaintiffs, though, the explanation is too little, too late. The lawsuit claims that the couple only found out about the potential for extra charges when articles and tweets started appearing about Wi-Fi Assist. They also say that video and music streaming consumes high quantities of data and that Apple’s “corrective statement does not disclose any basis for its conclusion that an average consumer would not see much increase in cellular usage.”
The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating California’s Unfair Competition Law and its False Advertising Law, as well as of negligent misrepresentation. Despite rival smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, LG and HTC, offering similar features on their own devices, only Apple is on the receiving end of a legal complaint.