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Sleeping iPhones Send Phantom Data 248

Posted by kdawson
from the chatting-amongst-themselves dept.
Stoobalou writes with a story that got started earlier this month when iPhone users in the US and the UK noticed that their phones seemed to be sending large data bursts via 3G overnight. (Providers are ending unlimited contracts, so iPhone users are paying more attention to how much data they are using.) The discussions began on MacOSRumors and an Apple discussion forum. Thinq.co.uk makes this guess as to what is going on, but doesn't offer much in the way of substantiation: "The simple fact of the matter is — as far as we can tell — that the iPhone's push notifications and other small transfers of data are totted up throughout the day and the total for all of those notifications is added up after dark and sent to your airtime provider while your phone is sleeping. If these tiny amounts of data were individually listed your bill would probably be the size of a telephone directory. The reason it is using the 3G network rather than Wi-Fi is that all iPhones up to and including the 3Gs turn off Wi-Fi push functionality while the phone is in sleep mode, in order to preserve battery life. The iPhone 4, incidentally, has better power management so will not need to do this."
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Sleeping iPhones Send Phantom Data

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  • OMG (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:46AM (#32613672)

    iPhones are dreaming!

    • Re:OMG (Score:5, Funny)

      by crakbone (860662) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:51AM (#32613720)
      But are they dreaming of Androids or Android Sheep?
    • Ye gads! Now we know where all the seeders for Electronic Sheep come from.

    • I have automatic notifications turned off and a few other settings and yet my 3GS battery will go down more than half during the day without any usage. Come on, an iPad has 30 days standby - and while I understand a phone always has to be listening, it seems awfully short.

      • by Ipeunipig (934414) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:18PM (#32614026)

        We have about 150 iPhones for corporate use and we have had to return 8 so far because of bad battery life. We have had more reports of deteriorating battery life from approx. 25 more users that doing a full restore to the phone and NOT applying the backup, just rebuilding the phone manually, has resolved their battery life back to original capacity.

        The key is not to restore the backup created immediately before the restore in iTunes. Even though all of the push and antenna settings are set correctly, there is still something in the OS that makes the battery drain.

        The worst one I've seen so far would drain 8% every 5 minutes; you could literally watch the battery percentage count down like a timer. Doing a restore of the OS fixed it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Juanvaldes (544895)

          Sonds like the firmware got corrupted. My wife took her 3GS (1 year old to the day) in to the apple store last night. A tech looked at it, found it reported ~8 hours of battery life but 700 days of standby time. Obviously this was not right, found the firmware was corrupted and asked if she would permit a wipe and restore. Apparently this caused some errors in the back and a few min later he came back with a new phone for her.

          As it was the last day of the included warranty it only cost us a few minutes of o

    • no jobs is just getting user info using a backdoor data channel.

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:50AM (#32613714) Homepage

    Do iPhones dream of non-walled Androids?

  • Tinfoil hat mode (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:53AM (#32613746) Homepage Journal

    The iPhone 4, incidentally, has better power management so will not need to do this.

    Combine this news with the timing of the AT&T 2GB cap announcement with the release of iPhone 4, and well, it smells like a forced upgrade.

    • Re:Tinfoil hat mode (Score:5, Informative)

      by DdJ (10790) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:57AM (#32613792) Homepage Journal

      If you are extremely worried about this, just put your device into "airplane mode" before putting it to sleep. It won't try to talk to anything at all.

      If you're only slightly worried about it, well, OS4 has an option to disable using the cellular connection for data at all, forcing all data over wifi but still leaving the ability to receive SMS and phone calls on. (OS4 brings more tools for managing your bandwidth use than previous releases ever had.)

      • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:10PM (#32613932)

        If you are extremely worried about this, just put your device into "airplane mode" before putting it to sleep. It won't try to talk to anything at all.

        Won't that kill phone calls too? People might not get many phone calls at night, but the whole point of a phone is to alert people in cases of rare but important emergencies.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mini me (132455)

          Voice service is only a side effect of iPhone ownership because the carriers do not offer data-only plans. I'm not sure anyone buys an iPhone because they want a phone.

        • The whole point of a phone is NOT to alert people of rare but important emergencies. The point of the phone is to communicate. I really dont understand people who simply CANNOT be away from a phone. Honestly, what percentage of phone calls are the 'emergency in the middle of the night' type? Just because your cell phone is your security blanket doesnt mean its 'the whole point of telecommunication"
        • My problem would be remembering to take it out of airplane mode the next morning.
        • If you are extremely worried about this, just put your device into "airplane mode" before putting it to sleep. It won't try to talk to anything at all.

          Won't that kill phone calls too? People might not get many phone calls at night, but the whole point of a phone is to alert people in cases of rare but important emergencies.

          If you have a land line, you could turn on call forwarding first. I don't know anyone under 30 with one, but it is a possibility.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dr. Zim (21278)

          For you, the point of a phone might be to get alerted to rare but important emergencies. I'm not that important nor am I an emergency responder. I bought my phone so I could contact people when I needed to and so that my friends and family have a way to contact me.... not so they have a way to wake me up in the middle of the night.

          There is nothing so important that I need to be woken up in the middle of the night for... and if it's that important, I'll most likely deal with it much better after a good sleep

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        How about just putting it into the trash? Why should the user be forced to proactively administer their phone against these kinds of suspicious activity at the expense of convenience and functionality? Seriously, putting your phone into airplane mode *every* time you think it's going to go into sleep mode?

        • Sounds more like the users should find another country to live in, one that has proper telecom companies running the cellular networks.

        • Apple "Just Works" (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Belial6 (794905)
          Because Apple "Just Works". For varying values of "Just Works".

          This is a perfect example of the emperors clothes as it applies to Apple. Actually suggesting that someone put the phone in Airplane mode is crazy. Unless they are using it for an alarm clock, having the phone sit turned on with no passive functions possible, and no one to initiate an active function, Airplane mode is just an inefficient form of "OFF". Suggesting that someone turn their phone off every night so that they don't get charged
          • by node 3 (115640)

            Actually suggesting that someone put the phone in Airplane mode is crazy

            You're right, bur your conclusion is wrong. There's no reason for 99+% of people to even think about doing this. The suggestion was "if you're extremely worried about this", not "this is a big problem, people should be doing this".

            Suggesting that someone turn their phone off every night so that they don't get charged exorbitant fees for some unknown, and certainly unneeded function

            So far, you're the only person suggesting this. But you're right, it is a stupid suggestion.

            Because Apple "Just Works". For varying values of "Just Works".

            There is no other tech company on the planet whose products are both as powerful, as easy to use, and reliably work as Apple. So, yeah, "just works" is a valid description.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tyldis (712367)

          The Norwegian mobile operators have been forced to blacklist a certain US number as numerous iPhones has initiated call diversion to this number. As it lacks the international extension all the calls wound up at one unlucky guy in a small town.
          They confirm the issue, while Apple has refused to comment on it.

          One translated source http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=no&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http://www.tv2underholdning.no/hjelperdeg/iphonemysteriet-apple-ikke-vil- [google.com]

      • by DavidTC (10147)

        If you are extremely worried about this, just put your device into "airplane mode" before putting it to sleep. It won't try to talk to anything at all.

        Translation: If you are worried about your cell phone deciding to cost you money, you can always stop using it.

        Um, no thanks. Most of us who leave our cell phone on at night do so that it, um, functions as a cell phone. You know, the whole 'receive telephone calls' thing.

      • by TyFoN (12980) on Friday June 18, 2010 @01:30PM (#32615290)

        Can't you just put a "turn 3g on/off" widget on one of the home screens?
        No need to put it in airplane mode to kill the cellular data traffic..
        well on my android at least.
        Same with wifi and gps :)

      • I have an android and there's a nice app called TimedWireless that puts my phone into airplane mode at night and wakes it up in the morning. I'm sure there's an app for that with the iphone..

    • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:59AM (#32613824)

      The iPad (even non-3G) and the Touch also have the ability to stay logged into a WiFi network in very low power mode and so can get push data over WiFi. And I can't imagine these were forced by AT&T.

      Besides, what if you are in an AT&T dead zone (of course we all know these are mythical ;) and you get a FaceTime(TM) call or try to Find My iPhone? Wouldn't you like it to get through on WiFi even though you can't get a push over 3G to your phone?

  • Terrible headline (Score:3, Informative)

    by clone53421 (1310749) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:58AM (#32613814) Journal

    The headline is contradicted in the summary. It should read: Sleeping iPhones Appear To Send Phantom Data.

    Turns out they don’t, it’s just a total of use from the entire day that accumulated a lot of tiny data transfers made by the iPhone’s system which are too numerous and trivial to itemize on the bill.

    • Re:Terrible headline (Score:5, Interesting)

      by boneglorious (718907) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:15PM (#32613980) Journal
      The summary offers that as an "unsubstatiated guess". The headline made me believe that the summarizer doesn't think it should necessarily be accepted as a true explanation.
    • Re:Terrible headline (Score:5, Informative)

      by jmcvetta (153563) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:20PM (#32614046)

      Turns out they don’t, it’s just a total of use from the entire day that accumulated a lot of tiny data transfers made by the iPhone’s system which are too numerous and trivial to itemize on the bill.

      Do we know this? TFA presents that as a speculative explanation, but offers no evidence. All these Apple types are relying on what their telephone bill says -- which seems kinda naive, given that cellphone carriers are not exactly known for their truthfulness.

      What we really need is an RF geek to set up some equipment to monitor an iPhone's overnight radio activity, and give us some hard data to consider.

      • You don’t need to be a RF geek with fancy equipment to put it in an improvised Faraday cage overnight and see if the phantom charges disappear. Just make sure it gets no signal, then shut it off so it doesn’t drain the battery trying to connect.

  • It's not a few bucks in my bill that I care. I worry about my phone sending out data surreptitiously in the middle of the night. What the hell is it sending?

    I don't usually bash Apple users. As much as I don't like Apple's practices, and as much as I'd like to see everyone using Free Software, it beats using windows. But this time, this guys scared the fuck out of me. They catch their phone sneaking out data in the middle of the night, and none of them is truly worried about it. They are sort of wondering

    • by fredmosby (545378) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:06PM (#32613896)
      According to the article it's not sending data in the middle of the night. It just appears that way on the phone bill because they add up all the push notifications for the day and list them as one transaction.
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:06PM (#32613906)

      What the hell is it sending?

      Asking such questions is silly. It will only make things harder. Just accept the word of Father Steve and relax. You'll find things are much nicer when you accept this. I did, and I'm happy all the time now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GizmoToy (450886)

      Guess you didn't even read the summary, eh? Data's not being sent. The phone keeps track of the size of all small transfers that occurred during the day, adds them up, and tells AT&T the total overnight.

      My bills (if I didn't get them electronically), are already 10+ double-sided pages long full of data transfers. I can't imagine how huge they'd be if they didn't do this, and it was filled with things like "120 bytes - 9:30am... 600 bytes... 9:31am."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kreigaffe (765218)

        That seems awfully fucking exploitable. You'd really think the provider would keep track of that shit, not your phone. Self-reporting usage? Just hack the phone and send false data, since I guess AT&T relies on what the phone tells it you've used.

        And if AT&T does track your usage on their own, then having the phone report the usage is just wasteful.

        • by GizmoToy (450886)

          That's what I was thinking. Looking at recent bills, it seems they no longer (or rarely) log data usage during the day. There's just one update that comes in overnight that seems to be the entire day's usage. Last month, I only had 7 days that logged any data usage during the day, and I can say with certainty that I use the 3G data line at least every 15 minutes.

          People are reporting that if they turn their phones off overnight, the 1am-2am update doesn't occur until the phone gets turned back on in the m

          • by Cimexus (1355033) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:53PM (#32614636)

            That seems odd though, because you'd think such behaviour would have to be carrier-specific. I.e. AT&Ts systems would have to know to expect such updates from the iPhone and rely on the iPhone to monitor its usage.

            But the iPhone in other countries is sold completely unlocked and you can whack any SIM card in it and use it on any network. The network doesn't know that you're connecting from an iPhone or any other 3G/HSDPA device. So the network wouldn't know to listen for these iPhone data updates (and would be keeping track of data usage on the network side like it would for any other device).

            I don't own an iPhone, so this may be something completely obvious. But it sounds to me like the US iPhone software/firmware is different from the software run on non-US devices (i.e. there's a "AT&T-locked" version for the US which contains this data reporting feature, and a 'regular' version which does not, for use internationally)

            • by GizmoToy (450886)

              There is carrier-specific baseband that runs on each device, so it could have something to do with that. However, over on MacRumors there are people reporting seeing this on carriers other than AT&T as well, such as O2.

              It's somewhat baffling. These carriers can't be stupid enough to count on the devices reporting usage accurately, can they?

              • by Taevin (850923)

                It's somewhat baffling. These carriers can't be stupid enough to count on the devices reporting usage accurately, can they?

                Let me answer your question with another one: Website developers can't be stupid enough to allow raw SQL to be passed in through URL parameters, can they? :)

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        Makes sense. I clearly remember an amusing segment on the TV news here not long after the original iPhone was released. All those tiny little bits of data that the iPhone constantly connects to send/receive, combined with data charges still being a relatively rare/new thing as far as phone company billing software was concerned, literally led to people receiving itemised phone bills the size of books. Hundreds of pages :)

        Billing software in phone companies has no doubt improved since then. But at the same t

    • by mini me (132455)

      IP connections will eventually timeout. If you want to be able to receive push notifications, you have to send a heartbeat message every once in a while to ensure that the connection is still alive. You can turn off push notifications if you prefer not to send anything to Apple.

    • But this time, this guys scared the fuck out of me.

      Then Slashdot succeeded in fulfilling its agenda.

  • I live in a fringe area. While I get a good number of bars with Edge, 3G is hit or miss. I work in town where 3G reception is good though so I usually keep 3G on. That said, I have noticed that some evenings my battery drains almost completely while just sitting on my dresser. It's not every night so I chalked it up to reception. However, this makes more sense if it's trying to transmit data with a crappy signal.

  • by microcars (708223) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:16PM (#32613992) Homepage
    for me as I don't get a good 3G signal at my house!
    Go AT&T!
  • I'm not sure how true this is, but if I'm on 3G my battery life drains at an alarming rate during high data transfer, audio streaming etc... When Im on WIFI my battery lasts substantially longer.

    Anyone else notice this too?

    • Sure do. It's quite contrary to my previous Windows Mobile phone - you could just about watch the battery gauge drop while on a wireless LAN.
    • by bill_kress (99356)

      3G is about the biggest battery hog you'll get. Disable it and run on edge for a few days to compare (You'll also get better general reception and no dropped calls). If I had to upgrade my first-gen iPhone I'm pretty sure I'd disable 3G except when I was doing large data transfers (which I wouldn't do because of the new metered rates)

      Hmph, time to start looking into Android.

  • Eavesdropping...? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Type44Q (1233630)
    We've noticed that our comparatively-ancient Nokia 2610 (prepaid AT&T) does this as well - we noticed because both our car stereo and our PC's speakers pick up transmissions from AT&T phones.

    Thing is, we observed it transmitting even when it's turned off...
  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Friday June 18, 2010 @08:19PM (#32621128) Homepage

    Telephony sessions are typically billed at the end of the session. Phone calls are billed when they are disconnected, SMS's when they are delivered, etc.

    GPRS sessions (not individual sockets, the entire IP tunnel) are also typically billed when they are torn down too. This means that on some platforms data sessions can go unbilled for a long, long time. I've heard of months-long Blackberry sessions.

    Now, the iPhone doesn't fully close down GPRS sessions when it goes idle, we saw that story a while ago. It does a fast disconnect, leaving the session running and hoping to reconnect to it later. What may be happening is that these sessions time out in the middle of the night, when the phone goes idle for long enough, resulting in a middle of the night charge for data from the entire day.

    These long running sessions are being noticed by carriers, and they are starting to request mid-session commits, where the bill isn't updated at the end of the session, but at set intervals.

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