Apple Sued Over Wi-Fi Assist Feature

John Lister's picture

An iPhone feature Apple said could help make Internet use faster has led to a proposed class-action lawsuit. The claimants say Apple's decision to switch "WiFi Assist" on by default left them with unexpected cellphone service bills.

The idea of the feature, introduced with iOS9 (the latest edition of the iPhone operating system) was to solve the problems that come when an iPhone has problems connecting to a WiFi connection, especially if the signal is low.

Because most phones are always set to prefer WiFi connections over cellular data when possible, this can lead to the situation where the phone is so slow over WiFi that it is actually slower than using cellular data. In extreme, cases the phone may stick to WiFi but the connection is too slow, which makes Internet features virtually useless.

Phone Automatically Switches to Cellular Data

WiFi Assist works by checking the wireless signal strength; if it's particularly low, the phone will then automatically switch to a cellular data connection. The phone depicts the switch by changing the connection icon at the top of the screen.

The two plaintiffs who have brought the case forward say that Apple's introduction of the feature has two big problems. The first is that although users can turn off the feature, WiFi Assist is switched on by default as soon as anyone upgrades their phone to iOS9.

The second is that, according to the plaintiffs, Apple didn't do enough to warn users about the potential increase in cellular data use if WiFi Assist automatically switches their phones to use cellular data. (Source:

Plaintiffs Say the Feature Cost Them Cash

According to the plaintiffs, it's led to using more cellular phone data than expected, which in turn racked up overage charges because their cellphone plans have monthly usage limits.

Not only do they want Apple to pick up the tab, but they've applied for class action status. If granted, that means anyone in the same situation could automatically join in the case and share in any favorable verdict, rather than have to file their own lawsuit. The plaintiffs say the damages could be more than $5 million, though that's very much an estimate designed to show the scope of the case, rather than a precise figure. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Was Apple right to have Wifi Assist be switched on by default? Should it be responsible for any cellular charges? Or is it the user's responsibility to keep track of settings on their phone?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Whatever the outcome of this case may be, it will surely set precedent with respect to Microsoft's Windows WUDO (Windows Update Delivery Optimization). In this case, Windows Updates are shared with other Windows computers online the Internet so that updates are delivered more quickly, rather than from a single source (Microsoft's servers). It sounds like a great idea in theory, but the feature is turned on by default when users upgrade to Windows 10. If users don't know that it's turned on AND if they have a limited Internet connection, it can end up costing some users a great deal of money.

Aerokats's picture

It's the "Yellow School Bus" theory. Users must be protected from themselves.
If the iPhone user is so stupid that he can't look at the top of his phone and figure out what's going on, he needs to either go back to a basic flip phone, or get an unlimited data plan. Detailed instructions for use of the iPhone are readily available from iBooks. Why should Apple pay him because he didn't RTFD?

PayPaul's picture

It's a case of "the road of good intentions." I don't believe Apple considered the fact that all the major Cellular carriers have dropped unlimited data plans. These companies should be the target of customers ire if not lawsuits. AT&T, T-Mobile and even Sprint are the true greedy elephants in the room. Apple made a costly mistake, but they shouldn't bear the brunt of this legal force.