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Handhelds The Almighty Buck Hardware

Turned Off iPhone Gets $4800 Bill from AT&T 951

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the gotta-hate-when-that-happens dept.
Tech.Luver writes "Jay Levy says he has been stung by Apple's iPhone pact with AT&T after he took an iPhone on a Mediterranean cruise. They didn't use their phones, but when they got back they had a 54-page monthly bill of nearly $4,800 from AT&T Wireless. The problem was that their three iPhones were racking up a bill for data charges using foreign phone charges. The iPhone regularly updates e-mail, even while it's off, so that all the messages will be available when the user turns it on. ""
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Turned Off iPhone Gets $4800 Bill from AT&T

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  • Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alex777 (1113887) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:46AM (#20537681)
    This is why things should actually be OFF when you turn them off. What if it interferes with hospital equipment like other cells, even if it's off?
    • Re:Off means off (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:48AM (#20537705)

      This is why things should actually be OFF when you turn them off. What if it interferes with hospital equipment like other cells, even if it's off?

      I'd say hospital equipment shouldn't malfunction when presented with interference on a widely used spectrum, but that's just me.

      • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cnettel (836611) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:54AM (#20537811)
        That's easy for many things, but not so easy when you are doing non-invasive monitoring of electric signals from the body. A false alarm would still cause problems, and I can understand why you want that type of equipment to be sensitive to the limit that it can detect spurious signals.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by aug24 (38229)
          ...and that's why it should be done in a shielded room, not why every other device on the planet should be off/shielded. What happens if someone walks by outside the window with an unshielded device?

          (I had friends at uni who got interference from cars 200m away. They ran their experiment at 3am instead. My point being, there is always interference. You shouldn't try to legislate against it.)

          J.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by gardyloo (512791)
        Well, hospital equipment already racks up astounding charges. Maybe hospitals should start buying iDefibs and iProctoscopes. Sounds like iPhone owners will probably need both of those soon.
      • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Informative)

        by neapolitan (1100101) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:40AM (#20538527)
        > I'd say hospital equipment shouldn't malfunction when presented with interference on a widely used spectrum, but that's just me.

        I'm a cardiologist - we get this question a lot, and I've been in many, um, discussions, about this issue.

        In general, hospital equipment does not malfunction with any FCC approved wireless interference, especially from a consumer device. The trouble is, there are some anecdotes:

        http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0196064405007110 [elsevier.com]

        that demonstrate equipment malfunction with close proximity of cellphones / radios, etc. This 2005 report was widely publicized, (sorry, system demands that you purchase the article if you want to read it) but it was a cellphone left on top an IV infusion pump that apparently malfunctioned, and was reproducible (move the phone near the pump -> malfunction, move it away and returns to normal.)

        I tell people that as long as they have a digital phone, they are ok to use it in the hospital. In truth, I think that if a nurse tells you to move to another area they are probably wanting you to stop yapping in common areas, which is a much bigger problem IMHO.

        As with anything that deals with life or death, physicians and health care staff are quite risk averse. If there is a very, very small chance of interference, then we err on the side of caution. Your cellphone is designed to not interfere with things, but I'm sure we have all heard our computer speakers chatter *before* a call comes in, or seen your old CRT monitor jump due to an incoming call on a nearby phone. This is interference -- making all medical equipment so that they are totally oblivious to all outside fields would make them inconceivably heavy. Don't bother with the "faraday cage" argument -- most cases are metal, but as anybody with engineering experience would tell you it is imperfect (as I've stated before, you can use your cellphone in a metal plane, also a "faraday cage.")

        So, no, hospital equipment is generally ok, but generally we tell people to not use cellphones in the intensive care unit or operating rooms, where things are most sensitive and potentially could have lethal consequences. We allow answering the phone and moving to an appropriate area, and allow cellphone use throughout the hospital otherwise (the doctors do this too). If it were a big risk, equipment would be malfunctioning left and right. However, it is prudent to minimize risks, especially for nonessential communication, hence the policies.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kazymyr (190114)
      Better yet, how about airplanes? If it's not really off at any time, isn't it illegal to take an iphone on a flight?
    • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ichelo (690294) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:58AM (#20537873)
      http://www.newsday.com/business/ny-bzappl0908,0,29 29341.story?coll=ny_home_rail_headlines [newsday.com]

      Levy said he didn't expect data transfer charges internationally because he believed the data network in Europe wasn't compatible with the iPhone. The Levys brought their phones with them for voice calls


      I know the article says they were off, but it also says the took the phones for voice calls, so where they really off? or did they just not use the data part?
    • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Informative)

      by fredmosby (545378) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:13AM (#20538095)
      You can actually turn an iPhone off. These people left their iPhones on standby and thought they were turned off. Just because the screen is black doesn't mean the device is off.

      To turn it off all you have to do is hold down the standby button for a few seconds then then hit the off button when it asks you if you really want to turn the phone off.
      • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

        by apparently (756613) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:40AM (#20538521)
        Just because the screen is black doesn't mean the device is off.

        and that's totally acceptable. A user shouldn't be able to just glance at their phone to determine if it's off, or if it's "sleeping", but not sleeping so soundly that it won't rack up a $4800 bill.
        Defective by design, my friend.

      • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:42AM (#20538555)

        User interface design 101: a UI should be intuitive for users and not contain surprises.

        Strange, Apple's UI people are usually pretty good. But if you really can have a phone that looks like it's switched off but isn't, and it really does require a counter-intuitive and confusing alternative action by the user to switch it off fully, then they dropped the ball big time on this one and the user is quite right to feel aggrieved at the small fortune in costs he has personally incurred as a result.

        • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Informative)

          by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:53AM (#20538747)
          My phone has a display that goes into "sleep" mode after about 15 seconds. As far as anyone is concerned, the phone looks like it's off. In order to actually turn the phone off, I have to hold the power button for 5 seconds. Every single cell phone I've ever used behaves like this. From the sounds of things, the iPhone has similar behavior.
        • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:23AM (#20539251)
          When you shut your phone, does it turn off? Or when you stop using a candybar, doesn't the screen go off? Yet the phone is not off. People know they have to press something to really turn "off" a phone, as per every other phone ever made.

          After all, how is a phone supposed to receive calls if it's really off? There needs to be a difference between a sleep mode and off, and this is obvious on the iPhone.
    • by itsdapead (734413) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:28AM (#20538329)

      This is why things should actually be OFF when you turn them off.

      Er, what if its a PHONE and if you turn it completely off people won't be able to, like, PHONE you...?

      If you read on, someone posts that the iPhone (just like Windows Mobile phones) has a power-down mode if you really want it.

      What other phones DON'T do is periodically phone home all by themselves - and unless AT&T/Apple have a large friendly warning* in TFM then they're probably in the wrong on that one.

      (* Do not eat iPhone. Do not operate iPhone while attempting to defuse atomic bomb. Do not drop iPhone onto the head of a pedestrian from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Do not smash iPhone to pieces and stab yourself with the shards. Do not insert iPhone anally unless you are the goatse guy. If you are the goatse guy please do not return iPhone to Apple afterwards. Do not select The Lumberjack Song as ringtone while drinking in a bar in rural Canada. Turn iPhone off properly when traveling abroad. Do not take the name of Jobs in vain. Warning: this booklet may cause paper cuts if mishandled. See page 199 for more warnings)

    • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZorinLynx (31751) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:25PM (#20541333) Homepage
      It's not even that! The pricing structure shouldn't even ALLOW for a $4800 bill. What the heck?

      Come on. There should be a cap on the bill, say, $500. After that it can be considered flat rate. Why does AT&T need to charge $4800 for this? Do people actually use this much data service abroad on a routine basis?

      If anything, cut service when it gets to $500. Because at that point, something is obviously up. Especially if the customer has never had this high a bill before. Credit card companies do this sort of statistical scanning all the time to combat fraud.

      -Z
      • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcrbids (148650) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:08PM (#20543941) Journal
        It's not even that! The pricing structure shouldn't even ALLOW for a $4800 bill. What the heck? ... Credit card companies do this sort of statistical scanning all the time to combat fraud.

        The difference is... who pays? If a credit card is fraudulently used, the credit card company pays. So they have every incentive to give a damn.

        But guess who's going to pay the $4,800? It sure as hell won't be AT&T. As I write this, my wife is on the phone to discuss a $900 Verizon bill my daughter rang up "saving money on the minutes" with text messaging. The only thing they seem willing to do is very politely tell us to screw off.

        They are used to it.
  • So (Score:5, Funny)

    by niceone (992278) * on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:46AM (#20537683) Journal
    When you go out of the country, just yank the battery out.

    Oh, wait...
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:48AM (#20537695) Homepage
    Why should he be hit with a $4,800 bill when he thought that the device was off? If anything, why shouldn't AT&T and Apple be legally liable for deceiving him into thinking that the device was turned off when in fact it wasn't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This was exactly the first thing I thought. I doubt there is a way they are legally liable for such charges when they occurred without the user's knowledge or interaction. The only way they can be charged is if somewhere it was stated that this can/would happen if they took the phones out of country and network range.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sholden (12227)
        So I can charge Westinghouse for the electricity used by the TV they made, since when I press the "off" button on the remote is goes into a standby mode?

        I mean who would have thunk that the button the iphone manual labels "Sleep/Wake button" would actually put the device in "sleep" mode and not turn it off?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kevinadi (191992)
      The TFA said it all: Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris points out in its terms and conditions that it will cost an arm an a leg to use an Iphone out of the US even if no services are intentionally used.

      IANAL, but the customer is most likely out of luck if he tries to challenge this. After all, this is in the terms & conditions that he supposedly agreed upon.

      This is another major blow to iPhone, on top of the recent price cut. Now we have an Apple spokeswoman admitting freely that the simple act of bringi
  • by jimstapleton (999106) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:49AM (#20537723) Journal
    I think that covers the situation nicely.
  • Soo.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kazymyr (190114) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:50AM (#20537739) Journal
    If the international data plan charges $24 per 20MB, and they got a bill for $4800, that means the 3 phones, while turned off, downloaded a total of around 4GB. WTF?
    • Re:Soo.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MaestroRC (190789) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:59AM (#20537893) Homepage
      That's the *in-plan* rate. And, that probably only covers the first 20MB anyhow. Read the linked article (not the inquirer, the original), and it mentions that data rates can be as high as $20/MB in some countries, and that one data session was over $200 (10MBish? Seems reasonable for some attachments).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by devnullkac (223246)

      He probably didn't have the international data plan; that's why he left the phones turned off.

    • Surfing the Med (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Somegeek (624100)
      From the grandfather article:

      "In countries outside the plan, charges can run from $5 to $20 per megabyte, said Ben Wilson, editor of iPhone Atlas, a Web site owned by the online news company CNet."

      I'm guessing that the middle of the Mediterranean is outside of the covered countries. It also says they were checking a total of seven different email accounts. 7 accounts * 20$/MB could add up pretty quickly, 35MB per email account would do it.
  • 1. Travel overseas and rack up huge iPhone bill
    2. Submit your story to blogs, forums, and /.
    3. ????
    4. Profit
    5. Pay your iPhone bill
  • by wal9001 (1041058) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:51AM (#20537761)
    Sleep: Press sleep/wake button briefly. Off: Hold button for several seconds, slide red slider control that shows up. Of course it downloads new messages when the display is sleeping. There'd be no point to sleep if it didn't.
  • by adycarter (261257) <adycarterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:51AM (#20537767)
    So when the phones "off" it communicates, and you can't kill it all together by removing the battery?........

    Coming soon to the iStore, the iCoffin, a lead lined box designed for when you need to take your phone out of the country, or near medical equipment.

    Be the envy of the Intensive Care ward with your small and portable iCoffin weighing only 1 tonne, marvel at its lead casing, lick its tasty exterior and be a role model for Chinese toy makers everywhere!
    • by Kazymyr (190114) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:58AM (#20537859) Journal
      That's actually a neat idea, but you don't need the lead (the thing's not radioactive to my knowledge). Let's see which gadget company will be the first one to sell Faraday's cages for iphones. Can you just imagine the ads? "Be absolutely protected from unwanted phone bills! Only with the iCase(TM)"
      • 1. Take large sheet of tinfoil
        2. Wrap that sucker up like a ham-and-Limburger sandwich
        3. Explain to the nice folks at the X-ray machine why that suspicious package is your iPhone
        4. Be unable to get emergency calls from your family at home while on your Mediterranean cruise

        Of course, there's always the simple, brute-force power-down solution: the iHammer. (Can you tell how unimpressed I am with this overpriced, overhyped gewgaw?)
    • by iphayd (170761) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:22AM (#20538235) Homepage Journal
      You can't take the battery out, but you can take the SIM card out. This way, you can use it for Wi-Fi and calendar, without the fear of being billed.
  • by phayes (202222) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:54AM (#20537817) Homepage
    If Apple wants to sell more than a token number of iPhones to people outside the USA as it is planning to. Given that countries elsewhere are smaller, the likelihood that a user is not in their home country is much larger. If the iPhone cannot be taken outside your home country - even when off - what use is it?

    The only correct resolution is for Apple & ATT to eat these charges until the iPhone's GSM radio can be set to OFF when not inside the coverage of the selected carrier.

  • by shidarin'ou (762483) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:57AM (#20537851) Homepage
    When you push the button at the top once, it puts the phone to sleep. When you hold the "sleep" button down for 3 seconds, it actually turns off- totally off.

    Maybe they should have done that- instead of wondering why their "off" phones were still "turning on" to ring.
  • Yikes (Score:3, Funny)

    by y86 (111726) on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:58AM (#20537869)

    Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris points out in its terms and conditions that it will cost an arm an a leg to use an Iphone out of the US even if no services are intentionally used.


    I didn't realize organ trading was allowed in the US.
  • boycott (Score:5, Funny)

    by Skapare (16644) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:04AM (#20537989) Homepage

    "boycottcingular.com" is now the new "boycottatt.com".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:14AM (#20538125)
    I've used Cingular for three years now, with no surprises and no unpleasantness. I alsays got an itemized bill showing calls placed and minutes used in those calls, and never went over my minutes.

    Then AT&T bought them out, and I got a nasty surprise in the mail - instead of my normal <$50 bill, it was doubled. And the bill was no longer itemized; there was no way to do the math myself.

    Then the next bill came - GULP! Four hundred God damned dollars! And still not itemized.

    AT&T is run by thieves. I'm using a cheap Trac phone now until I can find another carrier. AT&T are now in my "Die, damn you" list of evil corporations. Sony replaced Microsoft as first place in my list of Pure Evil (TM) corporations when they trojaned my PC with their BMG XCP rootkit, now MS has slid to #3. AT&T is now a very close second to Sony. May their President, CEO, board of directors, and stockholders all catch cancer and aids and die horribly, and may that God damned company go bankrupt and be liquidated.

    Mods, this isn't flamebait it's an informative FLAME. As I'm posting AC you know I'm not karma-whoring.

    As I'm too busy unsucsessfully chasing women [slashdot.org] to blog about evil corporations [mcgrew.info] lately, this is probably all I'll have to say about these bastards.

    -mcgrew (sm62704)
  • Airplane mode? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:19AM (#20538183)
    Many here have commented that there is an 'airplane mode' for the thing, and that's what he should have used. Maybe so, but that is counterintuitive to the average user. He's not on the plane anymore!

    If there were a selection called "Hotel Mode" that did the same thing, would you expect him to choose that when boarding an aircraft? No.

    How about a simple "Off". Trying to be too cute with the operations makes people like this frustrated. And gives the company bad press.
  • by whyde (123448) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:30AM (#20538379)
    Unless you have a simple pay-as-you-go phone or device, it's too easy to overspend in a situation like this where you just have NO IDEA how much your device is costing you on a moment-by-moment basis.

    What I'd appreciate is a device that lets you enter an EXPECTED monetary budget for its use, and safeguards to make sure you don't use the device in a manner that exceeds your expectations for how expensive its use should be.

    The instant it began international data roaming, sirens should have sounded alerting the user that the device is now operating in a mode contrary to the user's financial expectations.

    I'm sure it has an alert when it's battery needs recharging. No such luck when it starts draining your bank account.

  • by Dzimas (547818) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:43AM (#20538563)
    Why on earth would three "businessmen" bother to take their iPhones abroad but switched off? These are expensive gadgets, and if I wasn't planning to use my iPhone on my trip to Tangiers I would simply leave it and its charger at home.
    • by eck011219 (851729) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:56AM (#20538811)
      As has been pointed out elsewhere, the iPhone isn't just a phone. It's a PDA, mp3 player, and so on.

      Moreover, when I travel I very often need to have a phone immediately upon arrival at home (whoever is picking me up usually has to wait at a staging area a few minutes away from baggage claim, so I have to call them and tell them to come on ahead).

      "Airplane Mode" isn't a proper name for having all external signals turned off. On my Treo, you can turn off the phone portion very easily and still use the rest of the PDA. Sounds like the iPhone is far less intuitive.
  • by Americano (920576) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:49AM (#20538677)
    I just came back from 2 weeks in Ireland. I used the phone in a pinch to try and find directions when I was semi-lost in Dublin. The rest of the time, I used the ipod features, and only checked my email when wifi was available in the hotel. Total international data rates for my iphone for the entire trip: Just under US $8.

    I suspect Mr. Levy never bothered to RTFM on his device, and then left his phone(s) in the "sleep" mode (display off, radios on), for the duration of his cruise. From Page 14 of the iPhone User Guide [apple.com]:

    To Lock iPhone -- Press the Sleep/Wake button.
    To Unlock iPhone -- Press the Home button or the Sleep/Wake button, then drag the slider.
    To Turn iPhone completely off -- Press and hold the Sleep/Wake button for a few seconds until the red slider appears, then drag the slider. When iPhone is off, incoming calls go straight to voicemail.
    To Turn iPhone on -- Press and hold the Sleep/Wake button until the Apple logo appears.
    Note that they call it a "Sleep/Wake button", not an "on/off" button, or a "power" button.

    Other than that, he could have enabled "Airplane Mode", which does the following (User Guide, page 22):

    When you turn on airplane mode, [a small airplane icon] appears in the status bar at the top of the screen. No cell phone, radio, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth signals are emitted from iPhone. You cannot:
    • Make phone calls
    • Send or receive email
    • Browse the Internet
    • Send or receive text messages
    • Stream YouTube videos
    • Get stock quotes
    • Get maps locations
    • Get weather reports

    If allowed by the aircraft operator and applicable laws and regulations, you can continue to use iPhone to:
    • Listen to music and watch video
    • Listen to visual voicemail
    • Check your calendar
    • Take or view pictures
    • Hear alarms
    • Use the stopwatch or timer
    • Use the calculator
    • Take notes
    • Read text messages and email messages stored on iPhone
    Oh, and you can also disable automatic checking of email in the iPhone settings. The default behavior is to check every so often, but you can set it to "Manual", which means you have to tell the iPhone to check email, it won't go out automatically and try downloading messages.

    There's warnings about "Additional fees may apply" plastered all over the iPhone manual when discussing international roaming, as well. So to all the people crying that this just shows the iPhone is an overhyped piece of crap, or that this is evidence of some sort of collusion between Apple and AT&T to suck their customers dry, get over it. The guy didn't read his manual, and now he's learning that that was a costly mistake. If you go to Ireland with your brand new Nokia E70 or Treo 650, and leave it on, charging, and set to automatically check email periodically, you're going to have the same fucking problem.
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mikey-San (582838) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:51AM (#20538721) Homepage Journal
    The problem was that their three Iphones were racking up a bill for data charges using foreign phone charges. The Iphone regularly updates e-mail, even while it's off, so that all the messages will be available when the user turns it on.

    This is bullshit.

    It doesn't sound like the unit was powered off. It sounds like the screen was off, and like my old RAZR, the unit will continue to operate in the background while the screen is off. Stupid, lazy consumer didn't bother reading the manual, which clearly discusses how to POWER THE PHONE OFF COMPLETELY and WHAT AIRPLANE MODE IS, which accomplishes the same task this guy required.

    Seriously, who the fuck thinks a phone is "off" just because the screen isn't lit up? This is 2007, right? The age of the cell phone cowboy.

    There's no flaw here. The vast, vast majority of iPhone users are satisfied that it will happily do its thing while the screen is off, in your pocket. Otherwise, I couldn't be notified of mail whenever I got it.

    Next time, if you spend $600 on something, read the motherfucking manual. Apple goes out of their way to write clear, simple manuals for the very reason that people don't want to have to be computer scientists to understand them. Sucks to be you, dude.
  • by lelitsch (31136) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:00AM (#20538893)
    I just came back from 2 weeks in Australia with my iPhone, and even having it on a couple of hours a day to surf or check email over wifi, I didn't rack up a single cent of roaming charges. The TFA leaves out two bits of information. For one, you have to specifically activate international roaming at AT&T's web site or an AT&T store for any AT&T phone to hook up to any network overseas. Secondly, unlike a Blackberry, the iPhone does not check email periodically, this was much criticized by many, even here on Slashdot. It's actually a bit of a pain even in the US, you have to turn on the phone AND go to mail to get updates. The only email that can be pushed is Yahoo email
  • FUD, FUD, FUD (Score:4, Informative)

    by alcmaeon (684971) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:10AM (#20539045)

    1) My iPhone in standby mode does not DL my email until I hit the email button at which point it connects and begins the transfer of the email. This is a setting in the email settngs preferences. By default it is set to manual. This is where I left mine.

    2) My iPhone, when it is actually turned off, as opposed to in standby mode (i.e. hold the top button down for 3 seconds rather than just pressing it) it doesn't even receive calls, much less email or anything else.

    3) Does anyone on slashdot even own an iPhone? Most of the comments are completely clueless as to the actual operation of the device.

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