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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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  • Roaming Charges? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tkrotchko (124118) * on Monday September 10, 2007 @09:59AM (#20537883) Homepage
    Could be the ridiculous rates you get charged by operators in Europe.

    Last year, a colleague and I were staying in London and he called our local travel office to make some changes to the flight. He was on the phone for 30 minutes (mostly on hold) and he was presented with a bill for $600 (300 pounds). Now, you tell me what the rate was...

    Anyway, he just refused to pay it, and the manager eventually took it off. But still... seems like a lot of places are set up to cheat the unwary traveler.
  • Re:Off means off (Score:2, Interesting)

    by skeeto (1138903) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:11AM (#20538065)

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

    Remember that intensity decreases proportionally to the inverse square. This means that after a not-so-far distance (such as the parking lot at the hospital), the intensity of the cell phone radiation decreases dramatically but will be very strong at close distances, such as in a waiting room at the hospital.

    Ever hold a cell phone (not all do this) near a speaker and get blasted by loud buzzing noises? Notice that the speaker is fine when you move the cell phone away, say, 5 feet.

  • by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:21AM (#20538213) Homepage Journal
    Oh, dude's not alone. I'd much rather have hospital equipment designed such that it doesn't malfunction in the presence of a cell phone, than I would rely on the adroit and vigilant shepherding of electronic gadgets by worried family and friends who come to visit me in hospital. In this situation you fix the problem in the place where it's relatively easy to fix in a reliable way (i.e. by shielding the electronic gear from other signals at manufacturing time) rather in than in a zillion places (random heads of random unpredictable people) which are, every single one of them, prone to human error.

    Since you seem so inclined, I suggest you instead thank the gods that these decisions are not up to you. The fact that other people make them might save your life one day.
  • 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 Larry Lightbulb (781175) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:41AM (#20538535)
    Usually I remove the sim and get a local pay-as-you-go sim so I can use the phone wherever I am.
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:44AM (#20538581)
    None, I'd say. No more than any other cellular device. That one watt of output is in the gigahertz range, and is easily filtered considering that most biometric inputs are a few hertz tops. The truth is that hospital equipment is well-protected against such interference, because the legal liabilities in the event of failure are so high. That's the reason hospitals get so bent out of shape: the actual risk of using a cell phone in a hospital is very low but they figure it's just safer (from a legal perspective) to ban the things. That way if it turns out there was a problem with a particular piece of biomedical equipment they've got their asses covered.
  • Re:Surfing the Med (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:48AM (#20538667) Homepage
    So the question is (I don't have an iphone), is there an easy way to enable/disable the automatic email checking? This is the real problem.
  • Re:Soo.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thegnu (557446) <thegnu@gma i l . com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:57AM (#20538825) Journal

    So you are saying the networks we got here in EU are untested running on non standard stuff?

    No, I'm saying the Apple didn't test it on EU networks, possibly. Plus, billing is done differently by different companies. And if the way Apple and AT&T handled dropped connections (oh, data's free, it's not a problem) doesn't apply to EU networks, then they would possibly conflict. Also, if Apple and AT&T worked on a non-ubiquitous way of handling errors, then it would make sense (judging from its non-ubiquitousness) that not everyone would implement the same methodology.

    Looky:

    1. Newcomer to cell phone market makes a cell phone
    2. Tons of people say it's hard making cell phones, that they have no faith in the newcomer
    3. The newcomer does very well, and there are no problems
    4. Woops, the newcomer just charged someone $4800 for no good reason

    Also, didn't Apple say that one of the reasons to stick with network lockdown is to not have to support various networks?
  • Re:ihpones (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bieeanda (961632) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:58AM (#20538843)
    Fourteen pages into a 120-page manual, for a simple, vital command. Jesus, even my iPod Shuffle came with a quick reference sheet the size of a playing card.
  • by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:35AM (#20539451)

    It shouldn't cost that much to use your iPhone anywhere in the world at this point. Those rates are "rape and pillage" rates and phone companies will need to fix that by coming up with more reasonable roaming policies and prices.
    What? Why would they change their pricing? They just figured out a way to bilk people for more money when they aren't even using their phone! brilliant!

    Sure, there were a handful of geek Treo users who checked email and surfed web pages every day, but they probably turned their paper-bills off after the first big one and moved on, problem "solved" for them because they really were gadget geeks.
    Well, I don't know how different AT&T's billing is from Verizon's but we have about 10-15 users on Treos that have their e-mail pushed down from Exchange to them and that surf the Internet. I've seen our bills and they're only a few pages. Every e-mail that comes to them (some get 50+ a day easily) goes to their phone, yet we still don't have endless bills. The bill for our entire company's set of cell phones, wireless data cards for laptops and regular phone lines combined adds up to the same number of pages that some of these people have been getting for ONE phone. I'd be interested to know why iPhone / AT&T chose to go the route they did. It's obviously related either to the way iPhone does data transfers, the way AT&T tracks them, or both.
  • Re:Off means off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by B1 (86803) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:37AM (#20539489)
    In fact, I'm even told that if your phone rings for an incoming call, that's enough for you to get roaming charges (even if you don't answer it). Supposedly you can avoid that by forwarding incoming calls directly to voicemail.

    BTW, you don't want to roam internationally, at least, not without an expense account.

    I remember one year I took a week's vacation in Ireland, and took my GSM phone with me. One day I was walking back to the hotel and the phone rang -- one of our customers was calling me directly, rather than use our central tech support line. It's bad enough to take direct customer calls on your personal cell phone (because the customer hasn't updated their contact info). It's even worse when that happens while you're roaming internationally.

    The upshot is that I answered reflexively, before I realized what the call was going to cost. I hung up immediately as soon as I made that realization--the call must have been less than a second or two. That was still good enough to bill for a complete call, rounded up to a minute of airtime.

    That second or two of airtime cost me $3.00 on my bill.

    No, they didn't buy me dinner first.
  • by IndieKid (1061106) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:52AM (#20539809) Journal
    As stated elsewhere in the comments, it is configurable and the automatic e-mail check is off by default. These guys turned it on, went on holiday and forgot to turn it off, resulting in a big bill.

    Seems like the real option that's needed is a 'don't make data calls on a foreign network' option.
  • by michael.j.jarvis (969145) on Monday September 10, 2007 @11:55AM (#20539889)
    I just traveled to Germany and France several weeks ago for family reasons. Needless to say I called ahead of time to AT&T and had an international plan placed on my account, and they advised me of several things which they do to all customers traveling abroad. 1) You will accrue charges if someone leaves a voicemail while your phone is on. 2) You will accrue charges for using the data (email, sms, etc) 3) If you want to avoid charges, keep your phone OFF, or turn off TD/RD. Standby will not stop charges from accruing. 4) I have a BlackBerry 8100, and sad to say my service in Europe was amazing. I got back to Boston, and standing in Logan Airport to see 1 bar of service almost made me cry. So the lesson to learn is to follow the old adage: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
  • Re:Off means off (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phoenixwade (997892) on Monday September 10, 2007 @12:03PM (#20540001)

    ...and to hell with those pesky laws of physics!


    Say you have an ECG machine. It's hooked up via sticky contact pads to your chest and is measuring the delicate flickerings of life in your body. It's doing this because it's trying to spot the *tiny* irregularities that could indicate Bad Things.
    You can't magically design a machine that's picking up miniscule electrical currents like this and have it unaffected when some idiot brings in a portable radio transceiver and cranks it up nearby while they tell their wife what they want for dinner.
    As I type, I'm within 30 feet of a ward full of such machines, and maybe a couple of hundred yards from the EEG devices that measure the brain's electrical activity. As we're testing today, I can wave my phone around and I can watch the interference it causes on the data being captured. Even when I'm not talking on the phone, it's checking in with the nearest base station periodically, and I can see that screwing the traces too. It's not causing those machines to break: but it's fvcking up the data that they're capturing - and that data is being captured as it's for diagnostic purposes. Screwing this up could have really bad consequences for someone.


    This is not rocket science.

    First, no it's not rocket science, and it's not magic. It's a problem in electrical engineering.

    Second, I have a different definition of "broken" than you do. By my definition a machine is "broken" when it does not accomplish the task it is designed for. In this case, a machine that is designed for data acquisition is broken when it reports null or spurious results when connected to the patient. So, if a cell phone causes null or spurious results, then the cell phone breaks the machine.

    Third, the reality is that the cell phone WILL be in the environment. Whether by intention or by accident, the phone will be there on a fairly regular basis. Ether someone will forget the ban, forget they have the phone, or both, or someone asserts their "Rights" to their cell phone (however bogus those rights might be) or simple is selfish enough to think their convenience supersedes any "rules" a hospital puts in place.

    And Finally, There are manufacturers who have already engineered around the problem with ECG's. Since it has been done, then it obviously can be done. I can point out a multiple examples of equipment that functions correctly around cellphones, some even require them to operate, like this machine that uses a cellphone to transmit ECG data [medicalnewstoday.com], but it's one of those situations where someone is talking out of their butt without thinking it through, your limited experience does not translate into an impossibility. If you thought it through, you'd have realized that there are a number of data collecting medical devices out there that are used outside of the hospital, in particular I'm thinking of ECGS carried by EMT's or Paramedics, and the built in ECGs that are a part of the ADF equipment (some of which actually have a cell phone included in the cabinet designed to dial 911 when powered on.) They will, most assuredly, be in high-cell phone use environments (for example, at an accident scene with a number of onlookers using their phones to document and talk about the accident, as rubberneckers are wont to do)

    Basically, If your machines are broken, then you need to change manufacturers. You are, as you pointed out, unnecessarily risking lives. If your place of business is in the US, considering the current litigious environment in the US, as it applies to health care, in particular. You are begging for a huge wrongful death, malpractice type lawsuit.

    I don't agree that this is the way it should be, but it IS the way things are.

  • by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Monday September 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#20540497) Homepage Journal
    There is no reason to believe that the Verizon billing system ever had this particular issue. However, if it did, its very likely that Verizon would have solved these problems a couple years ago when they started rolling our their EVDO network. At that time the early adopter EVDO customers were laptop users who did use the service to surf the web and send/receive email extensively. Of course, there is also no reason to suspect that the AT&T billing system had this issue.

    Regarding bad press, I'd say there has been plenty of bad press about both of these iPhone issues. I was merely pondering why these issues only showed up with the iPhone, when in point of fact, AT&T have sold several million WIndows Mobile and other devices that, in theory, offer their users the same services. If those users had been, oh, routinely using the data access features to surf the web and so forth they would have seen 300 page bills and the problem would have been fixed ages ago. Clearly it wasn't. I find that interesting. I think we'll see a few more of these types of issues crop up as the iPhone population grows, but also as other new phones come on the market which make it easier for people to actually use these network services.
  • Re:Off means off (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neoform (551705) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:12PM (#20541067) Homepage
    Does that option tell you that it's going to check even if the phone is "off"? (asking because i don't have an iphone)
  • Re:Off means off (Score:4, Interesting)

    by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75.yahoo@com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:38PM (#20541591)
    The bigger problem here involves insurance, not the devices themselves. Cell phones don't kill people in hospitals, or crash airplanes, or magically blow up at gas stations. But because we have a one-in-a-million chance of something happening, which under the worst of situations could hypothetically cause a death/crash/fire, we have insulting signs all over the place warning us to turn off the phone.

    Apparently you missed this [reuters.com].

    It's not nearly as rare as "one-in-a-million" - it's more like "one-in-one-point-two" (50 out of 61 cases tested), provided the network being used is GPRS-based. That's pretty damn significant. And these were life-threatening cases of interference, including ventilators being switched off and pacemakers running at the wrong rhythm.

    Even if you're not using GPRS, it's not a hospital's job to go around testing different cell phone networks to see if they interfere with their equipment. Their job is to save lives, not test cell phone equipment. And to that end, I would certainly hope that they would require that all devices potentially able to disrupt hospital equipment to be switched off, regardless of whether or not you're "insulted" by the signs. Your personal feelings are not worth a hill of beans next to somebody's life.
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:41PM (#20542525)

    It's the only possible scenario since when you actually power the phone off, it's completely off.

    Unfortunately, that isn't true. Another possible scenario is that the users (if you follow the article links, quite a few people have now been had by this one) did something they thought would switch off their phones, but in fact didn't, and then they couldn't tell the difference. And as I've said throughout this discussion, the latter is a serious usability flaw, given the potential consequences of the mistake.

  • by kcarlin (99704) * on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:31PM (#20543391) Homepage Journal
    Of course, those of us using phones that get snarky about shutting down, like my Blackberry, usually can solve the problem by popping the battery. The "off" button on my 7130e is a sleep button that leaves the antenna powered and wakes automatically when there is a call. To save power overnight one has to turn off the antenna and then put the phone to sleep, or just pull the battery. On occasion, the antenna power down stalls and never completes. Failure to turn off the antenna results in a serious overnight drain on the battery many nights, so the battery being removable is an important feature to me.

    Steve's insistence on non-removable batteries in the smaller electronics has kept me from considering those products. A multi-day denial of service to change batteries while Apple does the job for me and the inability to take spare batteries on the road or extend the life of an older battery as a spare is simply unacceptable.

    As for the "new" AT&T, this is business as usual for them. I had a pager with Cellular One, which they transparently provisioned through SBC. Then, a couple of years later they stopped providing the pager service but didn't tell me until I brought the pager in to get it fixed because I wasn't getting my pages. They said that had to buy a new phone and sign a new, pricier contract if I wanted the features they'd dropped. So I passed and kept an eye out for a better deal. About two years after that, SBC started billing me for pager services that Cellular One, now Cingular, hadn't been providing me for quite awhile. When I called Cingular to get it straightened out, the supervisor I spoke to told me I was an idiot, in those words, for calling him and not SBC. I pointed out that it was Cingular that had lied to SBC while selling them closed accounts and he hung up. I had a new phone with a new provider 12 hours later, and will not be doing business with the "new" AT&T aka Cingular & SBC & the old AT&T & some others that I misplaced somewhere.

    The phone was also useless outside the country because of roaming charges resembling college tuition bills, but I remembered 1990 when these same telcos sold 800 numbers for use as pay calling instead of free calling and the usual suspects circulated free prize announcements and other lures at the other end of 800 numbers that consumers expected would be toll free, and instead got stuck for the message fee "$1-10" per minute depending on the scam, as I recall. This continued long after the 900 series numbers for pay calls began.

    So, Steve, to summarize, I need a removable battery and a phone company that knows its whatsits from a hole in the ground and hasn't made my list of pillage artists. Best of luck on that last one. Oh, and I'm watching whose security oddities verrrry closely as well and I don't care if a removeable battery costs me a little in thickness.
  • by antek9 (305362) on Monday September 10, 2007 @08:01PM (#20546653)
    Nobody said they got 4800$ worth of emails. The bill would likely be within the same range if the users only received three emails all in all during that time. The traffic that caused the excessive billing was the iPhones' polling the mail servers 24/7. The roaming services likely charged something like 50 cents per connection, plus some per kilobyte rate. Let's say the iPhone polls once every 5 minutes. That adds up to (for 3 iPhones) 1.50$ twelve times an hour, or 18$/h. Which already puts it at >3000$ a week, so I overestimated my numbers. On the other hand, 25 cents per data exchange doesn't sound awfully expensive if it's from overseas, I figure.

    Conclusion: The numbers do even more suggest that AT&T and Apple are at fault for not taking roaming costs into account. Considering the mobility people enjoy nowadays, even Apple users, this is just pure ignorance, plain and simple. You don't need more than a small IF or CASE statement that goes something like: IF (network.id="AT$T") THEN poll() ELSE idle(); to prevent this mess from happening.
  • by Sancho (17056) on Monday September 10, 2007 @08:35PM (#20547007) Homepage
    I do, but I don't think that Apple did anything wrong in this case. Really, it's the price gouging that I have a problem with.

    The only thing Apple really could have done was become more intrusive when the phone uses data. A Vista-like "Are you sure you want to check your mail?" every time would have prevented this. Doing so while roaming might even be a sane default.

    But realistically, the default settings of the iPhone do not cause this behavior. This guy turned on background e-mail checking, then forgot or didn't know how to turn off his iPhone (which means that he didn't read the manual that came with it.) He holds the most culpabililty by far.

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