Apple facing a lawsuit over the Wi-Fi assist feature

Apple is facing a class action lawsuit over a feature it has in the iOS 9, its operating system for iPhones and other mobile devices.

The feature, called “Wi-Fi assist”, analyses the strength of the local Wi-Fi network the device is connected to, and if the network is not strong enough, it switches to mobile data.

This could potentially mean higher bills for mobile data usage, especially because the feature is turned on by default, and because it isn’t always clear when it’s active. The only explicit acknowledgement is that the Wi-Fi logo in the top-right of the phone’s screen becomes greyed out.

According to a report by AppleInsider, a couple in California has launched a class-action lawsuit after receiving a fairly large mobile data bill. They say that Apple should reimburse affected customers.

The pair, William and Suzanne Phillips, believe that the total potential damage exceeds $5 million (£3.26m), because the feature is turned on by default.

After the initial complaints, Apple updated its website to make clear that users “may use more cellular data” when the feature is turned on, but that “this should only be a small percentage higher than previous usage”. The plaintiffs believe this is not enough. According to the lawsuit, it “still downplays the possible data overcharges a user could incur,” and that “reasonable and average consumers use their iPhones for streaming of music, videos, and running various applications – all of which can use significant data.”

Apple is charged with negligent misrepresentation and with breaching California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.