Operator Liability Versus Consumer Ignorance

emma lunn guardian article on o2 data roaming screenA piece in the Guardian yesterday concerning roaming data charges on O2 has me slightly confused. The author, Emma Lunn, claims she went abroad to Mexico in January, switching mobile data roaming off on her iPhone before leaving. However on her return she was faced with a data charge on her bill of £40 for mobile data charges.

The piece is intimating that other users have reported the same problem, and so therefore the fault lies with O2 and not the various users concerned. Lets ignore for a moment the possibility that these users didn’t switch the roaming data service off correctly, particularly one user who claims he did have it on briefly during his holiday but the charges were from a day when it was definitely off. Emma states that O2 mentioned a software bug in the Apple operating system (iOS) which was believed to cause roaming data to become enabled even when switched off, but that it was ‘previously’ fixed – however despite this, or the possibility of her own error, O2 is the one at fault.

I’ve done some research of my own on this, looking into some of the forum posts Emma clearly visited, and others. The statement:

emma lunn guardian article on o2 data roaming

is quite key. Yes, many of the customers were O2, but many were also from other networks, such as Vodafone (UK), and a few from the USA on the AT&T network. Its hard to legitimately pin a ‘phantom roaming‘ problem on a single network, when other networks are also experiencing it. Even though the majority of the complaints have been from o2 users, who have the highest number of iPhone users, customers from all of the major networks have been hit with the same problem. A Daily Mail article from last year points this out too:

emma lunn guardian article on o2 data roaming daily mail reference

If there was a bug in Apples iOS software (which they are hardly likely to admit) then again, this is the fault of Apple and not O2 or any other carrier. Apple likes to support its own products and aggressively handles product support in-house, so a user with an iPhone on O2 or Vodafone is more likely to deal with Apple than the carrier for all but the simplest problems. Apple iOS software updates come out frequently and ‘bug fixes’ is a very common note in the updates section!

No-one likes to come home to an unexpected bill, but the EU legislation put in place 1st July 2010 has imposed caps on data roaming, so now without explicitly opting into a higher cap, everyone is restricted 50Mb of roaming data, with a fixed fee of 50 euros (around £41.50) for it. Although with data roaming switched off no data charges should be incurred, if they are it seems clear to me that the fault is with the iPhone or it’s software not the networks. When a query is raised the networks can check records and see the dates and times data was accessed, and in what amounts, so it is rarely a billing error.

As a final word, the method I used to recommend to guarantee you couldn’t get any roaming charges accidentally was to simply edit the APN settings (the details that tell the phone how to access mobile data) making them  incorrect for the duration of your holiday and then set them back again when returning to the UK. However with the introduction of iOS4 you can no longer access and edit these details – they’re hidden! So unfortunately Apple is preventing a simple change that could of helped users suffering from their own bug.


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