A family in San Jose, California, was charged $13,470.19 by T-Mobile for international roaming fees despite all devices having been put on airplane mode for the duration of their visit. And while there’s a good ending to this story, it still provides cause for concern.

KGO-TV reports that even though that was the case, it was teenager Nicholas Chung that inadvertently caused by playing a chess game on his iPhone that could be played offline and did not use data. Somehow, Chung was able to rack up 900MB for half an hour’s worth of play time on an airplane above Vietnam with airplane mode.

The station’s reporter suggests that even with airplane mode on, it is possible that the game Chung was playing could have been privileged to use cellular data to operate in the background and update either the app itself or the ads being served. And because T-Mobile did not have a roaming agreement with any Vietnam carrier at the time of the trip (it only recently re-introduced roaming coverage for the country), the rates were sky high.

When the family first appealed the charges with T-Mobile, the carrier only agreed to reduce the fee to $3,800. After the media inquiry into the matter, the full charge was wiped out.

This is far from the first time overages have mysteriously popped up. And while we would think that turning on airplane mode would be sufficient enough to stop background data operations, we likely won’t have all the facts in the case to come to a conclusion.

iPhone users who want to prevent certain apps from sipping data in the background can go to their settings, hit the Cellular Data header and select the apps they wish to turn off. Android users can head to their app settings and select “restrict background data” in the subsequent menu.




Jules Wang is News Editor for Pocketnow and one of the hosts of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast. He came onto the team in 2014 as an intern editing and producing videos and the podcast while he was studying journalism at Emerson College. He graduated the year after and entered into his current position at Pocketnow, full-time.

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