US$6.3 billion wasted in 2015: Smartphone users in China being charged for data-gobbling apps they think aren’t running

In many cases, the downloaded apps keep chewing up data overnight unbeknownst to users.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 8:14pm

Smartphone users in China are projected to have spent a whopping 40 billion yuan (US$6.26 billion) this year for data chewed up by fast-running mobile apps they have downloaded on their smartphones that are still running without them realising it, state-run Xinhua news agency reported this week.

Chinese media have reported on a growing number of cases on the mainland. In the latest case last week in Wuhan, Hubei province, a woman was charged 1,000 yuan by China Telecom, one of China’s big three mobile network operators, after an app gobbled up 53 gigabytes of mobile data in just a few hours without the user’s knowledge or consent, according to Xinhua.

The woman claimed she had not touched her phone during that time period and refused to pay, the report said.

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She asked the carrier to clarify which apps were devouring her mobile data, but in the end the network operator declined and exempted her from the charge.

There has been a spike in reports of such cases since last month, when China released a new policy to allow unused data from individual data plans to be carried over to the next month.

While the new regulation is bound to eat into mobile network operators’ revenue, it has come from the upper echelons of power in China and is part of the country’s ongoing programme of boosting its internet economy.

Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang said mobile network providers should aim to increase speeds for urban users by 40 per cent and also cut service fees.

“China is the world’s biggest mobile phone market, but internet speeds are ranked worse than 80th in the world. Our information infrastructure is backward,” a frustrated Li said at a conference last week.

Under the current business mode, app operators could share profits with China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. The more data people use, the more income the apps could share with the mobile network operators.

According to a report released by Chinese security software giant Qihoo 360, the “malicious” use of people’s mobile data services has now become an illegal industry in its own right in China, which has large reservoirs of people able to design malware.

After installing these apps, Chinese users often consume more data than they bargained for. For example, they may not use the app overnight while sleeping and believe it is also hibernating, when in fact it is considering to function.

Qihoo 360 claims to have over half a billion people in mainland China using its security software on their phones.

It said that malware eats up about 2.33 megabytes of mobile data every day on average for each smartphone user in China. This equates to about 40 billion yuan a year of wasted data that consumers are paying for on the mainland alone.

Consumers in other countries and territories may suffer less due to unrestricted data plans, making them less bothered about data wastage, or due to a more pervasive culture of downloading programmes to cut out such data wastage and not give malware as much breathing room.

So far, none of the biggest mobile network operators have come forwarded with an official comment on the issue.

In October, smartphone users in China consumed 361 megabytes of data a month on average, almost double the rate (192MB) for the same month last year, according to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

China now has over 630 million smartphone users and a total of 4 million apps available to be downloaded from various app stores allowed in the country, according to local media reports.