November 21, 2014
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? NO, IT’S BILLSHOCK
Another day, another story of Billshock. However, this one is a little different: a Canadian man flying from London to Singapore last week accrued charges of $1,171 by using – or rather overusing – the airline’s WIFI.
There are of course two sides to the story. The WIFI provider, OnAir, claim that their usage and rate policies are absolutely clear, both before and during the data session. Certainly, it has never been easier to see what data you are using, with most devices featuring graphs that track usage in real time, and break down what types of data you have viewed. They also claimed that once the customer reached the end of his allotted 30MB, he was given a choice to end the session or continue at a higher rate. The customer, of course, has a different view. He claims that he was not using the WIFI too heavily, looked at maybe 150 pages and uploaded one small spreadsheet. It’s possible that he pressed the wrong button when his allocation ran out, and mistakenly chose to continue using data when in fact he was planning on going to sleep. The bottom line is that you always need to be aware of what you’re doing when you go online with your phone, so here’s a quick guide:
- Always read the small print – well, not all of it. After all, these things run as long or even longer than some of Shakespeare’s plays. But you should make sure you’re aware of all the charges and costs that you could incur. If there is a limit to the amount of data you are buying, make sure you know what that limit is, and adjust your browsing time accordingly.
- Be aware of what you are browsing – take a look at our handy chart, which breaks down how you can use an average data bundle. Pages comprised of just text and no images (such as emails) will cost you less than pages with images, which cost less than pages with videos, and so on. While this seems obvious and intuitive, it is not always as clear-cut. Take Facebook, for example. You could visit a Facebook page with the intention of just reading text, only to find that you are downloading videos as well. Check your phone’s settings to keep control of this.
- Check your apps – in the same way that websites may be doing more to your data allocation than you exepct, apps can also do the same. Push notifications, location services and automatic updates – these are all things that can accrue data charges without you even being aware that it is happening. You can find some great tips for taking control of your apps here.
- End your session when you are done – this sounds more obvious than you think. If you were using a laptop or PC, ending a data session is as simple as turning off your browser or computer. It’s not necessarily as simple with a smartphone, which usually stays on and may be doing other things in the background. Go to your handset’s settings screen and turn off mobile data to end the session with certainty.
- Ask yourself if you need to be online right now – this is less about being patronizing and more to do with awareness. The man in the story could easily have uploaded his spreadsheet either before or after he had landed. Most airports and hotels have WIFI facilities that were no doubt much cheaper than in-flight WIFI. After all, at 30,000 feet, you are not in a country but rather ‘international airspace’. This means that there are no designated providers and no cell towers. Companies providing data can charge whatever they want, and if stories like these are to be believed, they certainly will. If there’s the risk that you could go over your allocation and start using data at vastly inflated rates, consider whether it is worth the risk. It could mean the difference between $30 and $1,000.