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Windows Phone 7 Phantom Data Mystery Solved?

During January 2011, Microsoft received complaints that some handsets running Windows Phone 7 software had been receiving and sending “phantom data.” This was a serious issue, as customers were being charged by their phone service providers for these data transfers.

Initially, US-based customers using Windows Phone 7 reported having as much as 50 MB of data being sent over 3G networks, which caused them to exceed their monthly data plans and were subsequently penalized for it. Customers reported that the mobile operating system sent between 30 and 50 MB of unidentified data each day while their phones were active, and between 2 and 5 MB of data while idle. At these rates, the phantom data transfers would eat into a 1 GB data limit within 20 days.

One complainant on Paul Thurrott’s Windows supersite wrote, “I received an e-mail from AT&T saying that I was close to my 2GB data limit which truly shocked me as I feel I do not use data that much. I went and looked at my AT&T account online and noticed that my phone was sending huge chunks of data seemingly in patterns.”

Third Party to Blame

By January 19, 2011, Microsoft claimed it had identified the cause of the problem.

In response to questions by the Seattle Post Intelligencer, a Microsoft spokesperson said:

We have determined that a third-party solution commonly accessed from Windows Phones is configured in a manner that potentially causes larger than expected data downloads. We are in contact with the third party to assist them in making the necessary fixes, and are also pursuing potential workarounds to address the configuration issue in case those are needed. At this point in our investigation, we believe this is responsible for most of the reported incidents.

We are investigating additional potential root causes for the remainder of the reports.

A small (low single-digit) percentage of Windows Phone customers have reported being affected.

We are continuing to investigate this issue and will update with additional information and guidance as it becomes available.

Microsoft did not identify the party responsible. Until the identity of the third party has been determined, users are encouraged to disable any location services and manually check their email, rather than leaving any automatic updates active.

What is Windows Phone 7?

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 rivals Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and other mobile operating systems. It was launched in October and November 2010 in Europe, North America, Australia and parts of Asia. Microsoft intends to release Windows Phone 7 across Asia during 2011. The operating system is based on a new user interface with a design language referred to as Metro, which integrates the OS with other services offered by Microsoft and third parties.

Other Cases

This is not the first time phantom data has created problems for mobile phone users. During June 2010, large numbers of iPhone users across the US and UK reported that up to 60 MB of data were being transferred from their phones during early morning hours when the phones were not in use. The data was made up of the iPhone’s push notifications and other small data transfers that were added up and sent to service providers while the phones were inoperative. As a result, telecom provider AT&T had refunded a small number of clients who pointed out this anomaly.

In October 2010, Verizon announced that it was going to refund between $2 and $6 per customer for anomalous charges incurred as a result of phantom data. Its official statement read:

As we reviewed customer accounts, we discovered that over the past several years approximately 15 million customers who did not have data plans were billed for data sessions on their phones that they did not initiate. These customers would normally have been billed at the standard rate of $1.99 per megabyte for any data they chose to access from their phones. The majority of the data sessions involved minor data exchanges caused by software built into their phones; others included accessing certain web links, which should not have incurred charges. We have addressed these issues to avoid unintended data charges in the future.

Such refunded charges may total over $50 million and are a result of investigations conducted by the Federal Communications Commission for unauthorized or misleading charges on phone bills.

Summary

This article takes a look at recent reports about phantom data transfers on mobile phones running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system. Since the release of the OS in late 2010, users have noticed phantom data transfers of up to 50 MB of data daily. Microsoft has since attributed this anomaly to a third party service provider which has yet to be named. This is not the first time phantom data has incurred charges for customers. The article briefly introduces other similar cases involving Verizon, AT&T and Apple’s iPhone.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy Concerns – Consumer Perspective (II.A.a.)
  • Collections and/or Transfers of Data (IV.C.i.3.; IV.C.ii.5.)
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1 comment to Windows Phone 7 Phantom Data Mystery Solved?

  • The Technobon

    Well windows phone 8 did solve many of the previous issues and its getting better every year. Nokia Lumia series is quite imresssive.

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