Edit (11/23): As an update (hopefully the last update!) T-Mobile has apparently realized that they screwed up on this one, and reversed their position. They issued a press release saying they will disable PPU data for customers who didn’t request it, and reverse the mystery charges accrued during the time PPU data was active: http://www.tmonews.com/2011/11/t-mobile-backpedals-will-offer-credits-for-unauthorized-pay-per-use-data-use/
As an update to the T-Mobile mystery-data charge scam, a growing number of T-Mobile customers seem to be noticing this and complaining about it. Apparently the change happened around mid-September and it has taken /is taking some time to fully kick in (perhaps so that the complaints are staggered rather than all at once?) Here are a few more related threads in the support forums:
And another article with some commentary at the end: http://www.tmonews.com/2011/08/t-mobile-to-add-pay-per-use-data-to-all-smartphone-accounts-on-september-15th/
Edit: And yet another blog entry and comments: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/cell-phones/warning-t-mobile-adding-pay-per-use-data-without-your-permission/6859
On this thread, someone named Adam who apparently represents T-Mobile tries to explain this new “feature” away as a great benefit, which I felt compelled to respond to. I’ve pasted his message and my response below.
125 posts since Oct 24, 2011
Re: Patterns of Extra Charges by T-Mobile coinciding with their $$$ Problems
I’m sorry you are having some concerns with your billing. It is certainly the last thing T-Mobile wants to see happen to it’s valuable customers. I assure you this is not being done to obtain revenue in unethical ways. Rather, T-Mobile is simply tapping opportunities it has not in the past to provide a better data experience for it’s customer base. By adding the data access to lines that did not have it, we open up the Internet to those who may not have been taking advantage of the vast features on their devices. Additionally, the charges are not “bogus” as you say. All data access is accurate based on the functions your device performs. As for the varying responses you are receiving regarding how to stop this or block it, I do apologize. T-Mobile does have a way to block Pay Per Use data and to prevent addition of additional features via the web and the device. If this is something you still need assistance with, I encourage you to contact customer care or our live chat team for additional guidance.
And my response below (I can only hope this actually gets read by some kind of T-Mobile related humanoid organism, rather than filed under “mulch” and ignored. I should look up some internal T-mobile contact information and forward some of this to them as well).
Adam, you say there is a way to prevent features from being added via the web and the device, is there a way to prevent features from being added by customer service / T-Mobile employees? When I became a T-mobile customer, I chose a very specific set of features, with known, up-front costs. If I had wanted data access, I would have chosen it. Yes, my phone is capable of vast features and abilities. I don’t necessarily want to use them all. That’s why I didn’t request those features. My car also has a lot of features that I don’t use, but I don’t go in to get my oil changed expecting to have a spoiler and spinning rims added just on the off chance I might want them. I did not become a customer so that your company could arbitrarily add services and costs to my account without my permission, just in case I might want them. Is there an option I can check on my account that will block any and all changes made without my express permission?
Frankly, your statement that “adding data access to lines that did not have it”, just in case we “may not be taking advantage of it” strikes me as irresponsible and unethical. Many of your customers are not taking advantage of this for a reason. How many of your customers are unaware of the implications of this “feature”? How many are senior citizens or others with limited technical skills? How many are children or young adults with no financial awareness? How many are simply general users with common apps designed to make frequent data use? How many people simple do not want, and do not use, data access? Judging by the outcry on these support forums, which is likely a small percentage of your more tech-savvy users, I would say a large number of people are unhappy about this and feel cheated by T-mobile’s actions.
It looks like a lot of these bogus charges are simply common apps “pinging” or phoning home, or serving ads. Most users without data plans will not know or care that apps want data access. I have a Masters degree in Computer Science, and I don’t even know what apps are doing in the background. By turning on internet access for everyone, those kids, seniors, and anyone with any apps installed will suddenly be racking up bills without their knowledge. Did you pay attention when Verizon got sued for this very issue, and was forced to pay refunds?
Additionally, the “other option” of adding a data plan to “erase” the PPU overage charges smacks of extortion. I can add a data plan, or I can be billed for services I didn’t use. I believe the Mafia has a business plan like that, and offers vast features which I may not have been aware of, like not having my shop burned down.
You say that activating PPU internet for everyone is a “feature”, and somehow adds value, but I can’t see it as anything but a scam and an unethical way to generate revenue. Combined with your company’s apparent financial instability, it looks like a last-ditch effort to add cash flow with outdated business models, rather than adapting to modern realities. People don’t want to pay overpriced rates for data. Wifi is everywhere, apps are free, and the savvy consumers know it. You may be able to trick the non-savvy people into paying these mystery data bills, or extort them into switching to data plans, but your younger, more tech-aware users are going to leave you. This feature and action you are defending is a mistake, and only leads me to believe I should switch carriers now before T-mobile goes bankrupt.
Back to the blog rant. To highlight the cost of this, I got $17 in charges over two days, much of which time my phone was turned off. Whether this is “pinging” from apps, or something else, it was not data I was personally using or requesting. A month of such charges would be $255, with no associated services rendered to me as the user. I won’t know until my next bill whether the call center rep reversed the charges, but I caught it in time to at least minimize the damage. I’m sure there are people out there who won’t notice this until it’s in the hundreds or more range (with a nice easy “out” offered by customer service: “just sign up for a data plan and we’ll make those nasty data overages go away”). I have to assume that T-mobile was aware of the pinging issue and the potential revenue from charging for those pings. Apparently it was just too much to pass up.
Update: Here is a list of internal T-Mobile contact numbers and emails (from 2009, who knows if they’re still valid now).