Wednesday, September 12, 2007

iPhone Horror Story, Take 17

Overseas Data Roaming Charges $3,000-$4,800

People traveling overseas with their iPhones are being hit with enormous unexpected charges from AT&T, Apple's exclusive service provider.

The iPhone constantly checks back and forth for data. Has an email come in? Is there any voice mail waiting? Is there anything out there you've asked for I need transfer?

All this data transmission takes place in the background transparently and if you're overseas and haven't either:

a) turned off data roaming,

b) an AT&T unlimited global data plan, a $24.99-a-month option which

c) Apple/AT&T customers wouldn't know to do or sign up for respectively

then you're pretty much hosed. And by "pretty much hosed" I mean you're screwed:

Chicago Tribune

Jay Levy and his family took their iPhones on a Mediterranean cruise. Now the Hewlett Harbor entrepreneur feels as if he got taken for a ride, receiving a 54-page monthly bill of nearly $4,800 from AT&T Wireless.

While Levy, his wife and his daughter were enjoying the trip, and even while they were sleeping, their three iPhones were racking up a bill for data charges. The iPhone regularly updates e-mail, even while it's off, so that all the messages will be available when the user turns it on.

"They have periodic updates on their data files, and they translate into megabucks," Levy said. "This is akin to your bank having automatic access to your ATM machine and is siphoning money out during all times of the day and night without your knowledge."

Herbert Kliegerman, 68, a real-estate agent from the Bronx, said he incurred $2,000 while visiting Mexico. He filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status in New York State Supreme Court last week, alleging that Apple did not properly disclose the international roaming charges.

AT&T Wireless offered to refund $1,500 to Kliegerman, but he said that's not good enough. "I want a full refund," he said.

Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said the company adequately discloses the potential charges on the Web site and when the phone is activated.

The 6,707-word terms and conditions document on the AT&T Web site says: "Substantial charges may be incurred if phone is taken out of the U.S. even if no services are intentionally used."

Kliegerman said said most people don't read the lengthy terms and conditions. Furthermore, the rate plans listed on the site indicate "unlimited data (Email/Web)," without an asterisk. He said that's misleading.

Kliegerman's lawyer, Randall S. Newman of Manhattan, said about 15 people from around the country have called him complaining of international roaming charges and the inability to unlock the phone to use it with another carrier.

Apple hasn't yet released the iPhone abroad. Levy said he didn't expect data transfer charges internationally because he believed the data network in Europe wasn't compatible with the iPhone. The Levys brought their phones with them for voice calls.
NY Times

“I can’t imagine AT&T would expect all their customers to be technicians and say, ‘O.K., if I go to use Google maps, how many kilobytes am I transferring?’ ” asked Mr. Stolte, a Web designer who lives in Temecula, Calif.

In July, Aaron Oxley took his iPhone with him to London, Dubai and Bangkok. Mr. Oxley said in an e-mail message that he was aware that there would be international roaming data charges, so he always made sure he was in an area with free Wi-Fi when he used his iPhone to access the Internet. But when Mr. Oxley’s AT&T bill arrived, the data charges totaled $300.

When Mr. Oxley called AT&T, he was told that even though he was using Wi-Fi, there was still a data transfer charge.

Indeed, according to Mr. Smith, the AT&T representative, iPhone owners are not charged for Wi-Fi connections. Mr. Oxley eventually received a full refund for the $300 roaming data charge.

Mr. Dingman said it didn’t occur to him to disable the e-mail feature. AT&T eventually reversed the charges, but only after Mr. Dingman signed up for a $24.99-a-month global data plan.

AT&T is not automatically crediting customers for such charges. Mr. Smith said that each complaint is being evaluated case by case.
Point the first. AT&T has screwed up. The plan advertised in the U.S. is all you can eat data, no asterisk.

Contracts of adhesion are bullshit. You've not negotiated anything, they're completely one sided, and in most cases there's even a line about how they can be changed simply by the issuing company posting a change on their website. That isn't a contract. It's a party in your wallet.

Fortunately the courts are starting to agree, even the Republican judges, since such nonsense flies in the face of their thrown way of thinking about finance. Which is nice, since it violates our thrown way of what's fair and just as well. Good times. But not in every court and most big companies still put in silly boilerplate notices.

Point the second. Customer Service has one purpose and one purpose only. Making sure the customer (actually everyone) says to herself after every interaction: "Wow. They really took care of me."

That's the opposite of what AT&T is doing here. Fools.

They're literally generating a PR disaster by refusing to fix their original fuck up. Bad customer service damaging one of the world's great designs, which hurts the Apple brand.

Point the third. The partnership with AT&T is damaging Apple's brand. Apple handled its own sales initially with the iPod which meant it could handle problems personally. When it screwed up, it fixed it. Just like Steve stepped in last week and gave all early iPhone owners $100 back due to the price cut on the new iPhone. Did he have to? No. But even without everyone all pissed off, it was the right thing to do so Jobs did it. Customer service.

AT&T doesn't grasp customer service from my ass. It used to. I had AT&T long distance precisely because their operators were polite and took care of me better than the other ones. Was worth it to me to pay a touch more. No longer.

In the name of cost-cutting AT&T has sacked being polite and making sure people are taken care of. Now they don't give a damn.

Which is why they haven't fixed this problem and each case is still being evaluated individually. While AT&T sits around with their thumb up their ass, people like me slam them in the press, Apple's brand gets hurt, and people who might have bought an iPhone go buy something else.

I hope that class action take them for a bundle.

In the meantime y'all, if you travel overseas with your iPhone (Canada, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii?), make sure you sign up for the unlimited global data plan.