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Nasty iPhone bug chewing through data plans: What you need to know

iphone data bug
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A bug in iOS 13.3 is racking up massive data usage behind the scenes on some users' iPhones, and nobody knows why. Worse yet, Apple doesn't seem to have a fix prepared.

The problem was brought to light by Forbes' Gordon Kelly, who compiled multiple reports from various users about the bug from the iOS subreddit. While it's not clear why iPhones on the latest software are using so much data in the background, the data expended appears to be reflected in the uninstalled apps tally within iOS' cellular data settings.

For some users, uninstalled apps data usage is ticking obscene numbers; one reported 1.2GB only minutes after resetting the data counter, while another provided a screenshot showing 579MB. And it's not just the illusion that data is being used, either. Several people noted that they were hitting their carriers' imposed data limits way quicker in their billing cycle than normal. A Verizon customer said that the bulk of the data was categorized as audio and video streaming.

The purpose of the uninstalled apps data counter is to record the amount of data utilized by a given app that is no longer on the device during a billing cycle. Say you've downloaded Snapchat, used 100MB and then deleted it from your phone; iOS will attribute that 100MB of data to an uninstalled app, at least until the next billing cycle begins.

(Image credit: User TiggrToo via MacRumors)

The problem with this particular bug is that we don't have enough information to know the origin of the data. It may be that uninstalled apps are still present on the device and running reckless in the background; it could also be that the data is being sent by a system service or another downloaded app, but for some reason gets funneled into the uninstalled count.

Furthermore, some individuals are only citing tens of megabytes, while others have watched the counter surpass hundreds. No one knows the cause, but nevertheless, the consequences have been dire for some — especially at a time when people need to rely on consistent internet service more than ever before.

Apple is aware of the issue and has been for weeks, according to some users who have contacted the company's support team. However, the beta for iOS 13.4, the next significant iOS update due to drop in the coming days, doesn't appear to address the issue, according to users who've installed that version. It's possible that could change before 13.4 is finalized, though it's too early to say.

Unfortunately, there's not much we can recommend you do if your iPhone has been afflicted by this mysterious data bug. Turning off mobile data may stop it, but then, of course, a phone without mobile data is about as useful as a brick. Gaining insight from your carrier and explaining the issue to them might be your best bet, so at the very least, they're aware the data use isn't intentional, and that this is a somewhat widespread issue. We'll update this story with any additional news that emerges.