Microsoft details Windows Phone 7's 'phantom data' issue

As previously reported here on Neowin last week, Microsoft launched an investigation into reports that its Windows Phone 7 operating system was sending and receving data without the knowledge or consent of the user.

Now BBC News is reporting that Microsoft has confirmed the issue and given some details about the root cause. Microsoft is initialy claiming that in most cases, a third party service is to blame, though they declined to actually name which service. Microsoft was also quick to add that they were still looking into other possible root causes. Currently Microsoft is still looking for potiential workarounds while work on a fix continues. They also claimed the issue only affects a "very small, single digit percentage of Windows Phone users"

Devices affected by this issue were consuming between 2 and 5MB of data per hour. The problem was initially discovered in late December of last year, when a user received an email from AT&T alerting them to the fact that they had almost reached their limit on data. In an email to Paul Thurrott's Windows Supersite she said:

"On December 22nd I received an email from AT&T saying that I was close to my 2GB data limit which truly shocked me as which truly shocked me as I feel I do not use data that much"

Microsoft has also admitted that not all of the reports of "phantom data usage" are the same issue, and that additional reseach in to the other issues was still ongoing.

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33 Comments

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I think it's a problem with the phone's OS. If the user has an active WiFi connection, no app should be allowed to pull data over 3G.

SkolVikings said,
I think it's a problem with the phone's OS. If the user has an active WiFi connection, no app should be allowed to pull data over 3G.

Sure, but tell that to content providers who refuse to allow their software to work over wifi (the first example I can think of is SprintTV). Though that's the most egregious example I can think of (and one I've never been able to wrap my mind around).

But as long as streaming content providers differentiate between different networks and delivery systems (Hulu is fine on a laptop with TV out, but not on a set-top box using the same internet?), the capability needs to be in the OS. MS can't exactly lock down 3G just because WiFi is enabled.

This seems like a small issue and almost expected on a Gen 1 product. It will be very interesting to see how this works out and who/what is to 'blame'

I have samsung Omnia, have feedback selected (to see if data use spiked) and its fine.

I also do not have a yahoo account.

This is also pointless.

Its single digit users, surely yahoo mail issue would create a larger percentage? maybe its if yahoo along with a certain setting and x application installed is the fault? (where x application is anything?) ummmmmmmm

It's too bad there's no data meter app or built-in monitor of any kind. It isn't in the interests of the telcos to tell you when or whether your pace of usage will exceed your plan until it's nearly too late. And while there seems to be good control over data usage, it would be even better if you could allow/disallow specific apps from using 3G; it would sure make it easier to troubleshoot the next app that eats too much data.

-e.

BrainSugar said,
It's too bad there's no data meter app or built-in monitor of any kind. It isn't in the interests of the telcos to tell you when or whether your pace of usage will exceed your plan until it's nearly too late.

AT&T has a data meter app. I'm not sure about the other companies, though.

It seems to me that the phone software should allow for a user to determine where the data is going. If Microsoft won't reveal which application might be responsible, how can customers find it themselves?

ewilts said,
It seems to me that the phone software should allow for a user to determine where the data is going. If Microsoft won't reveal which application might be responsible, how can customers find it themselves?

Microsoft Is just looking for someone to put the blame onto to saves themselves from bad PR

The Protagonist said,

Microsoft Is just looking for someone to put the blame onto to saves themselves from bad PR


Sure, if your world is a soap opera or cyberpunk novel.

It's only perhaps 400x more likely that it's a major partner's app and MS doesn't want to damage the developers' download rate (or create a surge in refund demands if it's a pay app).

But reality is just too boring for you, I guess.

The Protagonist said,

Microsoft Is just looking for someone to put the blame onto to saves themselves from bad PR


If Microsoft cannot prove thier claims That'd definetly be bad PR. However I think this is a third party issue .It's not highly wide spread so it cannot be a problem with the OS itself.

gawicks said,

If Microsoft cannot prove thier claims That'd definetly be bad PR. However I think this is a third party issue .It's not highly wide spread so it cannot be a problem with the OS itself.

From what I've read the majority has to do with Yahoo Mail accounts. So the blame is two fold in that the mail accounts are built into the OS and also Yahoo using too much data to send/recieve/push/download etc. However other people have stated it may have to do with the OS Feedback option when the send via cellular connection is checked. Side note, I own a Samsung Focus and have had no data issues, however I do not have a Yahoo Mail account setup nor do I have feedback enable on my cellular connection (wi-fi only).

Bertch said,

From what I've read the majority has to do with Yahoo Mail accounts. So the blame is two fold in that the mail accounts are built into the OS and also Yahoo using too much data to send/recieve/push/download etc. However other people have stated it may have to do with the OS Feedback option when the send via cellular connection is checked. Side note, I own a Samsung Focus and have had no data issues, however I do not have a Yahoo Mail account setup nor do I have feedback enable on my cellular connection (wi-fi only).

And that's the thing, I've read others say they have feedback on with no problems, and others said they have yahoo with no problem. The fact is that it doesn't seem to effect every WP7 user so it has to be some app/service not part of the core OS or everyone would be effected regardless. That's how it looks to me anyways and I also agree that they don't want to name names if it's a close partner that's at the root of most of these problems.

The Protagonist said,

Microsoft Is just looking for someone to put the blame onto to saves themselves from bad PR

Is this an admittance that when Apple blames NVidia for overheating issues, problems with touch pads from other companies, not their fault when their computers have screen problems, etc. it is just all PR spin?

GP007 said,

And that's the thing, I've read others say they have feedback on with no problems, and others said they have yahoo with no problem. The fact is that it doesn't seem to effect every WP7 user so it has to be some app/service not part of the core OS or everyone would be effected regardless. That's how it looks to me anyways and I also agree that they don't want to name names if it's a close partner that's at the root of most of these problems.

I have a HTC HD7 and I also have the "send feedback" option enabled but I do have not experienced any high usage. On the other hand I do not have a Yahoo account, I use Exchange, and I also do not use Facebook.

Said that I totally disagree with MS decision to not disclose the "presumed" faulty app:
Protect a partner while penalizing users affected by the issue and potentially exposing others to be affected is ethically wrong and a very stupid decison both by a business and a PR point of view. Furthermore with WP7 all apps have to be approved by MS before becoming available to the customers and this could exposes MS to the risk of being held accountable for the issue.

nohone said,

Is this an admittance that when Apple blames NVidia for overheating issues, problems with touch pads from other companies, not their fault when their computers have screen problems, etc. it is just all PR spin?

Apple and Microsoft are very different they way they deal with their partners. Apple puts everyone on blast: nVidia, Adobe, etc. Microsoft on the other hand doesn't so much and we find out the culprits usually from other sources. Plus, Microsoft is in no position to be calling out it's developers, especially since they're supposed to be the ones all developers with all their great tools.

why is the title saying that Microsoft 'details' windows phone 7 phantom data issue... when they didnt give any details about it?
they just 'confirmed' it...

carmatic said,
why is the title saying that Microsoft 'details' windows phone 7 phantom data issue... when they didnt give any details about it?
they just 'confirmed' it...

Details being that a third party service is to blame.

SharpGreen said,

Details being that a third party service is to blame.

Err... you mean that 3rd party services may be to blame. They are not sure yet.

shinji257 said,

Err... you mean that 3rd party services may be to blame. They are not sure yet.


From my source "Microsoft said its investigation found that most problems were caused by a unnamed "third party" service."

I don't know but it seems like to me they're pretty sure.

SharpGreen said,

Details being that a third party service is to blame.

If I walked into a history Exam and one of the questions was "detail the cause of the second world war" and my response was "A country started it" without even specifying which one, how do you think I'd score?

SharpGreen said,
Details being that a third party service is to blame.

They refuse to name the 3rd party service. Smacks of classic "blame everyone but us" PR to me.

Majesticmerc said,

They refuse to name the 3rd party service. Smacks of classic "blame everyone but us" PR to me.

It smacks of protecting a partner or developer and being sure of the issue.

Kushan said,
If I walked into a history Exam and one of the questions was "detail the cause of the second world war" and my response was "A country started it" without even specifying which one, how do you think I'd score?
And somehow this is akin to a history exam? This isn't the final response on the issue.

schubb2003 said,

It smacks of protecting a partner or developer and being sure of the issue.

Probably is one of the live tiles. A rogue weather app or something that's basically registering changes too frequently causing download after download after download of the tile. They probably have (a) gotten in touch with the developer and let them know about the issue to see if they can fix it on their end while (b) looking at the notification server to make it smarter so that it doesn't resend a live tile if there have been no real changes to it.

Kirkburn said,
And somehow this is akin to a history exam? This isn't the final response on the issue.

I like others, completely agreed with his analogy of how it was described. The key word is details, in which the article lacked in this area. It is like telling someone that a car over there rolled into a tree. I don't tell you where, when or why, but merely that it happened. We don't need an article to know that it happened, we already had one, why post another with no more information in it than what we already knew?

Amodin said,
We don't need an article to know that it happened, we already had one, why post another with no more information in it than what we already knew?
It is more info: we know it is a third party now, and that the issue has been confirmed, and that it affects a subset of users. All are new pieces of info.

schubb2003 said,
It smacks of protecting a partner or developer and being sure of the issue.

Surely Microsoft approved this service before it got loaded onto the phones? The fact that it can burn through someone's data usage in 20 days is pretty poor, and constitutes (a) a shoddy coding job from the 3rd party, and (b) an absence of the quality control that Microsoft were so keen to tell us all about for WP7.

Obviously the ultimate blame lands with the 3rd party service, but this press release serves only to distance Microsoft from the problem so as to avoid tainting the WP7 brand.

Seems like they have a big problem on hand. In this case is MS still to blame if it in fact it is a third party problem or the actual developers of the aps?

Quick Shot said,
Seems like they have a big problem on hand. In this case is MS still to blame if it in fact it is a third party problem or the actual developers of the aps?

The issue, while is a legitimate problem, seems pretty minor seeing as it's effecting such a small number of people. It's good to see the MS is looking into the problem thoroughly and keeping us up-to-date with their status. It's a bummer for those effected but if you're with AT&T and you've been a good customer then they will probably work out any overages that may have happened because of the issue. I know they would with me, but of course that isn't to say everyone will have the same experience.