Why Is My Phone Using Data When I’m Not on It?

Why Is My Phone Using Data When I’m Not on It

When your phone’s using data as it’s sitting in your pocket, it can be quite a mystery. Not only do you have to worry about it possibly draining your battery while you’re away from home, but it can also rack up data charges well beyond your monthly budget. Why is your phone using data when you’re not on it?

Your phone uses data when you’re not on it because you may have an app running in the background that’s either updating (or syncing) or receiving data-draining notifications, like news or weather updates. To prevent this, you can disable background data or delete the worst offenders!

When mobile data is toggled on, and the phone isn’t in your hand, some background apps might be draining your data without your knowledge. But do you know why this is happening? Let’s discuss some of the worst culprits!

The Cost of Mobile Data on Your Cell Phone

The Cost of Mobile Data on Your Cell Phone
The Cost of Mobile Data on Your Cell Phone

Data plan costs are not affordable for everyone, and Mobile Data use is expensive. On your Cell Phone, many mobile data plans are advertised as “unlimited,” but most also have a data speed reduction point when your data stream is going to slow significantly.

We did not start paying for “Mobile Data” or “Mobile Broadband” until the first Wireless Internet access became available in 1991

Today on your average Smartphone bill, 80% percent of the bill goes towards data. As you can see in the example above, out of an approximately $50.00 per month phone bill, $39.00 is for data.

Automatic App Updates

Automatic App Updates
Automatic App Updates

Updating apps is great because you can get new features as they roll out, making it easier and more fun to use the App. However, the updates may use up much of your mobile data, especially if it’s a completely new version. Consider updating apps over Wi-Fi instead of your cellular connection to save on your mobile data. 

You can change this feature on your phone by clicking on the settings and ensuring the ‘Auto-update apps’ option is set to ‘Wi-Fi only.’ Or you can manually install these updates as they come out.

Please see some of our other interesting Data articles like “Why Is My Data Running Out So Fast?” and “How to Lower Your Home WiFi Data Usage.”

Auto-Syncing of Data in Apps

Automatic syncing of data is a fantastic feature for staying up-to-date, but it comes at a high cost if you’re not using Wi-Fi. Your app may be auto-refreshing in the background, even if you haven’t used it in days or weeks! 

Some app settings give the option to choose when it syncs. The best solution is to disable the automatic syncing or switch it to manual. This way, the app will not be running in the background as much and eating into your mobile data while you’re not using it.

Many Apps come preset with this feature on, so it is important to check that setting when downloading a new App.

Turn Off Auto Syncing on Twitter and Facebook

Turn Off Auto Syncing on Twitter and Facebook
Turn Off Auto Syncing on Twitter and Facebook

For some apps, like Twitter, turning the Auto Syncing feature off is easy. Simply click on the ‘Data usage’ section and uncheck the “sync data” switch. This feature makes the app synchronize its data only when you’re using it.

Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t have an obvious way to disable this background activity. Therefore, you should take control at the system level. Head to the apps section of your systems setting and tap on the Facebook app or whichever app is in question.

Click on data usage or mobile data and Wi-Fi, and deactivate the toggle next to background data. This action prevents the app from using data in the background unless connected to a Wi-Fi network. It is important to state that by doing this, your ability to receive notifications won’t be affected since that is controlled separately in the notifications tab. 

Downloading Music Compared to Streaming to Save Data

Downloading music compared to streaming will be a better alternative if you are looking to save on data usage. That’s because you can listen to music over and over again when you’re not on your phone. You can also enjoy the privilege of listening to the song or mixtape as many times as you wish without incurring an extra cost. 

Another reason is if you’re traveling in remote areas or use up all of your data allowance on your plan, you’ll want your favorite music available to listen to offline. Android and iOS Applications like iTunes, SoundCloud, Amazon Music are examples of great music downloaders.

Many of these Apps are familiar and crossover between downloading and streaming. Streaming music from an online platform, like Spotify, Tidal, or YouTube Music, will need to be supported, and if you are not connected to a Wi-Fi network, it will quickly drain your data.

Turn Off Auto-Playing Videos to Save Data

Turn Off Auto-Playing Videos to Save Data
Turn Off Auto-Playing Videos to Save Data

Videos consume a lot of data. Some social media apps love to auto-play the videos when you aren’t paying attention and when your cellular data is on. For an app like Facebook, you can change this sneaky feature. 

Click on the app’s menu, tap on settings and privacy, and scroll to data saver. There, you will find a toggle that can reduce the quality of the auto-downloaded image and stop videos from playing on their own. For other apps, the solution is quite similar.

YouTube also runs videos on Auto-Play. If you want to turn YouTube Autoplay off, go to the watch screen of any video. At the top of the YouTube video player, tap the Autoplay toggle to set it to off.

Enabling Background Data on Various Apps

Weather, social, and news apps top the list when it comes to chewing through unnecessary data. That’s because they often check-in at regular intervals throughout the day to pull in new updates, which is great if you like to be in the know. 

For example, when you look at the Google weather alerts feature, it can be helpful. Not everyone’s the same, and certainly, not living in the same weather conditions. Also, not everyone wants to receive these frequent weather alerts to become constant with each passing storm.

Depending on your circumstances and needs, you can stop these data users by disabling this feature altogether. Below is how to change your Google notifications.

  • How to Change your Google notifications.
    • Turn notifications on or off
    • On your Android phone or tablet, open the Google app.
    • Tap More Settings Notifications. Notifications.
    • Decide which notifications you want to turn on or off: All: At the top, turn Show notifications on or off. One or more: Next to a topic, turn the notification on or off.

Leaving Mobile Data On When You Are Not Using It

Leaving Mobile Data On When You Are Not Using It
Leaving Mobile Data On When You Are Not Using It

Most of all, ensure you disable your mobile data when you are not using the internet or your phone. Even when your mobile data is switched off, you can still make and receive calls, as well as send and receive text messages. Whenever you find the need to use the internet, you can always switch it back on. 

You may turn off most background activities app by app, delete apps that use background data, switch off automatic updates, and still not find the root cause of the problem. 

Turning off your mobile data when not in use can be a temporary solution before you learn what’s eating through it.

Other Ways To Reduce Mobile Data Usage

Figure Out Which Apps Are Preying on Your Data

The first step in fixing a problem is to diagnose it correctly. This scenario is no different, even if it comes to your Smartphone. If the mobile data usage is high, figure out which apps are the culprits and act accordingly because some apps can connect to cellular data even when shut. 

“How do I do this?” you may ask. Regardless of the type of phone you have, whether iOS or Android, the answer is quite simple.

  • iPhone – For an iPhone, go to the settings app, click on the Cellular section, and you will be able to see a detailed readout of how much data you’ve used in the current billing period. You will also learn how much data each app has used lately. 
  • Android – The same information is available on the Network and Internet area on the settings app for Android. However, the exact location depends on the Android phone’s manufacturer.

Once you figure out which apps these are, you may consider uninstalling them if you can survive without them or disable the app if they were pre-downloaded. 

Turn Data Saver Mode On

When you turn on data saver mode, your phone will restrict the use of cellular data. You can also choose the apps you want to continue using background data if you check them regularly. This process goes a long way in saving yourself from unpleasant surprises on your monthly mobile bill.

  • How to turn on Data Saver Mode for a Google Pixel
    • Turn Data Saver on or off
    • Open your phone’s Settings app.
    • Tap Network & internet. Data Saver.
    • Turn Data Saver on or off. In your status bar, when Data Saver is on, you’ll see the Data Saver icon. You’ll also see a notification at the top of your phone’s Settings app.
  • Android – On your settings app, tap Network, and Internet, then tap on data saver and switch it on. When the data saver switch is toggled to the on position, you’ll see the data saver icon and a notification at the top of your phone’s settings app.

Conclusion 

Data costs down the drain
Data costs down the drain

Although it may be difficult to find out the actual reason why your data is slowly being drained from your Smartphone when you’re not using it, there’s usually a quick fix. The best trick is learning the ins and outs of your phone and “outsmarting” these apps. Read app reviews before installing them (users are critical about high data use) and connect to a Wi-Fi network whenever you can!

References: 

John Mortensen

I am a project manager, tech writer, and science enthusiast who loves to study the latest technology, such as AI, comedy, quantum computers, smartphones, headphones, and software.

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