Q. I have a little mystery I hope you can help me solve. I’m an Xfinity X1 customer with an HP desktop, two smartphones connected via Wi-Fi, and my wife’s laptop connected via Wi-Fi. I was notified by Xfinity toward the end of January that we had exceeded our data usage limit of 1 terabyte. I didn’t even know we had a limit, and I certainly was shocked to learn we had blown through 1 terabyte!
In reviewing past data usage on our account, I found that we averaged only about 200 gigabytes over the past several months, but our usage shot up in December to 465 gigabytes and finally topped out in January at 1250 gigabytes.
Thinking that someone may be “stealing” data from our network, I changed its name, hid it from view, and changed the password. We use Norton anti-virus software from Comcast and subscribe to Malwarebytes, neither of which has found anything lurking in our system. The final step I’ve implemented is to disable my network connection on my desktop at night.
Can you offer any insight as to what could possibly cause such a huge spike in our data usage and am I taking the right precautions to prevent further problems?
— Lorin Wingate, Bainbridge Island
A. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things, with one possible exception.
As it happens, I had the same thing happen to me recently. The day after my cellphone data plan kicked into a new month I received a message telling me I was out of data.
It turns out that many apps on my cellphone were using data in background even though I had never launched them. And a recently downloaded French-English dictionary was a major culprit. Technically, I guess that’s not “stealing” data, since we agree to terms when we install an app. I don’t understand why these apps would by default be configured to use data in background, though.
In my case, Verizon was very helpful in looking at my data usage and determining which apps were draining data. I then turned off background data usage for those apps. And I uninstalled many of the data-draining apps that I didn’t really need.
My recommendation is to contact Xfinity support and see if they can do likewise.
Note: My phone recently upgraded its operating system to Android 9. And suddenly my call-recording app, which I use regularly for telephone interviews, no longer worked. According to Google, beginning with Android 9, only apps installed by phone manufacturers can access the audio output for call recording.
The thing is, I haven’t been able to find a phone manufacturer that supports call recording in smartphones sold in the United States. Samsung reportedly sells an S10 model in India that offers call recording, but when I called Samsung tech support and sales staff they were not aware of this. What’s more, they suggested that call recording could be accomplished with third-party apps, something that with Android 9 is no longer possible.
I finally reached someone at Samsung who said they had become aware of the issue and were requesting that their engineers develop a native app to provide call recording.
I understand the concern about having third-party apps having access to phone conversations. At the same time, it’s important for users — and not just journalists — to be able to legally record calls.
While we’re waiting for cellphone manufacturers to develop their own apps, for Android 9 users whose recording apps no longer work there are (less convenient) alternatives. First, you can buy a digital recorder for around $50 and a $13 Olympus telephone pickup microphone. You plug one end in the recorder and the other goes in your ear where it picks up the sound from your phones speaker. One major downside to this solution — you have to hold your phone to your ear during the entire call, which means you can’t be using your keyboard.
Another solution is to use a service like Skype and a free software recorder. The downside of this solution is that if you won’t be able to record incoming calls on your smartphone. Also, if you want to make Skype calls to phone numbers without Skype accounts, you’ll pay a small fee.
A third option is to use Google Voice, which has a recorder. But, again, you won’t be able to record calls coming into your smartphone.