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Mobile data bills surging? Blame it on Facebook auto-play videos

8 September 2014, 8:37 am EDT By Nicole Arce Tech Times
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Some Facebook users do not only find the social network's auto-play videos annoying, many are also going through the roof after finding out the videos automatically playing on their news feeds are racking up staggering data bills.

U.K.-based MoneySavingExpert.com first raised the issue after noticing that many users were complaining about increased data charges. After conducting a survey of users, the website found the culprit: Facebook's auto-play videos that turn on automatically when the user pauses on the video instead of scrolling down the news feed, even when the user does not click the play button.

"I went over my data limit for the first time in May," says user Caroline Greenhaigh Baxter. "I turned off Facebook videos and haven't been anywhere near my limit since."

The issue is even more pertinent with the trending Ice Bucket Challenge, where millions of people around the world are posting videos of themselves being doused in a bucket of ice-cold water for the benefit of patients of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disorder or Lou Gehrig's disease. More than 2 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos have been posted on Facebook and more than 28 million people have uploaded, liked and commented these videos in the last few weeks. The videos have now raised almost $110 million for the ALS Association.

"It's worrying that Facebook is auto-playing videos by default, as if it's clearly catching users out, with some claiming they've unknowingly exceeded their data limit and incurred extra charges as a result," says Steve Nowottny, editor at MoneySavingExpert.com.

Facebook has confirmed that auto-play is enabled in its mobile app running on 3G and 4G networks and on desktop browsers connected to Wi-Fi. However, the social network says the videos use up "very little data" if users scroll past them.

"Only if people stop to watch the video do they consume more data," says a Facebook spokesperson in a statement mailed to CBS. "We want to make sure that videos consume as little data as possible and that people can control what they play automatically."  

To prevent data bills from skyrocketing, users are encouraged to turn off the auto-play features in their Facebook accounts. For Apple users, they have to head to their iPhone's Settings and turn on Auto-play on Wi-Fi or Off for their Facebook Settings. Android users can turn off the feature via the Facebook app for Android itself by logging into to their Facebook accounts and going to App Settings under the Settings menu. From there, they can go to General Settings and choose Auto-play on Wi-Fi or Off. For desktop users, they simply have to go to Auto-play videos under Facebook's Settings and turn it off.  

MoneySavingExperts.com also recommends that users contact their mobile data provider to explain the unauthorized charges and ask for a refund or contact the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (OISAS) or the Ombudsman Services to lodge a complaint.

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