When shopping for a mobile plan, it pays to read the fine print, especially around data. A plan may say it’s unlimited, but reduce your data speed after a certain point, and data limits that seem generous may quickly run out. Some will even do both. Here’s how to keep your family under the limit, even if there isn’t supposed to be one.
Why You’re Leaking Data
One of the fundamental problems with any data plan is that it’s difficult to know when apps are using data and why. Phones will often jump onto and off of Wi-Fi networks automatically, and not all apps are straightforward about when they use data. For example, even a game that’s supposed to be playable offline will still use data to contact ad servers and save your game, depending on its design.
And kids, in particular, are vulnerable to leaking data in two ways. The first is simple; they’re kids. They may not know or understand why data is limited with a device in the first place. The second is on the app side; many app developers simply assume users have unlimited data, and for apps kids will spend a lot of time on, that can rack up big data bills very fast.
To see what’s using the data on each phone, for Android, open the Settings app, then click Network & Internet, then Data Usage, then App Data Usage. For iOS, open Settings, tap Cellular, and then scroll down to find the “Current Period.” Both will tell which apps are using the most data, and the next step is to do something about it.
Plugging Data Leaks
Fortunately, there are multiple methods for ending data leaks, and they’re worth doing across all your devices, not just your children’s.
Before you take any other step, sit your children down and make sure they clearly understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That’ll help everyone get on board and make these rules work.
Use OS-level settings to restrict data usage. Both Apple and Google allow their platforms to limit data usage across the board.
Shut off “background” data. These are small packets of data apps send back and forth for various reasons, such as updating maps, that can pile up fast.
Configure individual apps to limit their data usage. Popular apps like Netflix, Instagram, and Google Maps have either “lighter” versions of their apps that use less data, have data settings that limit how much mobile data is used, or both.
Delete apps you don’t need. Even apps you never open anymore may be using background data, so remove them completely.
Install a parental monitoring app on your children’s devices. This will help track what apps are being used and for how long, and enforce rules like “no phones after bedtime,” which can rack up data charges and also expensive in-app purchases.
Only update apps when you’re on Wi-Fi, and configure your update settings so any automatic updates only occur on Wi-Fi.
To learn more about how parental control apps can limit both data leaks and risks to your kids, try Screen Time for free!