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Apple hit with second class action lawsuit over Wi-Fi Assist data overages

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Apple was hit with another class action lawsuit over iOS 9's new Wi-Fi Assist feature on Friday, with plaintiffs seeking a jury trial for damages in excess of $5 million.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Arizona native William B. Cottrell, reads almost identically to a separate suit leveled in the same jurisdiction last month. Both class actions foist responsibility on Apple for not disclosing the potential for cellular data overages resulting from iOS 9's new Wi-Fi Assist feature, a move plaintiffs argue costs unwitting customers exorbitant carrier fees.

Apple is accused of negligent misrepresentation and violation of California's unfair competition law and false advertisement law for rolling out Wi-Fi Assist without first properly informing customers of its potential pitfalls. Plaintiffs go further in today's filing, saying Apple purposely mislead iOS 9 device users by omitting or concealing various material facts about the feature.

A new software function in iOS 9, Wi-Fi Assist automatically switches to a cellular data network if it determines the user's device is connected to a weak Wi-Fi signal. For example, devices connecting to a free Wi-Fi hotspot will remember that network and automatically reconnect whenever it is in range. This might pose a problem for people living in metropolitan areas, as their iPhone or iPad latches onto known networks even if it's signal is comparably weaker than an available cellular data connection.

The feature is designed to provide a seamless experience for smart device owners increasingly reliant on data connections to drive Web browsers, apps and other third-party services. Prior to Wi-Fi Assist, some users were forced to "forget" particularly bothersome networks — an iOS Settings menu option — or switch off Wi-Fi connectivity altogether.

As noted by the lawsuit, however, Apple chose to enable Wi-Fi Assist by default. While convenient, customers unaware of the feature's inclusion in iOS 9 might chew through capped data allotments thinking their device is on an all-you-can-eat Wi-Fi network.

After a barrage of complaints Apple published a support document on its website detailing how Wi-Fi Assist works and, perhaps more importantly, how to disable it. Plaintiffs, however, contend the company did not act swiftly enough.

According to today's filing, "millions" of consumers were negatively impacted by Apple's actions. It is unclear how customers are running through such large amounts of data, however, as Wi-Fi Assist does not activate with data-intensive third-party apps like music or video streamers and email clients.