“Disappearing data” – How to protect yourself

“Disappearing data” is a common complaint among mobile users in South Africa, with mobile networks often being blamed for unexplained data depletion.

However, this phenomenon is usually due either to their own behaviour, or the behaviour of the applications installed on their smartphones.

Users might also be unknowingly consuming more data by streaming high-definition videos or automatically updating their device over a mobile data connection.

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that there are no processes on your device draining your mobile data, and no behaviour which is causing your data to drain quicker than necessary.

We have listed some ways to protect yourself from “disappearing data” below.


Control background data usage

Background mobile data usage on smartphones is one of the most common reasons behind reports of disappearing data.

Luckily, most smartphones have a built-in function which allows users to disable background data usage across all applications.

This is usually accessible through the device’s settings menu under the cellular data settings section.

It is important to note that this feature will not necessarily reduce data consumption when an application is active and in use, but should restrict any background data depletion.

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Stop automatic updates

One of the biggest offenders when it comes to mobile data depletion is the automatic updating of installed applications.

Many updates for modern applications – especially mobile games – are relatively large, and unless you have set your apps to only update over Wi-Fi, these updates can quickly eat through your data.

This can be fixed by navigating to your Play Store or App Store settings and changing the Auto-update option to only automatically download updates over a Wi-Fi connection.


Wi-Fi Assist

Smart network switching or Wi-Fi Assist can have a significant effect on your mobile data balance, especially if you are using your device while connected to a weak data connection.

If enabled, this setting automatically switches from a Wi-Fi to a mobile data connection if your Wi-Fi signal is poor so as to ensure you remain able to access the Internet.

However, this can have a significant effect on mobile data usage, especially if you are streaming video or downloading large files.

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Apps and quality

When it comes to streaming videos and browsing social media using mobile data, you should ensure you are saving as much data as possible.

Apps like Twitter and Facebook allow you to control whether videos and images are auto-displayed and downloaded, and there are also Lite versions of some apps which consume less mobile data.

Additionally, when watching YouTube videos or streaming music, ensure that your quality is set to low to save as much data as possible while still enjoying the media.

Messaging applications like WhatsApp also include data-saving features which reduce background and active data usage.


WASP Blocking

This applies more to disappearing airtime, as WASP services can only charge your airtime balance for subscriptions and not your data balance.

These “premium services” can be extremely annoying, however, and it is best to block them altogether through your operator’s USSD menu or mobile app.

If you suspect a WASP of stealing your airtime, you can enter a special USSD string to unsubscribe from all premium content services.

There are various USSD strings methods to unsubscribe from these services for each operator, all of which can be found in our previous article on the topic.


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“Disappearing data” – How to protect yourself