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How Facebook steals your iPhone’s battery life

Published Oct 14th, 2015 2:20PM EDT
iPhone 6s Battery Life Facebook App

Steal is a strong word, but that seems to be the case with the Facebook mobile app on iOS when it comes to battery life. The company is looking to maximize the screen time it gets from each user, so it’s apparently reverting to some shady tactics to deliver new content to you. That means refreshing the app in the background on the iPhone 6s and any other iOS device, even though you may have told it not to.

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A few days ago, in a post on Medium titled Battery life, load times, and actually giving a s**t about your customers, Matt Galligan revealed that even though he intentionally turned off Backgroud App Refresh for Facebook, the app still remained the main battery offender on his phone, accounting for 15% of all battery drain. The app “isn’t ‘sleeping’ properly” when the user hits the home button, continuing activity and draining battery, he revealed.

Subsequent reports speculated that Facebook is abusing VOIP backgrounding, audio backgrounding or content-available push notifications, Nick Heer said, responding to Galligan’s post.

“Make no mistake: this is user-hostile,” Heer added. “Facebook is actively creating channels to continue refreshing their app in the background when the user has explicitly stated that they do not want it to. Ironically, the best way to reduce the battery and data consumption of the Facebook app in the background is to switch Background App Refresh back on. Better still, remove the Facebook app from your phone, and perhaps replace it with [Facebook’s U.S.-only] Paper.”

Chiming in on the matter, Federico Viticci came up with a potential explanation for how Facebook is stealing background activity, and thus, consuming battery life, when you’re not using the app.

“My guess is that Facebook is hijacking audio sessions on iOS by keeping silent audio in the background whenever a video plays in the app,” he wrote. “And because, by default, videos on Facebook auto-play on both Wi-Fi and Cellular and few people ever bother to turn it off, that means there’s a high chance the Facebook app will always find a way to play a video, keep audio in the background, and consume energy to perform background tasks.”

Facebook audio seems to be a major battery hog on devices that have Background App Refresh turned off. One way of fixing it might be going into Facebook’s mobile settings and turning off video auto-play, which is something you should do anyway so you save data.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.