On vacation with a smartphone - cleverly keeping an eye on costs

The market check of the Consumer Advice Centers of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen shows that: Surfing the internet on holiday can even be expensive with so-called country-specific rates.

Many Berlin residents of a migration background spend a large part of the summer break with relatives abroad. They like to surf the internet, tweet, write e-mails and check their account balance, even on holiday.

But be careful: Cellphone rates which have a flat internet rate for Germany can be expensive abroad. Data fraud, high bills and classification in expensive rates can be the consequences of careless cellphone use. This is also the case with country-specific rate providers which offer customers special rates for phone calls to Turkey or Russia.

"Cellphone network users who surf the internet a lot on vacation can have cost-incurring data packages reposted to them without being asked, if they have used their agreed data volume”, says Ekaterina Quehl, Project Worker of the Berlin Customer Advice Service. Perhaps they are even put in a higher rate. Consumers should not put up with and should consult with the Berlin Customer Advice Service.

Quehl also warns against handling personal data carelessly while surfing. "Whoever checks their account over an unsecured hotel WLAN or pays for trips with a credit card online runs the risk of these sensitive data being stolen”, says Quehl. Even webchats, tweeting and downloading are not safe. Personal data are collected and passed on to third parties by special analysis services (Web Analytics) which website operators set up on their page.

"Web Analytics collect and analyze our most valuable good: our data. Visited websites, searches and the IP addresses used are recorded and passed on.”, warns Quehl. "This can result not just in an annoying flood of commercials. Personal data can get into the wrong hands because of this.” People on vacation should als think of this: Whoever goes on vacation for several weeks mostly leaves their house empty during this time. Criminals can even work this out by tracking your cellphone.

The Berlin Customer Advice Service has compiled tips for consumers, with which they can prevent such abuses and can enjoy their vacation without any worries.

The consumer tips were compiled as results of the market checks conducted in the "Migrants and Consumer Protection in Digital Markets” project. The project is supported by the Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz (BMJV) (Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection and conducted by the Berlin Customer Advice Service in cooperation with the Hamburg and Bremen Customer Advice Services. The aim of the project is to inform consumers of Turkish and Russian origin about consumer rights and market and advisory services in digital markets.

Tips for taking a vacation abroad when using a smartphone

Automatic data transmission when using the Internet

For rates with automatic data, the transmission speed will not be restricted as it usually is after the consumption of the posted data volume. Instead, additional data packets are activated, which bear a cost for the customer. If the volume is exceeded several times, including upgrades, the consumer is automatically put on a higher rate, depending on the provider.

Our tips:

  • Find out before your trip whether you have a rate with automatic data.
  • Make sure you do not exceed your contractual data volume. Alternatively, it can be worth booking a daily flat rate.
  • Automatic updates of emails and apps should be disabled in order to reduce the data volume used.

Web Analytics, Cookies and Social Plugins

On provider websites, analysis programs are installed which save and evaluate user behavior.

Our tips:

  • Reputable providers indicate which programs are used in their data protection policies. They also offer the opportunity to disagree to web analytics. Use this opportunity!
  • Be careful about what data you disclose on the Internet. Deactivate the cookie function of your browser.

Data theft, unsolicited commercials

Whoever checks their account over an unsecured hotel WLAN or pays for trips with a credit card online is not well-protected against the digital theft of their most sensitive data. Even webchats, tweeting and downloading are not necessarily safe abroad. Criminals can uncover passwords and personal data. In the simplest case, you will only get unsolicited commercials but your account details can also get into the wrong hands. An empty home can be indicated through the localization of your phone in a vacation country.

Our tips:

  • Procure a pre-paid card in/for the vacation country. This is a cost-friendly way of surfing the Internet abroad without links being made to your home.
  • Avoid doing sensitive or data-sensitive things abroad or on vacation, such as online shopping and online banking. Do not use any personal data or passwords with unsecured connections, if possible.
  • Before your vacation, make sure that security software such as antivirus and firewall programs have been installed in your mobile devices and have been updated.

Changing rate

If you have concluded a cellphone contract by telephone, internet or e-mail, you can revoke this within 14 days. Also, consumers do not necessarily need to commit to a 24-month contract period.

Our tips:

  • Revoke your cellphone contract if you are unhappy with your rate. Cellular communication companies are obliged to make the revocation rules and forms clearly visible and available on their websites.
  • If you are not properly informed, the revocation period is extended to 1 year and 14 days.
  • Find out about the rates for a 12-month contract before concluding a contract with your provider. Cellular communications companies are legally obliged to offer a contract of a maximum length of 12 months for at least one rate.
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