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What is background data and how to restrict background data in Android

Reduce mobile data in Android and save money

Understanding and taking control of the way your phone uses mobile data is the best way to save a few bucks on our phone bills. When we’re using our phones away from Wi-Fi, scrolling through our various media feeds, getting directions, streaming music etc, we understand that we’re using mobile data. How our phones use mobile data when we’re not actively looking at the screen, though, can be a bit of a mystery. Taking control and restricting background data in Android is a great way to take the power back and take control of how much mobile data your phone uses.

It’s worth knowing that despite your best efforts, some apps continue to use data in the background even while you don’t have them open. There are many Android apps that, without your knowledge, will go ahead and connect to your cellular network even when the app is closed.

Background data usage can burn through a fair bit of mobile data. The good news is, you can reduce data usage. All you have to do is turn off background data. We’ll show you how to restrict background data on your Android phone and cut any lingering data usage.

When you control your data usage, you’re free to stop overpaying and choose a plan that gives you the data you need. If that’s your goal, Ting Mobile is the perfect carrier.

What is background data?

Basically, background data means that an app is using data even when you’re not actively using the app. Sometimes called background syncing, background data can keep your apps updated with the latest notifications like status updates, Snapchat stories and Tweets.

What uses data on my phone?

Here’s the deal: pretty much any time you’re online and you’re not using Wi-Fi, you’re using mobile data.

Mobile data is different from Wi-Fi. While Wi-Fi is a limited range network and data you use while connected to it won’t count towards your phone bill, mobile data uses the same network as the cell towers that let you make calls. You can use mobile data as long as you have cellular coverage and it counts towards your phone plan’s data use.

Mobile data is reserved for the stuff of the Internet: surfing, social media, email, watching video and more. Check out our complete guide on mobile data to learn more.

What about foreground data?

There are two main types of data usage. Background data and foreground data. Foreground data means you’re actively using data in an app, you’re sending a tweet, you’re watching a Snapchat or you’re streaming a video.

Background data, on the other hand, refers to data that the app uses when you’re not actively doing anything with the app.

Does background app refresh use data?

Apps refresh in the background to regularly check for notifications. This means, when you get an email, message or Tweet, it’s delivered right to your device, whether you’re on Wi-Fi or mobile data. So yes, if you’re not on Wi-Fi, it will use mobile data.

What does restrict background data mean?

It’s pretty simple. Restricting background data means reducing your background data to a bare minimum. When you turn off an app’s ability to run in the background, you get one step closer to cutting your data use altogether and controlling your phone bill.

How to stop apps from running in the background

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is background data,” let’s learn how to use less of it. The Data usage section in Android Settings lets you view the amount of data used by each specific app. If you notice an app using more background mobile data than you’d like it to (Snapchat comes to mind), you can restrict it from accessing the Internet till you’re back in a Wi-Fi covered area. If you’re looking to conserve your bandwidth and lower that monthly phone bill, this feature is definitely worth checking out. Remember, since this will prevent background refreshes, you’ll need to open the app to receive notifications.

Step 1

Open Settings, tap Network and internetData usage then App data usage. In Android 11, open Settings, tap Network and internet, Mobile networkData usage (on some phones) then App data usage.

Step 2

Scroll down to view a list of your Android apps sorted by data usage. Keep an eye out for the heaviest data users.

Step 3

When you see an app whose background data you want to restrict, tap on it and then turn the Background data toggle to the off position.

The usual suspects

Most popular apps will default to running in the background. Background data can be used even when your device is in standby mode (with the screen turned off), as these apps are constantly checking their servers through the Internet for all sorts of updates and notifications.

Make sure to take a look at Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat. All these apps can run in the background if you don’t disable their ability to do so.

For more info, check out Google’s Optimize data usage help article and our own article on how to reduce mobile data usage. Looking to save data on your iPhone? Here’s how to control which apps use your cellular data.

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