If you’re a Facebook user and have suspected that something is slowing down your iPhone, then you’re probably right. Natasha Lomas reports for TechCrunch that Facebook has confirmed it’s investigating reports of excessive battery drain caused by its iOS app. The app reportedly continues to run processes in the background, even when background app refresh is disabled.
A spokesperson for Facebook told TechCrunch that the company is investigating the issue and hopes to deploy a fix “soon.” The spokesperson said, “We have heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with our iOS app. We’re looking into this and hope to have a fix in place soon.”
Circa cofounder Matt Galligan wrote on Medium that the Facebook app on his iPhone 6s Plus accounted for 15% of battery drain, compared to just 3% by Safari, which is often active on the screen for half an hour or more. Facebook continued to drain the battery even though Galligan had turned off background app refresh, which is supposed to shut off most of the app’s functions. In fact, the background usage keeps the app active twice as long as Galligan’s actual usage, and Galligan wrote that Facebook is “letting down each and every one of their customers by letting such an issue remain in their app. Battery drain should be a priority, not an afterthought.”
Nick Heer at Pixel Envy wrote that Facebook’s continued background activity when background app refresh is turned off “is user-hostile.” He explains that the app likely abuses VOIP backgrounding, audio backgrounding, and/or content-available push notifications “as a fallback when Background App Refresh is off.” He continues, “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.”
Similarly, Federico Viticci at MacStories wrote that Facebook’s excessive battery usage “has been going on for years, and instead of fixing the issue, it does seem like Facebook is always coming up with new ways to circumvent user control and consume more energy.” He adds, “The fact that a company the size of Facebook can’t optimize energy consumption of their iOS app is simply ridiculous. If they can but don’t want to (because of processes they want to run in the background, constant notifications, etc.) – well, that’s even worse.”
Viticci has his own hypothesis about the source of the excessive battery drain. He thinks that Facebook is keeping silent audio running in the background whenever a video plays in the app. Because videos on Facebook autoplay on WiFi and data, “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.”
Another theory holds Facebook’s propensity for location-tracking responsible for the battery drain. Jordan Pearson reported for Motherboard that Facebook is draining iPhone users’ batteries because the app is tracking users’ location. Pearson points out that Facebook has a history of tracking users when they aren’t aware of it, and the app clearly states that it can track you when the app is off. But security researcher John Zdziarski analyzed the code behind Facebook’s app, and told Motherboard that the app is sending devices’ location information to Facebook in the background.
Facebook’s in-app location settings state that if you have location history and access set to “always,” then the app will build a history of your location, even when you aren’t actively using the app. A Facebook representative told Pearson that the reason why turning off background app refresh won’t stop the tracking is that the setting governs content updating, while location tracking is controlled by location settings.
In later communications, a Facebook spokesperson said that the battery drain issue, however, is not caused by “improper background location collection,” and that the app isn’t collecting location data in the background unless location access is set to “always” and you’ve enabled location history within the Facebook app. The company is still investigating the battery issue.
If you’re worried that the Facebook app is draining your iPhone’s battery, you can open the Settings app, tap Battery, and then check the battery usage to check out how much battery the app has actually used. If the app is using battery power that’s disproportionate to your actual usage, you have a couple of options. The simplest solution, as many disgusted users have pointed out, is to simply uninstall the app. You can easily use Facebook’s mobile site via Safari, and can even add an icon for the website to your home screen, which makes it easy to access while making sure that Facebook doesn’t have control over your iPhone.
Deleting the app is the only sure fix, but if that’s not an option for you, you can try troubleshooting by experimenting with a few other settings. A good way to start is by turning off Location Services for the Facebook app. (Open the Settings app, tap Privacy, choose Location Services, and then revoke Facebook’s access to your location.) It may also help to turn off Background App Refresh by opening the Settings app, tapping General, choosing Background App Refresh, and then toggling the setting off. Or, if Heer at Pixel Envy is correct, it might help to try toggling the setting on if it’s been off and you’re still having issues with Facebook’s battery usage.