Elevation, a popular American church based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has recently released a mobile app that allows individuals all over the world to access live worships and recorded sermons remotely.

What the 50,000 – 100,000 users of Elevation don’t realize is that the app is devouring massive amounts of mobile data while in use.

The Elevation app

The Elevation app features powerful content from Pastor Steven Furtick, the leader of the flock at Elevation Church. To help believers strengthen their faith, the app provides access to audio and video sermons, blog entries and other relevant information. Additionally, it allows users to actively share both podcasts and videos with friends via Twitter, Facebook and email.

elevation church app

The issue

Wandera’s mobile intelligence engine MIRIAM has uncovered that the Elevation app is using an elevated amount of data, relative to other frequently used apps.
One company that MIRIAM specifically flagged was found to have 10 devices with the Elevation app installed. Over a three month time period, the app used 122 gigabytes (GB) of data. In January almost 17 GB was consumed, followed by 47 GB in February and 57 GB in March.
It appears that that just two users accounted for over 99% of this usage. They used over 50 GB of data each during this time frame. One device averaged 16 GB of usage per month on the app, while the other hit 24 GB per month on average.
elevation church app

Putting it into perspective

122 GB of data over three months might not mean much to you. Sure, it seems like a big number but in reality why does 122 GB matter?
In the United States, the average price of 1 GB of data is $7.00. In order to cover the data usage for this application over three months, a company would have to spend a whopping $850 for a mere two users.
This doesn’t take into account the fact that, on top of this fee, a company would likely have to fork over extreme overage charges due to the unexpected, over the top usage. Overage charges, at their lowest, are an additional $15 per GB. If you conservatively assume only half of this data was considered overage, this would imply an additional cost of $915.
Taken together, the likely bill for the organization over those three months would be close to $2,000, driven by just two users with the app installed.

Elevation church app A large percentage of medium-to-large sized organizations purchase shared plans or ‘pools’ for their employees’ corporate devices. These types of mobile plans allow enterprise users to share a certain allowance of data per month across all devices.

Imagine if the company had purchased a 100 GB per month mobile plan spread across 100 users. In this scenario, two users managed to utilize half of the full data allowance on one application. If the rest of the business’ devices used their average allowance of 1 GB each, this would mean a monthly minimum of $1,100 in subsequent data and overage charges, again, as a consequence of having the app installed. This would be in addition to the agreed fee the company was already paying for its plan.
The case above only accounted for 2% of people in a hypothetical company of 100 adversely affected by the Elevation app. What if the number was increased to 10% of employees? Or even 25%? The costs become an incremental $5,500 and $13,750 respectively. Start pondering 50% or 75% and things really begin to get frightening.
Now consider if these users were roaming with the app installed. Carriers are known to charge exorbitant fees on data usage when the user is outside the state or country. Costs could easily start racking up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Clearly, these types of heavy data consuming apps can have a devastating monetary impact on enterprises.
Thus far, only the financial effects of the app have been analyzed. What hasn’t been touched on is how much data 122 GB really is. As you already know, it can give two users access to the Elevation app for three months however, this amount of data is also equivalent to performing one of the following activities on your mobile device:

  • Surfing the web for 5,304 hours
  • Binge watching 1,220 thirty minute TV shows on Netflix
  • Using the Facebook app for 6,222 hours
  • Skyping friends for a casual 488 hours
  • Listening to 31,232 songs on Spotify

You probably realize by now that most of these activities aren’t realistic… even for two users in a three month time frame. Something is clearly wrong here.

How is it possible for an app to use this much data?

After further analysis by Wandera’s data science team, it seems as though the Elevation app is repeatedly downloading the same audio and video files, causing the outlandish data usage.
On one user device, it appears the same 31 MB audio file of a 45 minute sermon was downloaded 6,599 times over 67 days. On one specific day, it was downloaded a total of 193 times.

Protecting your business

It’s important to realize that, in all likelihood, there was no malicious intent behind the creation of this application. This is simply a bug that is occurring and unintentionally inflating usage.
This revelation however, does call out the need for business to protect themselves against rogue data-hungry applications, and monitor them before they cause financial strain. Simply buying more data is not a long term solution to this problem. Unless a business can accurately forecast how many rogue apps will be installed among how many users each month, it is still at risk of an exorbitant bill. On the flip side, it may start paying for vast amounts of data it neither needs nor uses.
Businesses with Wandera’s Data Management solution are able to set policy controls that proactively alert admins and users when certain levels of data usage are hit, and cap users at a preset allowance. This completely eradicates the possibility of overage charges and unforeseen bill-shock that apps like Elevation App may cause.
Additionally, Wandera provides extensive visibility into which applications are causing abnormally high data usage. In the case of the Elevation app, admins would be able to see a spike in data immediately and, if so desired, have the ability to block the mobile fleet from accessing the specific application. This in turn would prevent employees from unintentionally eating up their monthly data allowance in a matter of hours.
Users can also monitor their own behaviour through Wandera’s end user app that allows them to see how and where their mobile data is being used.
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