Triangular chairs with gleam of sun rays shining through (2)


Published on 03 October 2016

“All you can eat data”

The facts

The complaints were based on two websites and an online display ad for the Three mobile price plan:

  • the “Business mobiles” section of stated “all you can eat data”
  • the “SIM Only plans” section of stated “All-you-can-eat data ... View plan details”. Clicking to view details brought up a box, in which text stated “Plan Includes (per month): Inclusive UK data All-you-can-eat data”. Opting to buy the plan brought visitors to a page stating “All-you-can-eat Data ... Includes. Use up to 4GB of your data allowance as a personal hotspot”
  • an online display ad stated “All-you-can-eat data SIM for £17 a month ... Rollover for terms >”.Hovering the mouse over the ad brought up text stating “Sign up for 12 months to get this SIM deal with all-you-can-eat data”.

Two complainants, one of whom understood that the advertiser restricted the amount of data that could be used during peak periods and the other reported being cut off after using 4GB of mobile data, challenged whether the claims “All you can eat data” were misleading and could be substantiated.

The decision

The ASA upheld the complaints, holding that ad (a) was directed at business users of mobile services and that ads (b) and (c) were directed primarily at consumers. It considered that both groups would understand the claim “All-you-can-eat data” as a statement that there were no limitations on the amount of data they could use for any legitimate activities they wished to undertake. Although consumers may not generally be aware of fair use policies or their effect on data use, this does not mean that they would have no expectations of how their service was managed. Rather, both consumers and businesses would expect a service marketed as “unlimited” or “All-you-can-eat” to provide use of data without undue limitations and that, where policies existed that limited speed of access, the restrictions could reasonably be considered to be moderate only.

With regard to ads (b) and (c), the ASA understood that the complainant who had been cut off after using 4GB of data had been using their allowance for tethering. The limitation on tethering was a provider-imposed limitation on the use of the service, which contradicted the claim “All-you-caneat” and the presence of the cap should therefore have been part of the headline claim.

In relation to Three’s bandwidth restrictions on peer-to-peer (P2P) activity, which was separate to the cap on tethering, the ASA understood that limitations on the use of P2P technology that was demonstrably illegal would only affect illegitimate use of the service and was therefore not contrary to a consumer’s understanding of a service described as “unlimited”. However, Three said they could not guarantee that a legitimate user would never be affected at peak times if they engaged in lawful P2P activity. The ASA was concerned that legitimate services would be subject to traffc management and required Three show that the slowdown experienced by those subject to traffc management was moderate only.

Why is this important?

Advertisers need to make sure that any limitations on services need to be made clear, and that those claims must be capable of substantiation.

Any practical tips?

Beware punchy headline claims! And don’t think that placing key limitations in another part of the ad, or flagging them during the purchasing process, is necessarily the cure.