How Your Devices Use Internet in the Background

by | Jul 11, 2024

Apps using data in the background
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How your devices use the internet in the background

For most people, mobile apps are like the tabs in an internet browser: you leave too many open, even though you rarely use more than one at a time. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not working. Unless you’ve turned off the background app refresh function on your mobile device, those apps are always running—and always using battery power. What does background app refresh mean for your device? Why do you need it, and when? Read on to find out.

What is background app refresh?

Background app refresh allows your mobile apps to update their content even when you’re not using them. They may not be active, but your apps are still sending and receiving background data. When you open those apps again, you’ll see the latest content.

Apps running in the background affect your experience every time you look at your phone. When you open social media apps and your timeline shows the latest posts, that’s background app refresh in action. Other examples include:


  • Cloud storage services that automatically sync saved files
  • Shopping apps that display digital coupons when you enter a store
  • News apps that show the latest headlines throughout the day
  • Calendar apps that sync across multiple devices
  • Apps that track your mobile data usage

Depending on your phone’s operating system, you might know background app refresh by another name. While Apple’s iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad use the term background app refresh, Android devices may call it “background data usage” or “background syncing.” Whatever you call it, this background data usage serves an important purpose.

Email apps

If you’re like billions of others around the world, you probably check email several times a day. Some people check their email up to 20 times a day. And a staggering 55 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices. By even a conservative estimate, that means most people are checking their email on their phones at least ten times a day. Thanks to background app refresh, you don’t have to wait for your inbox to update every time you open it.

Social media and messaging apps

Every month, the average Android WhatsApp user opens the app almost 930 times—nearly 31 times a day. Users check Instagram nearly 12 times a day, with TikTok and Facebook not far behind. For these apps to function smoothly, background app refresh is a necessity.

News apps

Every major news outlet now has a mobile app. There’s a good reason for that: 86 percent of Americans read news on their computer or mobile device . Whether you’re interested in politics, local news, sports, or even the weather, news apps running in the background keep you on top of current events.
Lady with a cloud over head depicting cloud storage

Photo apps and other cloud storage services

We all know it’s important to back up our files, but many of us forget to do it. About 22 percent of people never take the time to back up their data . If you store all your photos on your mobile phone without a backup, a lost phone can mean lost memories. With background app refresh, your device can automatically back up your photos to the cloud: a remote data server where your files are safe and secure. (Both iOS and Android have cloud-connected photo apps.)

What happens if I turn the background app refresh off on my device?

Many of our lives and livelihoods depend on a constant flow of information. If we’re on the go, that information often comes to us through our mobile devices.

Imagine that after checking your email first thing in the morning (58 percent of us do ), you checked it again two hours later and saw no change in your inbox. To some of us, that might sound like a relief, but even they might wonder whether they were missing something important. That’s what would happen if our devices stopped processing background data while we weren’t using them.

Still, many people don’t always want their background apps running constantly. There are several reasons why:

  • Background app refresh can drain your device’s battery.
  • Apps running in the background can eat up cellular data and slow your phone’s performance.
  • Though background data is not the personal data used in ad tracking, some people are still wary of sharing their data to the cloud.

Both Android and iOS devices allow users to turn off background app refresh. But if you turn it off entirely, the apps you use the most will stop updating. Thankfully, there are ways to manage background data without turning it off completely.

Coworkers looking at their devices at the office

How to manage background data efficiently

If you’re an iOS user, you can set your background app refresh to WiFi only. Android users have a similar function called data saver mode . These settings ensure that your device won’t burn through cellular data on apps you’re not actively using. On both Android and iOS, you can also manually set background app refresh for individual apps. For example, you might want to keep only your social media and email apps running in the background. In your device’s settings, you can keep background data on for those apps while turning it off for everything else.

Background data, forward-thinking

Not everyone wants to check their email 20 times a day, but many of us have to. You don’t have to drain your battery while you do it. By taking an active hand in how your device uses background data, you can get more out of your data and make the most of your mobile experience. Visit our website to learn more.

Content Disclaimer - All content is for informational purposes only, may require user’s additional research, and is provided “as is” without any warranty, condition of any kind (express or implied), or guarantee of outcome or results. Use of this content is at user’s own risk. All third-party company and product or service names referenced in this article are for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement or affiliation with Quantum Fiber. If Quantum Fiber products and offerings are referenced in the content, they are accurate as of the date of issue. Quantum Fiber services are not available everywhere. Quantum Fiber service usually means 100% fiber-optic network to your location but, in limited circumstances, Quantum Fiber may need to deploy alternative technologies coupled with a non-fiber connection from a certain point (usually the curb) to your location in order to provide the advertised download speeds. ©2024 Q Fiber, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Quantum, Quantum Fiber and Quantum Fiber Internet are trademarks of Quantum Wireless LLC and used under license to Q Fiber, LLC.

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