Why You Don’t Need Third Party Apps To Manage Background Data Use In Android Jelly Bean

Chris Hoffman 10-04-2013

If you’re like most people, you don’t have unlimited data and you don’t want to go over your data cap. Phones with Android Jelly Bean Top 12 Jelly Bean Tips For A New Google Tablet Experience Android Jelly Bean 4.2, initially shipped on the Nexus 7, provides a great new tablet experience that outshines previous versions of Android. It even impressed our resident Apple fan. If you have a Nexus 7,... Read More contain powerful tools for tracking your mobile data usage, setting phone-wide limits, and identifying the apps that are sucking down the most data. You can prevent these apps from using data entirely to save your precious data allowance and avoid cell phone bill shock.


This is all integrated into the latest versions of Android Evolution of Android: From 1.0 to Jelly Bean [Geek History Lessons] Read More and doesn’t require any third-party apps The Best Android Apps on the Google Play Store for 2019 Looking for the best Android apps for your phone or tablet? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for Android. Read More . The Data usage screen here was added with Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, but more features have been added in Jelly Bean 4.1 and 4.2.

Viewing Data Usage

To access the Data Usage screen, open your Android phone’s Settings screen, and tap Data usage under Wireless & Networks. You’ll see a graph displaying how much mobile data all apps on your phone used over a period of time. Specify the “Data usage cycle”  time period that your carrier 10 Money-Saving Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO Are you out of contract with your cellular provider? Rather than upgrading your phone, and signing a new contract, consider switching to a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. You can save hundreds, even thousands,... Read More uses to determine your monthly data usage and you should see the amount of data you’ve used in the past billing cycle.

As the Data usage screen notes, the information here is measured by your phone and your carrier may measure data usage differently. In particular, if you reset your phone to its factory default settings Dealing with System Problems in Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups If you've run into a problem on your Android phone or tablet, this method just might help you save it. Read More or switch to a new phone part-way through your billing cycle, you’ll have incomplete information here.

manage background data android

Setting Mobile Data Limits

You can tap the Set mobile data limit checkbox to restrict the amount of mobile data your phone can use over a billing cycle. For example, if you have a 5GB limit before your carrier starts charging you overage fees, you can ensure your phone doesn’t go above 5GB of data in a month.


After tapping the checkbox, drag the red line to a point on the graph to specify a limit. As Android recommends, consider using a conservative limit – if you have a 5GB limit and limit your phone to 5GB, you might go a bit over by your carrier’s estimation, resulting in some overage charges. You may want to set the limit to a bit lower than your actual limit.

When your limit kicks in, you’ll receive a notification and mobile data will be disabled for the rest of the data usage cycle you specified.

manage data android

Setting a Warning

You can also set a data usage warning by dragging the orange line to a point on the graph. When your mobile data usage reaches the warning level, you’ll receive a notification. This can help you keep track of how fast you’re using data.


For example, if you have a 5GB mobile data limit, you can set a warning at the 3GB level. If you get a warning only a week into the month, you’ll know you need to slow down your data usage to make it through the rest of the month.

manage data android

Disabling Data Entirely

You can also disable mobile data entirely by setting the Mobile data slider at the top of the screen to Off. This will prevent your phone from using mobile data anywhere; you’ll only be able to access the Internet on Wi-Fi. This ensures your phone won’t use any mobile  data in the background, and it’s particularly useful if you pay dearly for each bit of mobile data you use on a pay-per-use plan How To Save Hundreds On Your Mobile Phone Bill In 3 Easy Steps Cutting your mobile phone bill in half takes only three simple steps - first, find a carrier that offers discounted plans, such as an MVNO. Second, get an unlocked phone. Third, and optionally, you can... Read More or if you want to make it through the rest of the month and you’re already near your limit.

If you do need to use mobile data, you can always re-enable it from this screen, do whatever you need to do, and then disable it again.


Restricting An App From Using Data

Android helps you view and control which apps can use mobile data. If you scroll down on the Data usage screen, you’ll see a list of apps that used mobile data in the current billing cycle, ordered by the amount of data they’ve used.

manage data android

Tap an app to view more information about its data use. “Foreground data” identifies the data the app was using when it was open and you were actively using it. “Background data” identifies the data the app was using in the background. For example, Gmail downloads new emails The 10 Best Email Apps for Android, Compared Email on a smartphone? Use one of these excellent email apps for Android to make the experience more productive and enjoyable. Read More in the background, Twitter downloads new tweets, a podcast app The 8 Best Podcast Apps for Android Looking for the best podcast app for Android? We have you covered with apps that help you download, discover, listen, and more. Read More downloads new podcast episodes, and so on.

manage android data usage


If an app is using too much background data and you’d like the app to stop, you can tap the Restrict background data checkbox on this screen. The app won’t be allowed to use mobile data in the background; it will only be able to use mobile data when you’re actively using the app. The app will still be allowed to access the Internet on Wi-Fi networks.

To really control the amount of data an app uses, you’ll want to modify that app’s settings. For example, if Twitter How to Use Twitter Twitter can be overwhelming at first, but we're here to help you make sense of it. Here's a complete guide to using Twitter and understanding how it works. Read More is using too much mobile data, you can open the Twitter app and control how often Twitter downloads new tweets. You could set Gmail to only download new emails when you sync manually. Many apps contain settings that allow you to control how the apps use mobile data.

manage background data android

More Data Usage Settings

You can tap the menu button at the top of the screen to view more options. Note that some of these settings may only be available on the latest version of Android Jelly Bean, 4.2.

  • Data Roaming: Enabling data roaming will allow your phone to use mobile data when roaming, such as when you’re visiting other countries. This can incur extremely high additional charges in some situations – some people have been shocked to see a bill for tens of thousands of dollars – so ensure the roaming fees in an area won’t cause you to go bankrupt before you do this. For example, some carriers offer roaming plans that help decrease the costs of roaming.
  • Restrict Background Data: This option prevents all apps and services from using data in the background. Apps that depend on background data won’t work how you’d expect them to – for example, Gmail won’t automatically download new messages in the background if you enable this option.
  • Auto-Sync Data: By default, your emails, calendar events, and contacts automatically sync in the background. You can disable this to prevent background data usage, but you’ll have to manually sync (for example, by tapping the Sync button in the Gmail app to sync your emails).
  • Show Wi-Fi Usage: Enable this option and you’ll see a Wi-Fi tab on the Data usage screen. You can then see which apps used the most data on Wi-Fi. This can be useful if you have a home Internet connection with bandwidth limits.
  • Mobile Hotspots: If you’re tethering your Android phone or tablet to another device, you can specify Wi-Fi networks that your Android will treat as mobile data. This is particularly useful on tablets. For example, if you have an Android tablet and you’re tethering it to your phone, you can open the Data usage screen on the tablet, tap Mobile hotspots, and identify the phone’s Wi-Fi connection as a mobile data connection. You can then use the Data usage screen on the Android tablet to monitor and control your tablet’s use of the tethered connection as if it were a standard mobile data connection.


Do you have any other tips for decreasing your data usage Zombie Android Phone Devouring All Your Data? Shoot It In the Head With 11 Free Tips & Tricks For anyone with a limited data cellular plan, data consumption can become incredibly expensive, very quickly. Overage fees generally cost hundreds of dollars a month - and your phone secretly uses data without your knowledge,... Read More ? Share them in the comments!

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. S messina
    July 28, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Anyone know what to make of the data usage access setting? I have apps I have never used but that came in stalled with my s7 edge like "amazon" which is set to on even tho I have never opened the app??

    Also I have found dead that the Verizon Cloud app went to mobile data ignoring what I thought was a global setting of restricting such background surprises of 90% of my data eaten on my month cycle'so 2nd day.

    I went into that Verizon app and turned of automatic backups from it's dedicated settings. Kind of scared that my subsequent settings witch hunt for other fugitive WiFi setting offendors...

    But I am almost certain I probably am overlooking something as this is my first smartphone and Android device altogether. As I am perty much impoverished that if they did not offer their 2 fer 1 Deal I would never have been able to afford such an otherwise amazing feat of technological wizardry. But considering how generous my family was to think of me I am absolutely terrified of being a "data overage" burden in kind! :(

    In which case any tips and information about the aforementioned usage access setting would be greatly appreciated!

  2. WTJRB
    December 15, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    The above is useless, Android is a convoluted mess, having to traverse each app for a setting change, Android seems hell bent to run up a data bill.

    Why not have a bult-in app like Root Firewall? To restrict background updates doesn't fix the problem. I want a single easier to peruse list to run down, to pull up, to restrict an app foreground and/or background to wifi or to data. I just found Google defaulting to backing up my data. Lovely, having to find out after the bill comes in. Ever notice Google/android defaults to the money pit and your wallet?

  3. Christoph
    December 6, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for the article. What I am looking for, is a way to regularly push/send data usage statistics or alerts to an external server. Is there an app for that? Cheers --Christoph

  4. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    "You can also disable mobile data entirely by setting the Mobile data slider at the top of the screen to Off. This will prevent your phone from using mobile data anywhere"

    this is not true at all! apps now have their own schemes where they gain system access and re-enable mobile data without your authorization.

  5. Anonymous
    June 15, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Thats no very useful, I get messages everytime an app, is trying to use gps or whatever, why not when it starts generating cost??? Main problem most users have, that it is absolute intransparent, which app when is trying to download something as a background process and you have by default no other chance preventing cost by paying first and having after that an idea, what apps a costly and what are not.

  6. faulty brain
    August 2, 2013 at 4:19 am

    5GB allowance ? if only. In Australia 500 MB is considered generous

    • PhilB
      October 7, 2013 at 10:15 am

      I only have 100MB and am going to 'upgrade' to 250MB but the min data usage limit Android recognizes is 2GB. How can you get this limit reduced to what you actually have?

    • James Stokes
      April 10, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      I am able to set my data restrction as low as 0 MB. From there I am able to increase the limit by 1 MB increments. THe only reason I can think that you are not able to go lower then 2GB is that either you have the warning level set to 2GB (the data limit cannot go lower then the warning level), or there may be a difference in the android operating system.

      Another possiblity I just thought of is that since this was posted a long time ago that the android OS added the ability to do finer adjustments since your post. (I am using android 4.4.4)

    • Jamie
      April 17, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      I thought I had the same problem, but it turned out to be an issue of variable increments based on scaling. I believe the slider has a fixed number of increments regardless of what the range is. So each increment of the slider will be for a greater amount, the greater the top end is. Try to reduce the top end and then give the slider a chance to reset its displayed range. Rinse and repeat.

  7. cr
    July 25, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Very informative article.

    Can you restrict multiple apps in one go or is the only option as per each individual app?


  8. abraham
    July 19, 2013 at 10:55 am

    thank you for this. now i can use my s2 with no worries. i now know how to control my data usage. thanks

  9. Vignesh
    April 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    This feature is also available in ICS(4.0.4) :D

  10. Dylan Hutchinson
    April 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I'm having major issues with "Android OS" as seen in the pictures above. It has used in the background 4 of my 5 allowed gb in 3 weeks of using this phone. It's not allowing me to restrict background data for it and I can't access the settings either, as I can do with most apps. Any suggestions?

    • Jamie
      April 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      One quirk I discovered is that uninstalling an update actually used a significant amount of data. So wait until you're on wifi for that.

  11. Scott Belcher
    April 11, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Hadn't realised that you could restrict background data per app. Thanks for pointing that out. (When am I going to get JB on Galaxy S II on Orange UK???)

  12. Kannon Yamada
    April 11, 2013 at 5:48 am

    Great article Chris! I didn't know about being able to individually control data usage per app. That's really handy info. Thanks for sharing.