Surprise! Your Amazon Fire TV could be gobbling gigabytes like an Internet gremlin

amazon firetv special 69 roku cyber monday fire tv data
When I first saw the Amazon Fire TV, I couldn’t get over how cute it was. Just look at its short stature, tiny footprint, and tidy little remote – how darling! In fact, the Fire TV is so unobtrusive, you could easily lose it in the mess of black boxes that live under your TV and forget it was even there.

That would be a huge mistake.

Sure, the little black box and its lone LED look innocent enough, but in reality, the Fire TV is like a stealthy, bloodthirsty vampire quietly gorging itself on gigabytes of your precious Internet data while supposedly doing nothing at all. Beware: If you own a Fire TV box, there’s a possibility it’s gunning for your data cap, if not blowing it away entirely – and your ISP isn’t going to like that.

Fingering the Fire TV

Tyler Hayes was the first to discover the Fire TV’s secret little problem when he got a not-so-friendly letter from his ISP that he had blown through a lot of data in not much time. For now, Comcast doesn’t enforce its 250 GB data cap in my area, so it was Hayes’ alert that prompted me to look into my own house’s data consumption over the past three months. What I found was shocking.

My household consumption soared to 632GB in May and 526GB in June.

The last time I checked my monthly home Internet data usage (in February) it was well below the 250 GB mark, according to Comcast’s online meter tool. Since then, my family’s video streaming habits haven’t changed much – though, admittedly, we stream nearly all of our TV content, having ceased cable service late last year. According to the same meter, my household consumption soared in April to 413 GB (I installed the Fire TV mid-month), 632 GB in May and 526GB in June.

I immediately began checking my meter every hour or so and was dismayed to see it tick up 1GB to 2GB per hour with periodic use of the Fire TV box. (I should note here that I did confirm my Wi-Fi network hadn’t been hijacked by any freeloaders). By the next day, I had run through about 17GB of data. That was enough for me to pull the set-top box into Digital Trends’ offices for a more comprehensive – and accurate – series of tests.

The big test

In response to Hayes’ blog post, Amazon said that the culprit of this data use was likely due to the device’s screensaver – specifically the “Mosaic” setting. According to Amazon, the device suffers from a bug wherein instead of displaying a series of cached images (very high-quality, large file-size images, mind you) it was actually streaming those images over the Internet, hence the big data draw.

To Amazon’s credit, its recognition of the problem and stated intent to fix it is encouraging. But I set out to find out how much bandwidth was getting used up when the Fire TV was leeching data, as well as how much data was being consumed over a given period of time, both down and upstream.

Amazon fireTV kit

To set up the test, I plugged the Fire TV into an Ethernet port that would be closely monitored by Digital Trends’ network service provider. I then set the Fire TV’s screensaver to activate after five minutes of inactivity. We monitored the Fire TV’s data consumption over the course of two 30 minute segments, once with the Fire TV set to Mosaic mode, and again set to Pan and Zoom mode, which, according to Amazon, is meant to alleviate the problem. The screensaver only runs for about 20 minutes before the screen simply goes dark. That being the case, we expected to see a sudden ramp up about five minutes in, and then a sudden ramp down 5-10 minutes before the end of the test. Here’s what we saw.

The bigger results

According to Digital Trends’ network service provider, the Fire TV ran at an average of 6.26 Mbps, eating up 1.408 gigabytes (download) and spitting out 43 megabytes (upload) while in Mosaic mode. After switching to Pan and Zoom, those numbers went down significantly to 68 megabytes and .8 megabytes, respectively.

What this means to Fire TV owners

First, the good news: Not only is Amazon aware of the problem, they are actively working hard to fix it – and they should, this is a potential PR nightmare for the company. In fact, Amazon worked with me directly to gather some more data about the problem to assist them with developing a fix.

Unfortunately, until Amazon develops the fix and deploys it, this bug poses a bunch of potential problems for Fire TV users.

In many areas, data caps are tightly enforced, which means Fire TV owners not aware of the “Mosaic Bug” could quickly exceed their data cap if they choose the setting, landing them in a pickle with their ISP. ISPs could either throttle speeds or impose an overage fee on Fire TV customers. And even if these victims are made aware of the bug, given ISP’s typically unsympathetic attitudes, it’s entirely possible the customer will be slap out of luck anyway.

Until Amazon develops the fix and deploys it, this bug poses a bunch of potential problems for Fire TV users.

But even if ISPs turn a blind eye to the issue, the bug still poses a problem to consumers on a practical, day-to-day level by clogging up a user’s Internet pipes. According to a networks engineering professional at Digital Trends’ service provider, the average Comcast customer has a 15 mbps (megabits per second) connection. Over the 30 minute test period, the Fire TV’s average gobbled up 6.26 mbps on the downstream and sent 1.99 mbps upstream. This would hog 41 percent of a standard residential Comcast Internet connection. That’s just under half of your bandwidth all gunked up with Fire TV pictures any time the screen saver happens to run.

Without any proactive action by the user, that screen saver could end up running often. The Fire TV has no power button, so you can’t turn the box off unless you unplug it entirely. That means any time you hit pause on a movie, TV show or game without resuming less than five minutes later, or wake the box up by accidentally clicking a button on the remote, that screen saver is going to run, and you can kiss about 1.5 GB of your data allowance goodbye.

What Fire TV owners should do

According to Amazon, turning off the Mosaic function (which is not on by default) “avoids the issue.” However we’re not thrilled with the idea of giving up some 68 megabytes any time our screensaver kicks in. Amazon claims it may be related to a third-party and is investigating our box – we’ll keep this space updated if we find the culprit. Until Amazon is able to exterminate the bug, I’m going to recommend folks disable their screensaver entirely by going to Settings->Display and Sounds->Screensaver->Never. This way, nothing but streaming videos should ping data allowances.

Don’t be too hard on Amazon

New products are prone to bugs. Even Apple, the king of products that “just work,” has spent a good deal of its existence patching holes and fixing bugs. Also, Apple Maps. So before jumping down Amazon’s throat for what was clearly an oversight (there’s no way this would have gone unnoticed) let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that the company has been responsive and intends to right the wrong, though how fast it will act remains to be seen.

For now, share this news with any of your Fire TV-owning friends and relatives, and let us know if you’ve got a Fire TV that’s been hogging up your data.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

New TV? Here's where to go to watch the best 4K content available

Searching for content for your new 4K UHD TV? Look no further. We have every major source of the best 4K content, along with the cost, hardware requirements, and features that make each service worth a look.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Product Review

The competition was fierce, and this is the best TV of 2018

With stellar picture quality, excellent ease of use, and rich features, the LG C8 OLED is the best TV you can buy in 2018, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for you. Check out our review to learn more.
Home Theater

Does your TV's picture look too real? You can get rid of that 'soap opera effect'

If the movie or TV show you're watching looks surreal, it's because of a TV setting known as video interpolation, or motion smoothing. The result is the dreaded Soap Opera Effect, and this is how to get rid of it forever.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.

The best 4K TV deals under $500 and over 50 inches

Big-screen TVs with high-resolution displays and 4K color have dropped so far in price that you can find highly rated 50 to 55-inch models under $500. We searched major retailers for the best deals on 4K UHD TVs.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ ‘Bumblebee,’ ‘Alita,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's the first trailer for Avengers: Endgame, as well as new trailers for Alita: Battle Angel and Bumblebee.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ and more

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2, Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas, and more.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

'Stranger Things' season 3 teaser reveals the new episodes' titles

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

Between sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.
Home Theater

Stranger Things season 3 predictions: Decoding the episode titles

Netflix has revealed the episode titles for season 3 of Stranger Things, and the eight titles could shed light on what we can expect to see when the hit show returns in summer 2019.