What device is the iPhone talking about?

I’m in the air, between Japan and the US on JAL WiFi. This message keeps popping up on my iPhone. What device are they talking about?

Never mind. I see it’s the USB Lightning cable attached to the seat usb charging port. Sort of annoying.


I wonder what else that port is doing beyond charging. You don’t get that popup for a charge-only connection.

Maybe JAL has some in-flight services that use a USB data connection, but I’d make really certain to always click “Don’t Allow” just in case there’s something unwanted running on the plane’s server.

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Wouldn’t it stop charging then?


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Not necessarily.

When an iPhone is connected to a computer, it forces you to unlock it before charging will work. I think this is a bug, but that’s the way it is.

But the alert you presented (allowing the computer to access data on the phone) should be separate from that.

If the JAL connector was charge-only (like a power brick or a car cigarette-lighter adapter), then it wouldn’t ask at all.

Every time I need to unlock it it asks. Next time I’ll say no and see what happens.


Back in the USB-A days, there was something called a USB condom. It was a male to female connector that had only charging connections, but not data connections. Is there such a thing for USB-C, or lightning?

A lot of airlines have something like this. Especially in ‘fancier’ classes. Besides charging (which is always on, at least above 10,000 ft), you can also view your photos/movies on the IFE screen or browse your music library. That requires access to the iOS file system so the iPhone asks you if you trust their IFE. That all makes sense.

What does not make sense is that it keeps asking you just because you unlocked the iPhone. The last time I encountered this was I believe was on DL long-haul PE and there it stopped asking until you disconnected the cable. I believe ANA and KLM in J did the same thing. Once you reconnected, it would ask again. That’s still frequent but to me makes much more sense than nagging people about it every single time they unlock their iPhone.

You can buy charge-only cables that don’t connect the data lines, if you choose, but they may limit your charging speeds, because the USB battery charging and power delivery protocols (used to get higher-than-normal voltages and current capacities) require communication on the data lines and therefore won’t work if those lines are not connected.


Maybe the cable was loose, and momentarily disconnected each time he picked it up to unlock?


This is not hard to believe. Connectors in airplanes see a lot of abuse. I’ve seen lots of loose (sometimes to the point of being useless) connectors on in-flight power ports and USB ports.

It was a 100% pattern though. Anyway, I’ve arrived in the U.S.

Yes, at least in some scenarios. Many car USB ports (those connected to the audio system) will not push a charge unless you grant permission. I also feel this is a glaring oversight on Apple’s part.

When renting cars I bring a USB adapter for the auxiliary power outlet and stick to that for charging, or use my portable battery which can be charged from the car or hotel separately.

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This is the same issue regarding computer connections. When connecting a modern iOS device to a computer via USB, nothing happens, not even charging, until you authorize the connection.

The car connectivity issue is a symptom of the same thing, because car audio systems are embedded computers. They use USB data for audio and for accessing the media library (e.g. to present screens for selecting tracks and playlists and to control playback).

I agree completely that Apple should let a device charge from a port without authorizing data transfer. I don’t know if there’s a technical reason why Apple might not be able to do this (perhaps there’s no way to block data without also blocking the data used to negotiate power transfer), but it is annoying.

I do the same. Not because I’m worried about authorizing my phone, but because I travel with multiple devices that need to be charged (two phones and and iPod). One (the iPod) gets connected to the car’s audio system. The others just charge.

The reason Apple displays that alert is because of nefarious free charging stations were found with computer connectivity that would collect a lot of data about a device and subsequently the user. There were also instances of hacks which allowed them to forensically clone your phone. This is how those specialized tools work that governments buy. Apple now lets you know when USB communications are being engaged. A proper charge station should not attempt such a thing.


No disagreement here. There are malicious “charging stations” all over the place.

But it would be nice if, after refusing to allow data connections, that the phone could still charge from the port. But it seems that this is not the case for some reason.

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Today the FBI issued a warning that people should not use public USB “charging stations” to charge their phones:

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It’s always reassuring to see the FBI alert us to a problem that has been well known and well documented for several years and after most reputable cell phone manufacturers have added firmware to detect and block these kinds of attacks.