let's not do the time warp again ok
November 19, 2022 12:31 PM   Subscribe

This is the third time it's happened now: when I go into my local Aldi, my phone changes the date to April 2003, the internet stops working (mobile and wifi), and it stays that way until I restart.

It doesn't happen every time I go to Aldi, but it's happened 3 times now, I think the first time was back in June or maybe July.

Moto G Power running Android 11, I keep it updated and don't do anything weird to it.

Seems to be a pretty normal Aldi. Never met a younger version of my parents there, no spectral goo dripping from portals, Wyld Stallyns is never playing on the radio.

Any idea what on earth could be happening here and how I can avoid it in the future?? (Aside from leaving my phone in the car, I like having my phone with me to shop).
posted by phunniemee to Technology (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Are you connecting to their wifi? Possibly they have a misconfigured time server, that your phone checks and changes, then everything starts failing because most things on the internet are secured via certificates that are time-restricted and wouldn't be valid in 2003.
posted by meowzilla at 12:41 PM on November 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not connecting to their wifi, no. Just using mobile data in their stores and I have my wifi generally set not to accept any wifi networks but my home.
posted by phunniemee at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2022

A friend of mine who works in operations for a telco says it's most likely a misconfigured nearby cell tower.
posted by kimota at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2022 [27 favorites]

You could turn off the "set time automatically" option in your phone's settings.(under settings>system>date & time on my Pixel)
posted by wierdo at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Aldi's prices are so low because they have a time portal in the stock room that they travel through to purchase inventory from the past, like the diner owner in the miniseries 11.22.63.

It sounds like there is something in or near the store that is misconfigured and is sending a signal that tells your phone the wrong date and time. You can't control someone else's equipment, but there should be somewhere in the clock settings on your phone where you can turn off auto-updating (this feature is how your phone knows when it's daylight savings time or that you've changed timezones while traveling).

On my Android phone the steps to get to this setting are:
General management
Date and time
Automatic date and time

Remembering to turn that setting off and back on will be an annoyance unless you can hang it onto an established habit, so perhaps you could fold a little note around your shopping cart quarter reminding you to turn it off in the parking lot, then leave the note on your seat so that you remember to turn it back on and rewrap your quarter with the note once you get back to the car. Or if just getting near the Aldi triggers it, attach the reminder note to your reusable shopping bags so you're reminded before you leave the house. You get the general idea of hanging a reminder on an existing habit, so whatever works for your process.

If that doesn't work then you could buy a small faraday cage bag for your phone and put your phone in that before entering the store. Look for the faraday cage bags that are marketed to companies for securing employees' phones in areas with sensitive information (for example, I used to work at a place that issued all employees faraday cage bags to seal our personal phones inside before entering office areas where there was HIPAA-protected information on computer screens), not the ones marketed to loons paranoid about radiation or the CIA tracking them. The faraday cage bag option means you wouldn't be able to receive calls or otherwise use your phone while shopping, but at least you'll still have it on hand in case you need to make an outgoing emergency call. And it should block your phone from receiving any signals.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:03 PM on November 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

My gut says this is because of a "fake" cell tower installed in the store. This could be a device they installed to try to improve reception indoors, or to track and log your presence in the store, or both. In your place I would get one of the apps that tells what tower I'm connected to, and which are visible, and study a bit. If there is a tower available when you're indoors but not outdoors nearby, you can be pretty sure that's not a standard tower. One app that shows this is satstat, which I installed from fdroid, but it might be in the google play store too. I have also used a tower locator app with crowdsourced mapping, I'm not sure of its name.
posted by fritley at 2:46 PM on November 19, 2022 [23 favorites]

When my android phone gets confused by broken cell towers and forgets how to access the internet (it does seem to happen to me near grocery stores), I have found that going into airplane mode and back seems to work to fix it without having to do a full restart
posted by JZig at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If it's a broken tower situation, how localized can that be? I live 1200 feet from the Aldi and this has never happened at home, and I regularly use my phone at the train station 500 feet in the other direction from the Aldi and have never had the problem there.

Thanks for the backwards rec for 11.22.63, I may actually have to watch it now.
posted by phunniemee at 5:57 PM on November 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

I live 1200 feet from the Aldi and this has never happened at home, and I regularly use my phone at the train station 500 feet in the other direction from the Aldi and have never had the problem there.

OK so since it only happens in Aldi and not just in the general area, I think that you should report the issue to the store manager and let them know when it first started in case it corresponds to when they installed something new.

Because it looks like Aldi recently began implementing some new customer tracking tech in some of their stores:


So there could very well be something new (but not immediately obvious to customers) in the store that interacts with cell phones.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

To add to the useful stuff already mentioned above - I've never purposely turned on any such thing , buuuut there are (reminder) apps that (you probably aren't using either to cause this), that do *something* you elect, when you arrive at a geolocation of your choosing. If you were using something like that, maybe it is seriously foobarred.

eg. I have an app right now, for example, I can set up to alert me when i physically arrive at my fave grocery store, to say "buy apples", etc. Or when I get home, "take out the trash" or whatever.

Anyway, I've never heard of such a thing happening with it, but it is technology. :)
posted by bitterkitten at 6:59 PM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

This app will show you what cell tower you're connected to, so you could see if it's something different in the Aldi vs at home.
posted by wesleyac at 8:04 PM on November 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's possible that the usual signal is very weak in their store and they set up their own (misconfigured) cell-phone relay in response.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:49 AM on November 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hi, I'm in telecom. And while I work more in the deeper-end of that pool (DAS and CBRS for stadiums, large office buildings, etc.) I believe the folks above saying it's a faulty repeater in the store are probably correct.

Mid-sized and up retail buildings are often built with such a high concentration of metal and concrete that cellular signals have difficulty breaking through. Some of the more conscientious stores try to get around this with various tech. Sounds like your Aldi is doing that and simply has time misconfigured.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:17 AM on November 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

I have had this happen repeatedly when near a certain location in the university where I work, and it was also time travel by about 20 years or so (though I don't remember if it was 2003 specifically). It seemed to be associated with an area inside a building so I thought it was either WiFi or a repeater (not an actual cell tower), but who knows? Definitely supports something like that rather than corporate tracking or a personal geolocation-triggered app, though.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

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