T-Mobile Is Taking All of Your Sweet, Sweet Data… Unless You Tell It to Stop

Illustration for article titled T-Mobile Is Taking All of Your Sweet, Sweet Data… Unless You Tell It to Stop
Photo: John MacDougall (Getty Images)

Heads up, fellow T-Mobile customers: You might want to take a look at your mobile carrier’s privacy policy.

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As first spotted by the Wall Street Journal, the company’s latest update to its privacy policy is set to automatically enroll paying phone subscribers into an ad-targeting program that will see their data shared with unnumbered advertisers starting next month. It’s also worth noting here that the privacy policy update also carries over for any Sprint customers who were gobbled by T-Mobile during the two company’s mega-merger last year.

T-Mobile’s latest Privacy Notice lays out some of the specifics: Starting April 26, the company writes, it will begin a “new program” that shares some personal data—like the apps you download or the sites you visit—with third-party advertisers. T-Mobile also adds that it won’t share your precise location data “unless you give [T-Mobile] your express permission,” and won’t share information in a way that can be directly tied back to your device. But like we’ve written before, just because a dataset is “anonymized” doesn’t mean that you can take the company anonymizing it (T-Mobile, in this case) at its word.

T-Mobile is hardly the only major telco to pull these kinds of ad-targeting shenanigans. Verizon, for example, has an entire subsidiary—Verizon Media—that compiles data from its customers (along with a few third parties) to make its own different audience categories for targeted ads. AT&T’s had its own adtech subsidiary, Xandr, on hand since 2018 for similar purposes: pooling similar buckets of subscriber data together, and then pawning off that data to advertisers that might be interested in reaching, say, new moms, vegetarians, or luxury shoppers on their specific networks.

The company, for its part, promised the Wall Street Journal that it was defaulting to this new setting because “many say they prefer more relevant ads,” which is one of the most oft-repeated arguments people in the ad industry like to throw around to justify their invasive practices. In fact, there’s another reason that T-Mobile might be incentivized to throw this update out right now.

The ongoing updates to Apple’s iOS 14 and the upcoming updates to Google’s Chrome browser have left some advertiser’s core data-collection tactics—like mobile ID’s and third-party cookies—in the dust. Some major companies in the data-brokering space have begun pitching their own sorts of data-hoovering tech that can circumvent these new roadblocks, and T-Mobile’s new policy seems to be another spin on that, just coming from your phone service provider.

T-Mobile’s policy page, for its part, has a pretty comprehensive guide describing how to opt-out of this new program at the bottom of its new notice here, which is something you should go do right now.

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I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

DISCUSSION

Does this apply to MVNOs (third-party carriers like Ting or Mint) that use the T-Mobile network?