T-Mobile Will Start Selling Your Personal Data on April 26 Unless You Opt Out

T-Mobile Will Start Selling Your Personal Data on April 26 Unless You Opt Out

T-Mobile has made some significant changes to its privacy policy and customers who care will need to change their defaults to keep their personal data personal.

The new privacy document states:

Starting April 26, 2021, T‑Mobile will begin a new program that uses some data we have about you, including information we learn from your web and device usage data (like the apps installed on your device) and interactions with our products and services for our own and 3rd party advertising, unless you tell us not to.

We’ve spent some time going over both versions of the document, eyeballing the differences. In addition to the quote above, T-Mobile’s new privacy policy states: “Under T‑Mobile’s personalized ads program, T‑Mobile will use and analyze data from your device and usage data generated by your use of T‑Mobile products and services to create inferences for our own and 3rd party advertising until you tell us not to use it.”

T-Mobile Will Start Selling Your Personal Data on April 26 Unless You Opt Out

The section on location data is also different. Under the old T-Mobile policy, location tracking was specifically opt-in and disabled by default unless the end user went to some lengths to enable it. Compare the opening lines of each:

Old policy: “You may provide permission for T-Mobile to use your Network Usage Data and Network Location Data histories to better understand your interests and provide a richer, more personal experience by using the data to deliver online advertising and provide analytics to online advertisers. These settings are “off” by default.”

New policy: “We request your permission before collecting and using precise location data associated with your identifying information for certain non-essential activities.”

(Emphasis added in both cases).

The word “certain” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Which non-essential activities do and don’t request permission? There is no longer any mention of tracking being disabled by default. The new policy specifically notes that its new ad tracking will be a big change for Sprint customers. Under Sprint, “data was previously used only if you indicated it was OK with you first.” That’s not the case any longer.

T-Mobile claims that it isn’t directly tracking individuals because, instead of associating your data with your name, it associates this data with “your mobile advertising identifier or another unique identifier.” End users should be aware that it can be trivial to reconstruct personally identifiable information (PII) from so-called anonymous data. Data can be anonymous if it’s aggregated and impossible to correlate with the activity of any given individual, but if the company is associating data with unique identifiers, those identifiers can probably be leveraged across multiple platforms to create a data and activity record.

Currently, at least according to the Wall Street Journal, T-Mobile’s new practices will mean it’s selling more personal data than either AT&T or Verizon. AT&T is described as enrolling users in a basic program that groups them anonymously according to inferred interests and shares more personal information only on an opt-in basis. Verizon’s program supposedly works similarly, though this would be a change from its practices years ago. T-Mobile, in contrast, will share individual user data and claims it can prevent abuse through the use of unique advertising identifiers. This is not an improvement over the current status quo.

Congratulations to T-Mobile. It may have taken the company years, but it’s finally shaken the reputation it cultivated as a dynamic, responsive “uncarrier,” and taken its rightful place alongside Verizon and AT&T.

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