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Turn this smartphone setting off if you don’t want to be tracked for ad targeting

Ad targeting

By now, most of us are probably resigned to the fact that many of the digital services we use on a daily basis — things like Facebook and Spotify, for example — monetize our clicks and behaviors within their apps, and even sometimes outside them, in attempt to learn as much about us as possible. In the service, of course, of presenting us with better ads that we’re more likely to click on, which keeps the money rolling in for the services themselves, letting the wheel of commerce keeps spinning on, uninterrupted.

I daresay, though, that most people don’t realize or pay all that much attention to the fact that their actual phones, the mobile devices themselves, are doing a version of the same thing, thanks to carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon monitoring their customers’ behavior online to improve ad targeting that’s directed at those customers. It generally takes something like a splashy Wall Street Journal story, like one from last week, to alert T-Mobile users, for example, that they’re being opted into an ad targeting program which is being fed by those customers’ online clicks and other activity.

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Among that story’s highlights: T-Mobile US Inc. said in a new update to its privacy policies (which you can read here) that starting April 26, customers’ web and mobile app data will be shared with advertisers. A T-Mobile spokeswoman told the newspaper that the carrier has “heard many (customers) say” they want better ads, so that’s why the carrier is doing this.

The terms of T-Mobile’s privacy notice, dated February 23, reads in part: “For most of how we use your data, nothing’s changed. However, 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.”

When the company does share that data with third parties, the notice continues, it won’t be tied to the customer’s name or any information that directly identifies them. T-Mobile also promises that it doesn’t use location data unless the customer gives express permission for that.

While this program might raise some eyebrows, it’s important to point out — T-Mobile is not out on a limb here. Verizon and AT&T both do their own versions of this, as well. If you’re like me and a bit creeped out by all this, thanks to the folks at Recode, here’s how you can disable these settings, depending on which carrier your phone service is through:

T-Mobile: Let’s start with T-Mobile. On the web, you simply go to the T-Mobile website, then click Account, Profile Settings, Privacy and Notifications, Advertising & Analytics, and then turn off these settings: “Use my data to make ads more relevant to me” and “Use my data for analytics and reporting.” On the T-Mobile app, you can turn off those two settings by clicking “More” on the menu bar, and then Advertising & Analytics.

AT&T: Here’s how you do it if you’re an AT&T customer. On the web, visit the Consent Dashboard, then click Relevant Advertising and select the option for “No.” On the app, click More from the menu bar, then Profile, Data & Privacy, Privacy settings, Relevant Advertising, and change the option you see to “No.”

Verizon: Verizon customers, you’ll visit www.VerizonWireless.com/myprivacy, then choose “Don’t share” for Customer Proprietary Network Information, Business & Marketing Insights, and Relevant Mobile Advertising. On the app, choose “More” from the menu bar, then click the gear icon for Account Settings, then Manage Privacy Settings, and turn off Customer Proprietary Network Information, Business & Marketing Insights, and Relevant Mobile Advertising.

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Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.