Privacy in recent years has become something of a hot-button issue in the tech world. While some companies like Facebook and Google have ballooned into multi-billion dollar corporations by leveraging what they know about you to serve up targeted advertising, other companies like Apple have made a concerted effort to keep privacy at the forefront of the user experience.
What’s often lost in the mix during these debates is that there’s a good chance your cell phone carrier, unbeknownst to you, is sharing some of your data with third parties. And while the shared data isn’t necessarily identifiable to the extent that it can be directly traced back to you, it’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re privacy-minded.
So just what type of data are some carriers sharing with others? Well, it’s not exactly something we have to decipher as T-Mobile, back in February, detailed in plain English its forthcoming plans to share your data for advertising purposes:
[Starting] April 26, 2021, T‑Mobile will begin using 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 we share this information with third parties, it is not tied to your name or information that directly identifies you. Instead, we tie it to your mobile advertising identifier or another unique identifier and share it in an “audience segment.” This segment might indicate for example that you, along with a pool of many other consumers, have been identified as a sports enthusiast.
Verizon and AT&T, meanwhile, employ similar approaches.
AT&T’s privacy page, for example, reads in part:
We may be paid by an advertiser to deliver an advertisement or by a business customer to provide its employee with a service. In such cases, we may use or share information that doesn’t identify you personally to provide metrics reports to our business customers and service suppliers. We may also share it with advertising and other companies to deliver or assess the effectiveness of advertising and marketing campaigns.
Notably, AT&T will specifically share data like device information along with user information as it pertains to race, gender, location, and age.
It’s worth stressing that third-party advertisers are never given information about a specific person. As T-Mobile explains, users with similar interests are simply lumped into a non-identifiable pool together. Still, this dynamic naturally rubs many people the wrong way.
The good news is that it’s possible to stop your cell phone carrier from sharing your browsing history, installed apps, and more with outside parties.
As detailed on Mashable, you can easily opt-out of T-Mobile’s targeted advertising by creating a T-Mobile ID, logging into your account, and then going to My account > Profile > Privacy and Notifications > Advertising & Analytics. From there, simply toggle off the option that reads “Use my data to make ads more relevant to me.”
To keep AT&T’s watchful eye away from your browsing habits, users should log into their AT&T account via the Manage Your Privacy Choices page. From there, you can navigate to the “Control how we use your data” heading, tap on Relevant Advertising, and then scroll down and toggle the “No” button next to where it says “Allow use.”
And with AT&T being AT&T, you’ll also want to turn off Enhanced Relevant Advertising which includes user TV viewing habits, call detail records, and more. Enhanced Relevant Advertising is opt-in so it may not even be activated, but if it is, you can opt-out by going to www.att.com/cmpchoice, navigating over to “Control how we use your data” and then tapping on “Enhanced Relevant Advertising” and toggling everything off.
Scroll down and ensure nothing is toggled to “Yes.”
For the full scoop on how to prevent Verizon from sharing your data — the extent of which can be viewed on Verizon’s website — Mashable notes:
- Log in to your Verizon account
- Under “Personal” select “Account” > “Account Settings” > “Privacy Settings” > “Change settings”
- Scroll down until you see the “Relevant Mobile Advertising” section
- Select “Don’t participate” where it asks “Do you want to participate in Relevant Mobile Advertising?”
- Make sure to hit “Save Changes”
Incidentally, some of the data Verizon collects includes information obtained from social networks, including “likes,” along with gender, age range, education level, and general interests.