Today’s offender in the world of mobile carriers is T-Mobile. The “Uncarrier” isn’t dropping a new pink-colored mobile plan—it’s a bit more troubling than that. At least, if you care about T-Mobile’s data-collection practices, and who it shares that data with. (You should care about that very much.)
As The Wall Street Journal’s Drew FitzGerald writes:
“The No. 2 U.S. carrier by subscribers said in a recent privacy-policy update that unless they opt out it will share customers’ web and mobile-app data with advertisers starting April 26. For example, the program could help advertisers identify people who enjoy cooking or are sports enthusiasts, the company said.
T-Mobile’s new policy will also cover Sprint customers acquired through the carriers’ 2020 merger. Sprint had previously shared similar data only from customers who opted into its third-party ad program.”
Though T-Mobile attempts to anonymize the data it packages and passes to advertisers by encoding identifying characteristics, that doesn’t mean that what you do and what apps you use are completely anonymous. Aaron Mackey, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who is quoted later in FitzGerald’s piece, says that it’s a “trivial” matter to reveal a user’s identity (and phone practices) by comparing multiple data sets’ worth of information.
Back in 2019, researchers at two European universities found similarly. Their results, published in a paper titled, “Estimating the success of re-identifications in incomplete datasets using generative models,” found that “de-identification,” or the allegedly anonymity of a data set, isn’t very useful when the measured factors can single out individuals—either by themselves or when combined with other data sets.
“Using our model, we find that 99.98% of Americans would be correctly re-identified in any dataset using 15 demographic attributes. Our results suggest that even heavily sampled anonymized datasets are unlikely to satisfy the modern standards for anonymization set forth by GDPR and seriously challenge the technical and legal adequacy of the de-identification release-and-forget model.”
Fun times, eh? Whether you care about this or not—and I say that, because I definitely know some people who just throw their hands in the air about data privacy, assuming every service they use tracks them in some capacity—I still think it’s important to take control of your data whenever possible. This typically only takes a few minutes to do on the sites and services you use. Even if it feels like a fool’s errand—and will never truly free you from the grip of ad tech—every little bit helps. Or, at least, it can’t hurt.
To adjust your advertising-sharing settings on T-Mobile, the Uncarrier gives you two options:
- “You can opt out through the My T‑Mobile application or MyT‑Mobile.com. In the T‑Mobile app visit the MORE tab > Advertising & Analytics > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn the toggle off (grey) to stop the use of your data for advertising.”
- “On MyT‑Mobile.com, click the My account drop down > Profile > Privacy and Notifications > Advertising & Analytics > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn the toggle off (grey) to stop the use of your data for advertising.”
I don’t have T-Mobile myself, so I can’t give you any more help than that (or screenshots). However, I am definitely going to go check my advertising settings at Verizon right now, because you never know. The Wall Street Journal’s report covers how to tweak those too, as well as the privacy settings for all the other major carriers, so now’s as good a time as any to make sure you’re limiting the sharing of your data—“anonymous” or not.