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T-Mobile to Share Customers' Web Browsing Data With Advertisers Unless They Opt Out

(Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Ideally, the apps you have installed on your phone, along with the web browsing data, should remain private. But starting next month, T-Mobile will automatically share the information with third-party advertisers unless customers opt out. 

The data-sharing is mentioned in an update to the carrier’s privacy policy, which was spotted by The Wall Street Journal. T-Mobile plans on opting its customers into the program on April 26.

The goal is to analyze customer data to offer more personalized advertising. For example, T-Mobile says it’ll try to pinpoint whether a customer is a fan of sports or loves cooking, and in turn, serve relevant ads. Nevertheless, T-Mobile can hand off a lot of data to third-party advertisers.

“To build these inferences, we will use information like broadband information, network diagnostic data (Android users only), IP address, device and advertising IDs, mobile apps installed or used with your device, content interactions, like video and content viewing info, and web browsing data, device activity and attributes,” the carrier says in the policy.

To protect your privacy, T-Mobile says the shared data won’t be tied to customer names or any other personal information. “Instead, we tie it to your mobile advertising identifier or another unique identifier,” the carrier says. At the same time, no precise location data will be shared unless the customer gives explicit permission to do so. 

The safeguards may sound good on paper. But the policy doesn’t mention the risk of third-party advertisers combining the T-Mobile customer information with their own stockpile of tracking data, which could de-anonymize user activities. For example, imagine Amazon, Google, or Facebook taking the T-Mobile data. The IP addresses alone would allow each company to match the user traffic to what occurs on their own sites. 

T-Mobile didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the Journal points out that other carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, have also been automatically enrolling customers into their own advertiser data-sharing programs.

To opt out of the programs, customers need to go into their accounts, and manage the settings on their advertising preferences. On the downside, you’ll see less personalized ads.

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