By B.N. Frank
Security experts interviewed earlier this year for a CBS “60 Minutes” segment insisted that “Data is the New Oil.” Privacy invasive data collection and sharing is NOT new though.
For many years now companies have been making money not just from providing services but also by collecting customer data and selling it to 3rd parties. This is sometimes referred to as “Surveillance Capitalism.” In fact, utility companies that have installed their increasingly unpopular (and problematic) electric, gas, and water “Smart” Meters are able to collect (and sell) private customer usage data as well (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Creeped out yet?
According to a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal, all phone carriers have been collecting customer usage data and sharing it with 3rd parties; however, customers may “opt-out” if they want:
T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers
Wireless carrier tells subscribers it could share their masked browsing, app data and online activity with advertisers unless they opt out
T-Mobile US Inc. TMUS -0.59% will automatically enroll its phone subscribers in an advertising program informed by their online activity, testing businesses’ appetite for information that other companies have restricted.
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.
A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the changes give subscribers advertising that aligns with their interests. “We’ve heard many say they prefer more relevant ads so we’re defaulting to this setting,” she said. (See below how to change your account settings.)
T-Mobile ended 2020 with more than 60 million phone users under its main brand and more than 20 million customers on prepaid plans. The company said the changes wouldn’t apply to business accounts or children’s lines.
Many big tech companies are under pressure from regulators and privacy advocates to move in the opposite direction on user data. Google owner Alphabet Inc. recently pledged to change the part of its business that relies on records of users’ browsing across websites, while Apple Inc. is adding strict new privacy protections for its device users.
AT&T Inc. automatically enrolls wireless subscribers in a basic ad program that pools them into groups based on inferred interests, such as sports or buying a car. An enhanced version of the program shares more-detailed personal information with partners from customers who opt into it.
Verizon Communications Inc. likewise pools subscriber data before sharing inferences about them with advertisers, with a more-detailed sharing program called Verizon Selects for users who enroll. Its separate Verizon Media division shares data gathered through its Yahoo and AOL brands.
T-Mobile said it masks users’ identities to prevent advertisers and other companies from knowing what websites they visit or apps they have installed. The company tags the data with an encoded user or device ID to protect the customers’ anonymity.
But privacy groups say those IDs can be linked back to people by comparing different data sets.
Of course, if you’re concerned about your privacy, you can always reduce your use of privacy invasive technology.
Activist Post reports regularly about unsafe technology. For more information, visit our archives.
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