T-Mobile Is Tracking Users by Default. How to Turn It Off

Last year, T-Mobile said it planned to automatically opt all of its subscribers into a program that would let it share information about their web and app activity with advertisers. Known as AppInsights, a T-Mobile spokesperson said at the time that it was what customers wanted. “We’ve heard many say they prefer more relevant ads so we’re defaulting to this setting,” she said.

Yes, your wireless carrier, which is a service you probably pay a lot of money for, and which has perfect knowledge of what you do on your device since it literally carries the bits on its network, is tracking what you do and selling that information two advertisers.

The program spent a year in beta, but Ad Exchanger now reports that it is online for all users. That means that every T-Mobile user who hasn’t already opted out is having their data collected and sold to third parties. That’s pretty bad, in and of itself.

To be fair, T-Mobile isn’t the only wireless carrier to do this. Both Verizon and AT&T collect usage data and sell it to advertisers. On a long enough time scale, it seems as though every product and service will eventually involve some form of advertising.

The good news is that you can still opt out. The bad news is that T-Mobile definitely does not want you to do that, and it has made it far more complicated than it should be.

To stop T-Mobile from collecting your data, and to delete the information that has already been collected, you can’t just turn off a setting on your phone. It isn’t even easy to find a setting if you log into your account.

Instead, you have to download a separate app, which will show you which services have data collected about you. Then, you can choose to stop tracking and delete any data that has already been collected. It’s almost as though T-Mobile really doesn’t want you to turn tracking.

There are apps available for both iOS and Android; however, T-Mobile has said it doesn’t track user activity on the iPhone because of Apple’s privacy protections like App Tracking Transparency. The Android app is called Magenta Ads Platform Choices, which is available in the Google Play Store but isn’t exactly something you might stumble on and have any idea that it’s designed to give you control over the personal information T-Mobile is collecting about you .

I also recommend you log into your account online and go to Profile > Privacy and Notifications > Advertising & Analytics and select your phone number. There, you can turn off the option to let T-Mobile use your data for analytics and to make “ads more relevant.”

At one point, advertising was something you put up with to get a product for free. For example, broadcast television. You didn’t have to pay to have NBC and CBS broadcast to your home–you just had to put up with ads interrupting whatever you were watching every few minutes.

Then came the internet. A service like Google Search, which is really quite incredible as a free utility when you think about it, is able to make money through ads instead of by charging users. That seems like a great deal, but–as always–there is a catch.

The reason Google and Facebook, and basically every other online service, is willing to let you use their services for free is because they keep track of your activity online, and use it to target ads at you. Now, however, even services you pay for want in on ads. That’s fine, I guess, but at a minimum, you should ask first.

In general, it’s not a great business practice to do things like collect user data without explicitly asking for users’ permission. To be clear, it can be a great business, at least in terms of making a lot of money selling that data to advertisers. That said, it’s still not great. It’s pretty bad, actually.

I mean, you get it. If you ask permission, a lot of your customers will say no, which makes the whole thing far less valuable. Except, if a lot of your customers are opting out of data tracking, that should be a sign that it’s probably not the best business strategy to begin with.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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