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T-Mobile to increase collection of customers’ online activity to share with advertisers

Others are already doing it. Time for a VPN.

Privacy experts have long warned that it’s ISPs and mobile operators, rather than centralized social media who actually have the most access and potentially the largest amount of personal user data.

Tracking users, scraping and selling their data to advertisers has worked so well for Big Tech, that was only a matter of time other giants like telecoms started stepping up and expanding similar business models.

And now, T-Mobile, which ranks second in the US by number of subscribers, has a privacy policy update: phone customers using its web and mobile apps will have their data automatically harvested and shared, starting in late April.

The only way out will be to actively look for and find the opt-out setting – something that most users of technology rarely do, since surveys and research over the years have consistently shown that “default is king.”

T-Mobile’s merger partner, Sprint, in the past shared data for similar purposes, but only of those subscribers who opted-in; but now, they too will be sucked into T-Mobile’s new scheme. The telecommunications giant has a total of 80 million subscribers and promises that the new policy won’t cover business accounts or those used by children.

Regardless of industry, the justification for such moves is always the same: it’s actually good for customers to trade off privacy for a little convenience. A spokesperson for T-Mobile spoke in the same vein, making it sound like the privacy policy change came by popular demand.

“We’ve heard many say they prefer more relevant ads so we’re defaulting to this setting,” the spokesperson is quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

And while T-Mobile couldn’t avoid addressing privacy implications of all this – saying customers’ anonymity would be protected via encoded user or device ID, privacy advocates are less than convinced.

“It’s hard to say with a straight face, ‘We’re not going to share your name with it’. This type of data is very personal and revealing, and it’s trivial to link that deidentified info back to you,” noted EFF’s Aaron Mackey.

Other operators, like AT&T, also have an automatic data harvesting program that is described as “basic,” while it allows opt-ins in order to give more finely-grained data to its advertising partners. A similar model is currently applied by Verizon. They both make much more ad money than T-Mobile, which appears to be trying to catch up.

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