T-Mobile US will automatically enroll its phone subscribers in an advertising program informed by their online activity, according to a news report. A recent privacy-policy update shows that unless customers opt out, T-Mobile will share their web and mobile-app data with advertisers, starting on 26 April. T-Mobile’s new policy will also cover Sprint customers. Sprint had previously shared similar data only from customers who opted into its third-party ad program.
A T-Mobile spokeswoman said that 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.
The operator said that it masks users’ identities to prevent advertisers and other companies from knowing which websites they visit or which apps they have installed. The company tags the data with an encoded user ID or device ID to protect the customers’ anonymity.
As with so many telecommunications initiatives that have an impact on privacy, this one from T-Mobile US has the potential to upset users, as well as the potential to provide them with what they want and thereby drive revenue to the operator both from advertisers and from satisfied customers. Or rather, the data-sharing plan could end up pleasing some subscribers and alienating others.
The opt-out aspect of this is perhaps the most perilous in terms of public opinion, in that some subscribers will likely prefer an opt-in rather than an opt-out policy. Many users tend not to be aware, initially, of programs of this nature and then later wish they had known and opted out. The fact that the data is anonymized to various degrees may or may not assuage the concerns of T-Mobile’s users, depending on the level of trust that the operator has already established with them.
On the other hand, this initiative will not make T-Mobile stand out; the opposite is true. Rival operator AT&T already automatically enrolls its mobile subscribers in a basic ad program that pools them into groups based on inferred interests, with an enhanced version that shares more detailed personal information with partners from customers who opt into it. The other major U.S. operator, Verizon, has a similar program in place.