T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers

T-Mobile US Inc.


TMUS 1.91%

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


TMUS 1.91%

new policy will also cover Sprint customers acquired through the carriers’ 2020 merger. Sprint had previously shared similar data only from customers who opted in to 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 in to it.

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Would you find interest-based ads on your phone helpful or intrusive? Join the conversation below.

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.

“It’s hard to say with a straight face, We’re not going to share your name with it,” said Aaron Mackey, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer-privacy advocate. “This type of data is very personal and revealing, and it’s trivial to link that deidentified info back to you.”

Past telecom-industry efforts to take a piece of a multibillion-dollar digital ad market have stumbled more because of competitive pressures than privacy concerns.

After spending more than $9 billion to acquire Yahoo and AOL, Verizon has scaled back its internet ambitions and written down more than $4 billion. The company has also sold assets and cut jobs after the business failed to loosen

Facebook Inc.’s

and Google’s grip on the digital-ad market.

AT&T spent $1.6 billion in 2018 to buy AppNexus, a digital ad exchange that formed the cornerstone of an ambitious bid to compete with Silicon Valley companies for online video advertising. The Wall Street Journal last year reported that much of that ad division, called Xandr, was for sale after the company’s revenue growth missed executives’ original expectations.

AT&T’s and Verizon’s digital-ad operations still dwarf T-Mobile’s. T-Mobile bought Seattle startup Pushspring in 2019 to improve its business with marketers seeking to serve customers more-targeted ads. T-Mobile’s ad and search sales that year amounted to $506 million, a sliver of its $45 billion in revenue.

U.S. law restricts how phone companies handle “customer proprietary network information” such as call logs and billing information, though there are few federal limits on how carriers use the troves of data generated by modern smartphones.

The Federal Trade Commission in 2019 ordered several providers of wireless and cable internet services to reveal information about their privacy practices, but has yet to publish new information about the inquiry. Acting Chairwoman

Rebecca Slaughter

last month said she wants the commission to release a report on its findings by the end of the year.

How to Opt Out

  • T‑Mobile: In the T‑Mobile app, visit the MORE tab > Advertising & Analytics > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn the toggle off (gray) to stop. On MyT‑Mobile.com, click the My account drop down > Profile > Privacy and Notifications > Advertising & Analytics > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn the toggle off (gray) to stop.
  • Metro: Log in to the MyMetro mobile application or on https://www.metrobyT-Mobile.com/iba. You must be on a mobile device to access your settings through the browser. On the MyMetro app or the mobile website, visit the Account tab > Network and Location Settings > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn the toggle off (gray) to stop.
  • Sprint: Go to Sprint account (https://www.sprint.com/en/login.html). Visit My Account > Preferences > Scroll down to All about my account > Select Manage advertising and analytics preferences > Select the line you would like to update > Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Click the ‘OFF’ radio button to stop.
  • AT&T: All wireless customers are automatically enrolled in the basic Relevant Advertising program. You can opt out at https://www.att.com/cmpchoice
  • Verizon: Log in to Verizon Wireless account at http://verizonwireless.com/myprivacy or call 1-(866) 211-0874. You will need to make changes to each line on your account. To opt out of the Relevant Online Advertising program, log into My Verizon app > Go to Services section > Click on Internet > Select the Manage Online Advertising Preferences link within My Internet Service

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