Mobile carriers can track your internet history. Here’s how to unsubscribe.

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When you signed up for your cell phone plan, your carrier may have signed you up to something more: a program that uses data, including your internet history, to target you with ads.

I visited my own Verizon account settings and found that yes, I was signed up for what the company calls “the personalized experience.” Not only do I have no recollection of saying yes, but I had no idea that mobile carriers were peeking into my business and using that information to market me. And my blessed ignorance works in favor of the company.

At Help Desk, we read privacy policies so you don’t have to. This week, a curious reader inspired us to dive deeper into cell carriers (thanks, Ron from Houston!). I’ve read the privacy policies of all three major mobile carriers – Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile – and my eyeballs are only bleeding a little. All three carriers have less than excellent privacy practices that hide in plain sight. Depending on the carrier, they may use your internet history, app usage, location, and call history to learn more about you and trick you into spending more money on phone products. themselves or third party companies.

Good news: you can unsubscribe whenever you want, and we’ll show you how.

Are there other privacy policies you want us to check? Send them to us at [email protected]

What did you agree on? Tax sites want your data for more than filing.

Verizon customers appear to be automatically enrolled in the company’s “Custom Experience” program, which means the company can use your browsing history and app data to help target ads. The company says it “makes an effort” not to target you based on the adult sites you visit, health conditions and sexual orientation. (Thanks, Verizon.) If you said “yes” to “Custom Experience Plus” at any time, the company may also use your location and call logs.

AT&T’s “Relevant Advertising” program works in a similar way. Customers are automatically signed up, and the company relies on information such as your browsing history and the videos you’ve watched to show you targeted ads. If you sign up for “enhanced relevant advertising,” your device location and call history are also fair game.

By comparison, T-Mobile’s data handling seems relatively mild: it says it doesn’t use any web browsing, precise location, or call history data for its advertising program, but it may use your “use of the mobile application” and viewing videos. data, according to its website.

What happens if you don’t unsubscribe?

According to the companies, staying on these programs will improve your experience by showing you more relevant ads. (If targeted ads are a joy and you don’t mind your cellphone carrier using your information to make money, you can stop reading now and pour yourself a lemonade.)

But these programs can allow not only mobile operators, but also their third-party partners to benefit from your personal data. T-Mobile, for example, makes it clear in its privacy policy that it may share inferences based on your data with third parties. AT&T also leaves room in its policy to share your information, but a spokesperson told me the company doesn’t (though it could theoretically start at any time).

Verizon says that if you don’t opt ​​out of the personalized experience, the company uses data, including your internet history, to place you in interest categories such as “sports enthusiast.” A spokeswoman said the program didn’t involve any third-party targeted advertising, but she didn’t tell me if Verizon shared any deductions with outside companies.

As always, it’s hard to know for sure where your information ends up. T-Mobile appears to be the only carrier of the three with a public list of its third-party partners.

You can opt out of these advertising programs at any time.

Verizon customers can opt out of the personalized experience by going to their privacy settings in the My Verizon app or by following this link. (While you’re at it, double-check that you haven’t said yes to “Custom Experience Plus” either.)

AT&T customers can opt out by logging into att.com, going to the “AT&T Consent Dashboard” and scrolling down to the “Control How We Use Your Data” section. (Or follow this link.) Opt out of ‘relevant advertising’ and verify that you are not subscribed to ‘enhanced relevant advertising’.

T-Mobile says customers can opt out this way: In the app, go to More -> Advertising & Analytics -> Use my data to make ads more relevant to me. Turn off the toggle so it turns gray. On the website, go to My Account -> Profile -> Privacy & Notifications -> Advertising & Analytics -> Use my data to make advertisements more relevant to me. Turn off the rocker.

(One caveat: Two of my Washington Post colleagues tried to unsubscribe from T-Mobile accounts, and both received an error message saying it “looks like we ran into each other.” they tried through the website, it either froze or showed an error message error message.A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company had not heard of any issues, but was trying to fix the problem.)

Keep in mind that opting out does not necessarily prevent carriers from collecting your data or offering you their own products.

Ask the help desk: No, your phone is not listening to your conversations. Seriously.

I recommend that you opt out of all these custom adware programs. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what information these companies share with whom, and it’s dodgy for companies to list you by default.

It will be tempting for any company with as much access to data as a mobile operator to make money from your personal information. What matters is that customers receive clear descriptions of how our data is monetized – and companies stop signing us up by default.

Lance B. Holton