Social media sites, web browsers, and smartphone apps aren’t the only ways companies track your data: Your phone service provider collects data right from your phone, too. AT&T, T-Mobile (which now owns Sprint and MetroPCS), and Verizon all track location, web, and app usage, and then use that information to sell ads.
Worse, carrier tracking is turned on by default for all users and happens even if you have iOS’s “App Tracking Transparency” or Android’s “Opt-out of Ads Personalization” settings turned on. These settings normally stop apps from collecting certain data, but your carrier tracks you through network activity, not an app, circumventing any on-device do-not-track settings.
To be fair, each phone company offers their customers a chance to opt-out, but they’re so coy about it that most users are probably unaware that they have the option—or that data collection is the default behavior to begin with.
Verizon, for example, sends a boring text message from a random number that, as Inc points out, looks like a low-rent phishing scam or malware attack, including the exact type of nondescript link we’re constantly telling folks not to click on.
The other major cell service providers have sent out similar texts and emails to Verizon’s—the kind that most folks will probably immediately delete or disregard as spam. Good news is, it’s pretty easy to opt-out of data tracking practices once you know where to look.
Note that opting out of your provider’s data tracking only affects how the company tracks you; it doesn’t change what data the apps on your phone can see. To keep all mobile data tracking to a minimum, turn on the aforementioned App Tracking Transparency on iOS and turn off Ads Personalization on Android, install a reliable VPN, turn off location data, and choose a browsing app with strict privacy controls.