TMUS walks the data privacy tightrope with new advertising solutions

US operator group T-Mobile is using information about apps downloaded onto phones to help target advertising, which poses questions about user privacy.

The initiative was first reported by Ad Exchanger last week but has only recently caught the eye of the broader telecoms and tech media. A programme called ‘app insights’ seems to be a key component of the rebranded T-Mobile Advertising Solutions division which, as the name implies, seeks to offer something to potential advertisers they can’t get from Google, since this is apparently an Android-only thing for now.

This is a significant challenge since Google owns the platform and thus the app store on all Android devices, as well as many of the most-used apps. Operators still own the service relationship with their customers, however, and it seems that grants them a greater degree of visibility into what they do on their phones than may have been assumed.

We expect operators to know where, when and how we access their networks, but how many people were aware they also know what apps you have installed? This app insights thing apparently uses that information to create advertising segments according to an individual’s app preferences and thus target them more precisely. The data seems to be anonymised but it still feels like yet another piece of digital exploitation conducted without the user’s explicit consent.

Everyone who uses a ‘free’ internet service such as those provided by Google, Facebook, etc, knows they’re the product in the form of targeted advertising. They might not be happy about it but they tacitly accept the trade-off by using the service. We pay for our cellular subscription, however, which frames any further exploitation of us by those providers differently. The chances are most users won’t even be aware of this scheme or will be indifferent even if they are, but does that make it right?


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