In yet another example Because T-Mobile was the worst with its customers’ data, the company announced a new monetization system this week: selling its customers’ app download data and browsing history to advertisers.
The data package is part of the company’s new “App Insights” adtech product that was in beta last year but formally rolled out this week. According to AdExchanger, who reported first news of the Cannes Festival announcement, the new product will allow marketers to track and target T-Mobile customers based on the apps they’ve downloaded and their “engagement patterns” — meaning when and how often they open and close certain apps.
These same “patterns” also include the types of domains a person visits in their mobile web browser. All of this data is bundled into what the company calls “personas,” which allow marketers to microtarget someone based on their phone habits. One example that Jess Zhu, T-Mobile’s head of advertising products, told AdExchanger was that a person with a human resources app on their phone who also tends to visit, say, Expedia’s website, could be grouped as a ” business traveler’. The company noted that there are no personas based on “gender or cultural identity” – so a person who visits many, say, Christian websites and has one or two Bible apps installed will not be profiled based on that. .
“App Insights converts this data into actionable insights. Marketers can see app usage, growth and retention, and compare activity across brands and product categories,” T-Mobile said in a statement.
T-Mobile (and Sprint, by association) are certainly not the only carriers pledging this data; as Ars Technica first noted last year, Verizon ignored customers’ privacy preferences to sell their browsing and app usage data. And while AT&T initially planned to sell access to comparable data almost a decade agothe company currently claims that it only uses “non-sensitive information” such as your age range and zip code to serve targeted ads.
But T-Mobile won’t stop marketers from taking matters into their own hands either. An ad agency executive who spoke to AdExchanger said one of the “most exciting” things about this new ad product is its ability to microtarget members of the LGBTQ community. Sure, that’s not one of the pre-built personas offered in the App Insights product, “but a marketer could, for example, target phones with Grindr installed, or use those audiences for analytics,” notes the original interview.
There is, of course, the question of how this is legal – especially considering that multiple cellular carriers (including T-Mobile!) fines incurred in 2020 for pledging client data to brokers without their consent, years after they promised not to.
The answer is that they promised not to sell Place data. Web browsing data is still on the table. And while T-Mobile isn’t integrating people’s locations into its new data product, AdExchanger notes that the company wouldn’t stop an agency from, for example, partnering with another adtech vendor to get that information itself. And as we’ve seen in the past, there are certainly vendors willing to give up that location data for the right price.
However, there is a bright spot; In any case, T-Mobile does not allow marketers to microtarget iOS users for the time being. Apple’s recent privacy updates have made data collection too much of a headache — and an obligation — for some of the greatest players in the data game, and that apparently includes mobile providers. So no Apple data gets in (or out of) the App Insights product, T-Mobile says. On the other hand, this is the same company that signed up its customers for a targeted advertising program that none of them agreed to.
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