How to Stop AT&T From Knowing Everything About You
AT&T spent more than $170 billion in 2018. Now, they want a return on that investment. In a recent Fortune profile, AT&T revealed their advertising program plans. The result is a dystopian tracking nightmare. Here’s everything you need to know about their intentions, and how you can protect yourself in the future.
How does AT&T plan to advertise?
Put simply, AT&T wants to track everything their customers do, so that they can target them with highly specific ads. The concept isn’t new. The likes of Facebook and Google have come under fire for similar practices. But AT&T is unique because their frequent acquisitions and mergers give them a broader scope of data access.
What began as a telephone company in 1983 is now a mass media behemoth. Their recent purchases of DirecTV in 2015 and Time Warner in 2018 completed their offerings profile. Now
AT&T provides mobile phone services, internet services, television services, and video streaming services. When you combine their satellite, wireless, and landline customers, AT&T has “170 million distribution points” — and they intend to leverage them all for optimized ads.
According to Brian Lesser, AT&T’s CEO of Advertising and Analytics, the company could “dynamically change” ads of neighbors who are both DirecTV customers “watching the same live program at the same time.” As Lesser explains “your neighbor’s in the market for a vacation, so they get a vacation ad. You’re in the market for a car, you get a car ad.”
Thanks to location tracking, the specificity of the ad could also increase should you rely on AT&T as your mobile carrier. As Lesser further explains, “[i]f you’re watching on your phone, and you’re not at home, we can customize that and maybe you get an ad specific to a car retailer in that location.”
Isn’t this a huge violation of privacy?
Definitely. AT&T requires customers permission to use their data; they also anonymize the advertising data they collect into audience segments. But that doesn’t erase privacy concerns.
First, as with most data collecting giants, AT&T default terms are set to opt-in. That means customers have to manually opt-out if they want to be excluded from these intrusive data practices. And despite some anonymization, make no mistake: they are intrusive.
According to AT&T, marketers are paying four times the standard rate for their advertising program. That speaks to the program’s effectiveness. To justify these premium prices, AT&T has to aggregate lots of data.
So, how do they do it? First they need to own the video services you use for streaming, and provide your mobile services. From there, they need to create a data profile of your personal information and interests, detect when you’re streaming, track your location from your mobile device to see which local businesses you visit, and collect separate data from those local businesses about your visit.
How do I avoid AT&T data collection?
Additionally, disable default location tracking on your devices. This is an essential privacy practice even if you’re not an AT&T customer, as T-Mobile and Sprint also have extremely alarming location data sharing practices. Be mindful of any apps that ask to access your location, too. And don’t forget to regularly check your settings to ensure location tracking remains switched off.