Cell Phone Providers Sell Customers’ Information

iphone 150x150 Cell Phone Providers Sell Customers InformationWhen signing up for a cellular service, providers collect basic contact and billing information. According to FCC regulations, this information is not to be sold. In fact, most providers have put into place security measures (such as passwords) to prevent this information from being disclosed to individuals posing as the consumer.

According to a 2010 Department of Justice document, cell phone companies collect a lot more information and store it for extended periods of time.  For example, text message content is erased by the cell phone carrier within 3-5 days, but who you text is retained for 1-7 years. 

In September 2011, Verizon disclosed changes to their privacy policy to provide more detail to the consumer about information collected and how it used by “third party advertising entities”. These more detailed explanations by Verizon and other providers of cell phone services are designed to make you aware that the data sharing allows advertising companies to reach their intended audiences. The tracking and information sharing is designed to sell you more targeted products designed to your specific phone and internet search habits. 

Verizon isn’t the only provider sharing information. T-Mobile specifically states that they “may disclose personal information to unaffiliated third-parties who complete transactions or perform service on our behalf and under certain other limited circumstances, subject to restrictions on the third-parties use of such information.” AT&T and Sprint also use such services to guide advertising to the right demographics. 

BBB offers the following tips to help you limit what information is shared to third party vendors:

Opt-Out: All service providers have links and phone numbers for consumers to stop their information from being shared. Look for “Opt-Out and Opt-In” features to have your information removed from the “sellers” list. Inquire about their agreement with independent partners and contractors. Don’t forget to research what the cell service provider does to protect your privacy.

Beware of Third Party Applications: Be aware that installing third-party applications, you may be giving consent for the third party to access certain information stored in the cell phone. How that information is used is not the cell phone carrier’s responsibility. It is based on the terms and conditions of the third party vendor.

Be Smart: Keep contact information simple. Don’t include addresses or other details in the event you phone is lost or stolen. Erase sensitive text messages such as text service from Paypal or your bank.  Delete the history of both sent and received messages. Disable GPS feature. It can be a battery drain but also tracks your whereabouts at all times.

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