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People pass a T-Mobile store in New York in 2015. (AP) People pass a T-Mobile store in New York in 2015. (AP)

People pass a T-Mobile store in New York in 2015. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone January 4, 2024

T-Mobile isn’t fining its customers over text messages. Here’s what’s happening.

If Your Time is short

  • T-Mobile on Jan. 1 enacted new fines for third-party messaging vendors that send content to its customers that don’t meet its code of conduct standards.

  • The policy doesn’t apply to personal accounts, and the company does not monitor or censor text messages, T-Mobile said.

Wireless carrier T-Mobile wants other companies to stop spamming its customers with prohibited text messages. But now the cellphone giant’s effort to crack down on that activity is being falsely portrayed as an attempt to censor its customers.

"Breaking news, right here in Joe Biden’s America," a man said in a Dec. 25 TikTok video. "He’s allowing major cellphone provider T-Mobile to read your private text messages and fine you up to $3,500 if you say mean things they don’t like."

The man described T-Mobile’s plan as "SHAFT," an acronym for "sex, hate, alcohol, firearms and tobacco" and said the company was going to "target conservatives" for texts that fall within those categories.

Other videos made similar claims.

A woman in a Dec. 26 Instagram video said, "T-Mobile has just updated their terms of service, and now if you post any content they don’t agree with, they will fine you." 

Another Instagram video went further, falsely tying T-Mobile’s efforts to a defense bill Biden signed in December that extended for four months a controversial spying program, Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). That program deals with how the intelligence community can get information from foreign targets who use U.S. communication service providers.

"T-Mobile has silently slipped into their new (terms of service) a policy that says that if you’re talking about anything that they dislike in your text messages, your social media platforms, or otherwise that they are going to fine you because they can legally do that now because of this defense act that President Biden passed to spy on American citizens," a man in that video said.

We found other social media posts making the same claim about T-Mobile’s plans.

These posts were flagged by Meta as part of its platforms’ efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed and by TikTok as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about our partnerships with Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, and TikTok.)

(TikTok screenshot)

T-Mobile isn’t poring over your private text messages, looking for posts it doesn’t agree with, the company said. What’s really happening?

Starting Jan. 1, T-Mobile began implementing new fines for noncompliant A2P text messaging. A2P stands for application-to-person messaging — or text messages sent by businesses to a person’s phone.

These fines don’t apply to personal users; they target only third-party messaging vendors that send commercial mass messaging campaigns for other businesses, T-Mobile said in a Jan. 3 statement to PolitiFact. Such vendors may be fined if their content doesn’t meet standards in T-Mobile’s code of conduct, which is meant to protect consumers from such content and complies with federal and state laws, the statement said.

The company doesn’t censor or review content in customers’ personal messages, the statement said. It filters out unwanted texts that could have malware or other malicious activities, it said.

According to a post by Vonage, a cloud communications provider that uses T-Mobile’s network, companies that violate the standards could face fines of $500 to $2,000, depending on the violation. The most expensive fine is for violations that include phishing and social engineering, a practice used to try to get consumers to reveal personal information, such as credit card numbers, the article said.

Illegal or prohibited content is defined in section five of T-Mobile’s code of conduct for commercial messaging.

The standards in T-Mobile’s code of conduct are not new and follow those set by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. The association describes SHAFT content as "content that contains or promotes sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, or tobacco."

None of these fines are mentioned in T-Mobile’s terms of services for customers, contrary to the social media posts. Those terms were last updated in May 2023.

The claim that T-Mobile is fining consumers for text messages it doesn’t like twists a new policy setting fines for businesses that send prohibited messages to consumers. The claim is False.

Our Sources

TikTok video, Dec. 25, 2023 (archived

Instagram video, Dec. 28, 2023 

Instagram video, Dec. 26, 2023

T-Mobile statement, Jan. 3, 2023

T-Mobile, Terms and Conditions, accessed Jan. 3, 2023

T-Mobile, community forum reply, Dec. 27, 2023

T-Mobile, Code of Conduct, accessed Jan. 3, 2023

Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, CTIA Short Code Monitoring Program, Jan. 1, 2021

Cord Cutter News, T-Mobile Will Soon Fine Some Third-Party Messaging Vendors $2,000 If They Send Illegal Spam, Dec. 28, 2023

Vonage, 10DLC - T-Mobile - Traffic Violation Fines (Jan 1st, 2024), Dec. 18, 2023

Lead Stories, Fact Check: T-Mobile Will NOT Start Fining Customers On January 1, 2024, For Text Messages It Disagrees With, Dec. 28, 2023

News Nation, T-Mobile threatens $2K fines for illegal spam texts, Dec. 28, 2023

Congressional Research Service, Reauthorization of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, March 17, 2023

Politico, Biden signs defense policy bill, extending controversial spying program, Dec. 22, 2023

Tech Target, A2P messaging (application to person messaging), accessed Jan. 3, 2023

Attorney General Merrick Garland, letter to congressional leaders, Feb. 28, 2023

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T-Mobile isn’t fining its customers over text messages. Here’s what’s happening.

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