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John Legere, T-Mobile Taking on Data Thieves

By Daniel B. Kline - Sep 1, 2015 at 7:00PM

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The company is targeting a small group that is threatening its whole network.

T-Mobile (TMUS 1.67%) does not like being taken advantage of and its CEO John Legere has set his sites on a group he considers "data thieves."

The maverick leader released a fiery blog post on the company's efforts to stop this illicit activity. Specifically, T-Mobile is targeting tethering abusers -- people who find cheats to get around the wireless carrier's limits on the amount of LTE data that can be used when tethering a device to a phone to create a hotspot.

Legere made it clear that the company would be going after a select few and it would be doing so in order to preserve the best possible experience for the majority of its user base.

This week, I am taking aim at a select group of individuals who have actually been stealing data from T-Mobile. If their activities are left unchecked their actions could eventually have a negative effect on the experience of honest T-Mobile customers. Not on my watch.

And because Legere is Legere, he also used the enforcement effort as a way to go after his wireless rivals.

Source: John Legere's Twitter feed.

What is the company trying to stop?
Legere explained T-Mobile's efforts in the blog post where he added that the company was only going after "a small group of users who are stealing data so blatantly and extremely that it is ridiculous." Regular data thieves who don't push it were not targeted.

The CEO explained the crime:

Here's what's happening: when customers buy our unlimited 4G LTE plan for their smartphones we include a fixed amount of LTE to be used for tethering (using the "Smartphone Mobile HotSpot" feature), at no extra cost, for the occasions when broadband may not be convenient or available. If customers hit that high-speed tethering limit, those tethering speeds slow down. If a customer needs more LTE tethering, they can add-on more. Simple.

The problem is that a certain group of customers have found relatively easy ways to get around the caps.

However, these violators are going out of their way with all kinds of workarounds to steal more LTE tethered data. They're downloading apps that hide their tether usage, rooting their phones, writing code to mask their activity, etc. They are "hacking" the system to swipe high speed tethered data. These aren't naive amateurs; they are clever hackers who are willfully stealing for their own selfish gain. It's a small group – 1/100 of a percent of our 59 million customers – but some of them are using as much as 2 terabytes (2,000GB!) of data in a month.

Legere pointed out how large a data grab that is by openly wondering what the thieves are doing with it, throwing out "stealing wireless access for their entire business, powering a small cloud service, providing broadband to a small city" and "mining for bitcoin" as possibilities. He also acknowledged that he did not care and simply wanted to protect the rest of his customer base.

This makes sense
In doing this publicly, Legere is taking a stand that might make him unpopular and diminish his image as a maverick outsider. There's a certain hacker cache of people who commit this type of crime and maybe a notion that it's a victimless activity.

You can argue that when people hack phones or even game the system to steal a bit of extra data. This, however, is widespread abuse on an absurd level. It's not taking a second free lollipop from the basket at the bank, it's walking into the vault and filling up a sack with money.

Legere deserves credit for taking a stand and making it clear his company won't tolerate this type of action. He's right to put a stop to it and make sure T-Mobile's network capacity is available to the people who actually pay for it.

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