T-Mobile customers were subject to a weird surprise with even weirder consequences. Texters found themselves shadowbanned by using the silliest and most innocuous of words in their SMS messages. “Belly” was the culprit. Neither profane nor salacious, “belly” was a hot button word for T-Mobile’s servers, leading all who spoke of bellies unable to send or receive text messages without any warning or notification.
What is Shadowbanning?
Shadowbanning is a process by which a user is banned without any form of formal notification. Shadowbanned users often don’t know that they’ve been banned, as it seems as though the service is working perfectly fine. Shadowbanned T-Mobile users thought their “belly” texts were making their way to the recipient successfully, but they never appeared on the other end.
Reddit Was on the Case
Anyone who ever wants to know what’s really going on with public opinion and response in any scenario should always turn to Reddit. There’s an active Reddit community for almost everything under the sun, and the T-Mobile Reddit community got right to work. Volunteers found they were unable to send the word “belly”, but were able to successfully send compound words like “bellyrub”.
Users claiming to be T-Mobile employees chimed in, claiming that the belly bans were visible on their end and that the ban structure works as follows: the first shadowban for sending a banned word lasts for ten days, and the second ban is a ninety day ban for repeat offenders.
T-Mobile quietly responded by lifting the bans within hours, providing no official explanation as to how or why the ban was imposed. Clever speculation seems to imply that it was a misconfiguration of a spam management system, seemingly targeting “get rid of unwanted belly fat” solicitation text messages that were sent to users of the carrier’s service. Although spam filtering is a desirable service for many T-Mobile users who are burdened by unwanted solicitations reaching their text messaging inbox, there are slightly sinister implications of what this filtering technology can mean.
What This Likely Means
Prior to the belly debacle, most T-Mobile users had never considered that their carrier could read or filter their text messages. The most astounding aspect of this discovery was the apparent lack of privacy. In order to filter these messages and implement the shadow ban, T-Mobile had to implement technology that would allow them to pry into users’ private communication.
Process of elimination showed that the spy was in fact T-Mobile. When people using iMessage on their T-Mobile iPhones sent the offending word, their messages were sent without hindrance or interruption. Because iMessage automatically encrypts messages end to end, T-Mobile didn’t know what they contained and could not automate a ban.
A federal court case in 2010 established the right for mobile carriers to read texts sent over their services and implement bans without informing users that they were doing so. It should come as a shock to no one that T-Mobile was the first provider to advocate for that right. They’ve taken the approval and put it to use without the knowledge of their customers.
Don’t Want T-Mobile Reading Your Messages?
The only way to successfully avoid third parties meddling in your private conversations is to exclusively use end-to-end encrypted messaging services. Using a VPN like TorGuard VPN in conjunction with encrypted messaging like PrivateMail will assure that no third party can read, censor, or block the content you’ve decided to send. If something as inoffensive as “belly” can have consequences, it’s best not to risk any private conversation through clear messages.