AT&T Tells Shareholders To Mind Their Own Business Concerning Its Relationship With The NSA

from the it's-everyone's-business dept

Verizon and AT&T have remained remarkably silent concerning all of the reports of NSA surveillance, which is fairly incredible, given that it appears that they have been the major players in basically handing over full access to their backbone networks to the NSA — even to the point of volunteering to do so, rather than having to wait for a court order. It’s no surprise that, unlike various internet companies, the telcos have not been at all supportive of attempts to allow for greater transparency over how companies work with the NSA.

However, as we noted last month, a bunch of shareholders have filed shareholder proposals with both companies, demanding that they start to file transparency reports concerning how they cooperate with government surveillance. AT&T has flat out rejected this request, saying it won’t even include the proposed resolution on the ballot at the annual AT&T shareholder’s meeting.

The basic argument? It’s none of your business. The letter, embedded below, argues that decisions about transparency are “ordinary business matters” not subject to shareholder approval. Furthermore, it argues that “protecting customer privacy is a management function” rather than a shareholder one. Of course, the issue here is that they’re not protecting customer privacy, and the shareholders are pointing out that the concern is that in doing so, it could do serious damage to the company by losing the trust of their customers. AT&T, of course, doesn’t care about any of that because, really, who else are customers going to go to?

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Tells Shareholders To Mind Their Own Business Concerning Its Relationship With The NSA”

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39 Comments
Rikuo (profile) says:

I’m confused. I’ve heard often enough here on Techdirt that businesses often go for a short-term profit, rather than long-term sustainability, explicitly so as to please the shareholders. This gave me the impression that at the highest levels of the corporation, the shareholders are God.

Now, suddenly, they’re being ignored? Can someone tell me exactly why? Is it because the AT&T board feels that the shareholders bringing these questions don’t own enough of the company? A quick look at the Consumerist site says that

“New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who signed the AT&T shareholder resolution on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, also thinks customers have a right to know what AT&T is sharing. The fund owns more than 15 million shares of AT&T valued at roughly $517 million.”

That’s a good chunk of change right there. So can anyone tell me, percentile wise, exactly how much shareholder control is asking these questions of the boards of these corporations? 10%; 20%; 30%?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Though, I have a feeling that many AT&T customers are going to be switching to “pay as you go” phones in the near future.

This is one (and probably the biggest reason) of about 5 reasons I left AT&T. I am with a month-by-month plan with T-Mobile, and pay far less than AT&T (since I don’t pay for the privilege of bringing my own phone, though they are now giving you back $15 a month for bringing your own phone to AT&T.)

Of course, if you ask AT&T, it was them who dumped me first because I wasn’t interested in being a good customer and wanted to take my phone number somewhere else (apparently, if you go somewhere else and take your number with you, AT&T cancels your account and forces you to reactivate in order to get a new number.) When I’ve moved lines in the past with other companies, they just assigned me a new phone number. Stay classy AT&T.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The telcos don’t whine to the government to get money. They just promise to do things they have no intention of ever doing, and the government pays them. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The telcos are happy to hand over data to the NSA for lots of reasons, one of which is they get paid to do it. I’m sure they also do it either to keep getting the boondoggles I mentioned previously, or to keep those boondoggles from being spoken about too much in Congress.

I’d wager that a sizable portion of the telcos revenue doesn’t come from actual customers, but from defrauding the government and the government spying on its citizens.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The shareholders can cause some problems, but as long as the company can get away with stonewalling them like this, I’m not sure what else they can really do that would cause a worry to the people who run and own the company.

Now tick off the government, or even part of it like the NSA by refusing to dance to their tune, and suddenly hugely lucrative ‘contracts’ and ‘bonuses’, in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars range might go to some other company more willing to ‘work’ with the government, while the agencies like the NSA just tap the company’s network anyway, just without the ‘perks’ this time.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not all shareholders are created equal. The way executive compensation works means that company executives are big shareholders in one form or another. This gives them a huge incentive to look out for themselves when making corporate decisions. They can look out for themselves and still hide behind a claim that they are looking out for the interests of stockholders.

Unfortunately, this means that “long term” often means the time frame where they can cash out their stock options.

I suspect that AT&T is getting a huge payback for its cooperation with the NSA and other government agencies. There are probably lucrative monetary payments as well as a great deal of influence on policy issues.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, I looked up the CEO of AT&T
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_L._Stephenson

and (if it is to be believed) he owns about $14 million worth of the company (that of course was the value back then when he first received those stocks, not accounting for stock values going up or down since then). That’s still a far cry from him somehow ignoring the demands of a guy who owns a far larger chunk of the company than he does.

out_of_the_blue says:

Tiny fraction of the corporate story. What does Google tell its shareholders?

It’s not just AT&T, Mike: FAR from most relevant, too. Tip of the tip of the iceberg for spying corporations.


Copyright holders wanting to be paid is NOT tyranny, no matter how much you want pornz for free.
On the other hand, Google tracking you continually to affect at least your buying and no way to stop its assaults has intrinsic tyranny: tracking, control, helpless to resist.

04:48:50[f-305-5] [ This suppresses the kids from fraud of using my screen name. ]

out_of_the_blue (profile) says:

Re: Re: Tiny fraction of the corporate story. What does Google tell its shareholders?

There we go. I’m using your screen name, but I am not committing fraud. If you wanted, you could sign all of your posts “Rikuo” and it still wouldn’t be fraud. Wouldn’t help you because you wouldn’t control the named account and thus, every reader would know that it isn’t me (Rikuo up above).

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Re: Re:2 pay

Google pays me $85.50 an hour
the NSA pays me $175.29 an hour
________________________________________________________________________
Copyright holders wanting to be paid is NOT tyranny, no matter how much you want pornz for free.
On the other hand, Google tracking you continually to affect at least your buying and no way to stop its assaults has intrinsic tyranny: tracking, control, helpless to resist.

04:48:50[f-305-5] [ This suppresses the kids from fraud of using my screen name. ]

out_of_the_blue, says:

Re: Tiny fraction of the corporate story. What does Google tell its shareholders?

I have come to a revelation. I have understood that I can indeed just block google, and not use googles services, thereby removing my tinfoil hat and once again entering the world of the enlightened.

Thank you Techdirt, it has been many years, but I have finally seen the error of my ways. No more shall I enter all debates with a closed mind, for today is the day I have awoken.

Don’t forget though, all of you are pirates.

05:09:45[f-305-6] [ This suppresses the kids from fraud of using my screen name. ]

aldestrawk says:

Re: Tiny fraction of the corporate story. What does Google tell its shareholders?

Ok, I’ll bite. On a technical basis how is that string of characters supposed to prevent someone else from using your screen name? As far as I can see the only thing it does is prove to you, yourself, that a post is your own. If you can’t tell that already you have far more problems than a ridiculous obsession with the nefarious ways of Google.

If you’re concerned about proving the authenticity of your posts, I suggest digitally signing them. That, of course, means we readers must know your previously authenticated PGP or GPG public key.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Tiny fraction of the corporate story. What does Google tell its shareholders?

Whoever OOTB reports to has an algorithm that, when you feed a timestamp into it (like 04:48:50) it then spits out a code (f-305-5). That way, his/her supervisor has a very easy method to check whether their minion is indeed doing their job. Unless one of us knows the algorithm, we can’t properly fake the code at the bottom.
There can be no other logical explanation.

The only non-logical explanation is that OOTB isn’t actually reporting to anyone, and takes time out to put codes at the end of most of his posts just for shits and giggles.

Namel3ss (profile) says:

Mike says...

“AT&T, of course, doesn’t care about any of that because, really, who else are customers going to go to?”

For whatever it’s worth, I left and went to T-Mobile, and never looked back. And on my way out the door I told them to take their service and shove it, and I told them why I was leaving – their cooperation with the NSA.

I know one person’s not going to change anything, but if enough people like me vote with their wallet, maybe that’ll get their attention.

Namel3ss (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Where do you get that from? The only downside I’ve had with T-Mo was the coverage was not as good, which if they were using AT&T towers, wouldn’t my coverage be the same?

I know there are others that buy AT&T airtime in bulk and resell it, but T-Mo is not one of them.

And yes, the ATT/TMo merger fell through because even our corrupt ass government couldn’t sell that bill of goods to ANYONE.

Anonymous Coward says:

and thanks to the complete fuck up that Congress has made over competition, ie, making monopolies in as many places over as many industries as possible, AT&T can afford to do this. perhaps if there were a share holders meeting which was able to instill in the head(s) of the company exactly how serious this issue was, perhaps by using their votes in a certain way, there may be a change of opinion?

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh how happy would i be if somehow someway, atnt’s majority share was given to someone who actually gives a fuck about people

Wouldnt mind knowing the names of the folks who are giving nsa the access, you know, show them the personal love, intead of targeting opps, expressing our personal love to atnt in general……..i cant think why they would show themselves, after all, they have nothing to hid, oh wait, they do……dumbfucks

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