AT&T's $30 'Don't Be Snooped On' Fee Is Even Worse Than Everybody Thought

from the ill-communication dept

Last week we noted that while AT&T has been trying to match Google Fiber pricing in small portions of several markets, it has been busily doing it in a very AT&T fashion. While the company is offering a $70, 1 Gbps service in some locations, the fine print indicates that users can only get that price point if they agree to AT&T’s Internet Preferences snoopvertising program. That program uses deep packet inspection to track your online behavior down to the second — and if you want to opt out, that $70 1 Gbps broadband connection quickly becomes significantly more expensive.

While most people thought this was rather dumb, AT&T actually received kudos on some fronts for trying something new. Apparently, the logic goes, AT&T charging you a major monthly fee to not be snooped on will result in some kind of privacy arms race resulting in better services and lower prices for all. While sometimes that sort of concept works (Google and Apple scurrying to profess who loves encryption more, for example), anybody who believes this is a good precedent doesn’t know the U.S. telecom market or AT&T very well.

As Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM notes, it’s not as simple as just paying AT&T a $30 to not be snooped on. AT&T actually makes it very difficult to even find the “please don’t spy on me option,” and saddles the process with a number of loopholes to prevent you from choosing it. In fact, you’re not even able to compare prices unless you plug in an address that’s in AT&T’s footprint, but currently doesn’t have AT&T service. Meanwhile, according to Higginbotham’s math, even if you’re successful in signing up, that $30 privacy fee is actually much more depending on your chosen options. If you just want broadband, opting out of AT&T snoopvertising will actually run you $44:

“Gigabit service costs $99 per month under the Standard Plan plus a $7 monthly fee modem rental fee and a $99 one-time activation fee, that nets out to a monthly cost of $114. The Internet Preference Plan waives the one-time activation and monthly modem fee which means you pay only $70 a month, giving you a true cost of $44 a month if you choose the privacy-preserving option.”

It’s worse if you want to sign up for television services:

“The Standard Plan has a higher cost of $149 per month plus the $7 monthly fee and a one-time $49 activation fee. Only you also add in a $10 monthly service fee for HD TV and a $16 monthly fee for HBO Go which are included in the Internet Preference Plan. So the comparable plan nets out to $186, which costs $66 more than the $120 you?d pay for letting AT&T sneak a peek at your home broadband web surfing habits.”

So no, AT&T isn’t opening up some brave new frontier here where consumers have greater control of privacy. It’s charging you a huge premium just to opt out of deep packet inspection, and making it as expensive and as confusing as possible to do so.

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Comments on “AT&T's $30 'Don't Be Snooped On' Fee Is Even Worse Than Everybody Thought”

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Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Invasion of privacy

Sorry to say but I don’t see the FCC doing anything about this sort of thing, even under Title II. I think even with tougher rules, offenses are going to need to be aggressively ham-fisted for them to get an ISP in trouble. This sort of stuff, like usage caps and zero rating, is going to be seen as “creative” pricing.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


I feel so relieved. I was believing that Internet advertising only netted the ISP’s $30 per month. Now I find out that my eyes are actually worth $44 to $66 dollars per month.

Who knew that their eyes had a such a high monthly value?

It’s a wonder that all the websites I visit aren’t going under.


Anonymous Coward says:

Instead of paying an extra $30/mo, why not just get a $5/mo VPN? (though can you really trust that the VPN is not snooping on you?) And how can anyone be sure that ATT is keeping its word? Even without DPI, most NDS servers log urls apparently.

I’m waiting for Facebook to offer a “DO NOT SNOOP ON ME” option, which so far, is apparently not available at any price.

Whoever says:

Re: Get a VPN

Instead of paying an extra $30/mo, why not just get a $5/mo VPN? (though can you really trust that the VPN is not snooping on you?)

If you have the technical skills, you can rent a virtual private server and run your own VPN for $5/month. Much less chance of being spied upon for commercial reasons if you do this.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m quite curious: how can this practice be considered legal ?
I live in Belgium (Europe) and we had several cases of ISP’s (and there are only two major ISP’s) using deep package inspection to ‘direct’ peer to peer traffic.
The result was that the ministry of internal affairs and the privacy watchdog threatened legal action on the ISP’s, as it was considered a violation of their user’s privacy.
A company is not allowed to open your mail and read it, so why are they allowed to intercept your communication, just because it is done on a computer ?
Is it simply a matter of old and outdated laws, or are there no legal safeguards in place on communication in the USA ?

Anonymous Coward says:

ATT has rooms dedicated to the “lawful intercept” using DPI. According to various reports over the years, *ALL* traffic is recorded and shared.

Am I to understand that if I pay $30, they will simply *NOT* use DPI equipment on my traffic? like – if i pay an extra $30, then I truly must be honest?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Am I to understand that if I pay $30, they will simply *NOT* use DPI equipment on my traffic? like – if i pay an extra $30, then I truly must be honest?

No, the fee just (allegedly) prevents them from using it for marketing purposes you would detect. Their unlawful snooping for the government is totally separate and non-consensual.

Avatar28 (profile) says:

The biggest problem

with this, aside from the principle of the thing I mean, is let’s say that, uh, someone who isn’t me likes porn and has AT&T for internet. What happens when their algorithm decides that since they like porn so much they should start getting ads for adult sites injected and their kids start getting those ads since it’s the same connection?

JBDragon says:

Re: Corporatism blows

This is what happens from years of Government created Monopolies!!!! Should have never happened. I see zero reason why Comcast and TWC and anyone else that wants to can’t all be in the SAME City’s fighting it out. The more the better!!!

The only way to get people and keep people then is great service and a great price!!!

Kennon (profile) says:

As long as they are offering a for-cost option to avoid this level of intrusion I don’t see the problem. This is basically Google’s entire business model. You can get all these great services for $0 but in exchange we get to snoop all your data. If you don’t like that they pay for enterprise email and web hosting. How is this any different?

Anonymous Coward says:

AT&T wants extra money in exchange for not violating a customer’s privacy. Comcast hands out special cards to privileged people with info on how to get through to a customer rep that’s actually able to provide a modicum of help.

At what point did we as a society decide that “not being treated like shit” was a legitimate “premium” upgrade to basic service?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good point. But there’s still the problem that they also help lower the bar for other industries, even the ones that have competition. Once we’re conditioned to being treated like crap in one aspect of our lives, it gets easier to accept it in others.

I’m waiting for the day I’m expected to pay the cashier at the grocery store a service fee to avoid getting kicked in the nads by the bag-boy.

DannyB (profile) says:

Dear AT&T

Your job is to route packets to their destination. Period.

Your job is NOT to snoop on my traffic. Prioritize my traffic. Purposely mis-route my traffic to different servers. Play games with how DNS resolution works. And other evil things.

I understand that doing evil things are in your nature. And therefore, can be impossible to resist. But it is not what you are supposed to be doing with my packets.

Google does NOT do deep packet inspection of my traffic. The information that Google does have about me is information I allow them to have in exchange for a superior experience in using the internet.

Especially since AT&T does not, never has and unlikely never will offer a superior internet experience, for that reason AT&T should definitely NOT be snooping on my traffic.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Dear AT&T

“Prioritize my traffic.”

Actually, prioritizing traffic is absolutely one of their legitimate jobs. You want them to do this — if they don’t, then the quality of your internet service would be much lower.

The issue is that the prioritization should be based on the realities of network traffic and not on who the traffic belongs to.

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