AT&T Tries To Claim That Charging Users More For Privacy Is A 'Discount'
from the tomato,-tomahto dept
Last year, AT&T launched the latest sexy trend in broadband — charging users significantly more money if they want to opt out of their ISP’s snoopvertising. It basically works like this: users ordering AT&T’s U-Verse broadband service can get the service for, say, $70 a month. But if you want to opt out of AT&T’s Internet Preferences snoopvertising program (which uses deep packet inspection to study your movement around the Internet down to the second) you’ll pay at least $30 more, per month. With its decision, AT&T effectively made user privacy a premium service.
As the FCC has started pushing for new privacy rules (precisely because of ISP moves like this), AT&T’s luxury-privacy option has been under heightened scrutiny. Speaking at a recent Consumer Federation of America panel, AT&T regulatory affairs executive Jacquelyne Flemming feebly tried to defend AT&T’s policy, likening it to a “discount” that bestows “reciprocal benefits” to consumers:
“We, AT&T, have a broadband Internet access service that we market to customers that if you agree, if you opt-in, to the use of your data for various reasons, then you get a discount,? Flemming continued. ?That doesn?t mean that other people who don?t get the discount are paying for privacy. I wouldn?t say that,? she explained, even though that is in fact actually the case.”
So, you see it’s not that AT&T’s charging you more just to protect your data, it’s that you’re getting a “discount” by letting AT&T snoop into your online behavior. It’s much the same way that ISPs aren’t charging you aggressively more money for buying just broadband, they’re giving you a “discount” if you sign up for phone or television service you may not actually want. Flemming then amusingly proceeds to argue that hey, at least not all ISPs are doing this:
“I think that there is a benefit to the customer,? Flemming finished, ?and it?s not as if we?re talking [all] broadband Internet access services, of which there are a wide range of them that are available to customers. In this particular instance, if you like to get this benefit, then there is a reciprocal benefit to the customer and the company.”
Right, except most users don’t have the choice of more than one or two broadband providers, and if they’re both charging you a premium to opt out, you’d be shit out of luck. Flemming also severely misstates what’s happening here. A detailed look at what AT&T is doing shows that it’s actually really hard to find how to opt out in the first place. Users have to read numerous instances of fine print to find the option, which isn’t really explained clearly. So not only is AT&T making it more expensive to opt out — they’re intentionally making it notably difficult to actually do so.
That, combined with AT&T and Verizon’s foray into stealth packet headers, is why the FCC’s now exploring broadband privacy rules — rules that AT&T has breathlessly opposed in several blog posts. And while these posts throw out a wide variety of false claims about how consumer privacy protections aren’t necessary because broadband ISPs are harmless sweethearts, there’s really one idea driving AT&T’s thinking: an empowered, informed consumer with the tools to protect their privacy means AT&T makes less money.