Think Tank Argues That Giving Up Privacy Is Good For The Poor

from the hurting-the-poor-helps-the-poor dept

With ISPs like AT&T now charging broadband customers a steep premium just to protect their own privacy, the FCC has begun looking at some relatively basic new privacy protections for broadband. This has, as you might expect, resulted in a notable bump in histrionics from the industry. Comcast, for example, quickly tried to inform the FCC that charging users a surcharge for privacy was ok because it would somehow magically lower broadband prices, and banning them from this kind of behavior would do a tremendous disservice to the internet at large.

Anybody even marginally aware of the lack of competition in broadband understands this is just another attempt to take advantage of captive customers in a broken market. But the broadband industry quickly doubled down, using the usual assortment of payrolled think tanks to pollute the discourse pool. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), for example, was quick to try and claim that charging all broadband users steep premiums for privacy would generate huge benefits for the entire “internet ecosystem,” and that anybody who couldn’t see the genius of such a practice was an “absolutist.”

But a think tank by the name of the Technology Policy Institute has doubled down on the already dumb double down, with an op-ed at the Hill that tries to claim that such a privacy surcharge would actually help the poor:

“‘Pay-for-privacy’ plans disproportionately benefit lower-income individuals. Indeed, the notion that offering an additional option would be detrimental to any consumers, whatever their income, is misguided…”A plan that offers a discount in exchange for data may enable a lower-income consumer both to have internet service and pay for groceries. Depriving the consumer of that choice may put the internet connection out of reach.”

Pause with me to understand what’s being claimed here for a moment. Mr. Thomas M. Lenard is actually trying to claim that adding a privacy surcharge to what’s already some of the most expensive broadband in the developed world will somehow help the poor buy groceries. I’ve seen a lot of nonsense in sixteen years writing about telecom, but this latest storm of disinformation surrounding the FCC’s new privacy push should qualify for some kind of award.

Like AT&T and Comcast, these think tanks are violently misrepresenting what’s actually happening here. AT&T charges its U-Verse broadband customers $528 to $792 more every year (up to $62 more per month) to opt out of the company’s Internet Preferences program, which uses deep packet inspection to track your online behavior — down to the second. Not only is that not anything close to a discount, but AT&T makes opting out as cumbersome as possible. The hope is to heavily penalize opting out and to actively punish broadband users that protect their own privacy.

ISPs consistently try to argue that they shouldn’t be regulated differently from Google and Facebook on privacy, and that argument surfaces again here:

“AT&T is giving the subscriber the opportunity to allow advertisers to pay part of the subscription fee. What would be the rationale for allowing Google to offer advertising-supported service but not AT&T?

(Raises hand) Because AT&T and Comcast enjoy a duopoly or monopoly over the last mile? Google or Facebook customers unhappy with their privacy policies can simply stop using these services (imagine the exodus by customers of either company if they tried to charge money to opt out of select privacy practices?). Broadband customers, in contrast, have nowhere to flee if one or both of their broadband options engages in hostile privacy practices the likes of which we’re seeing here. Because AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are pushing harder into content and online ads doesn’t change this underlying reality.

Between privacy surcharges, Verizon’s getting busted for covertly modifying user packets to track user behavior, and cable companies bragging how they provide worse customer service for low credit customers, most people should be able to understand why the FCC thinks it may be time for some basic broadband privacy rules. Given that an informed broadband subscriber with the tools to protect their privacy could potentially cost these companies billions, it should also be easy to understand why think tanks and the ISPs that fund them have ratcheted up attempts to derail the effort using some of the most ridiculous arguments imaginable.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: at&t, comcast, technology policy institute, tpi

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Comments on “Think Tank Argues That Giving Up Privacy Is Good For The Poor”

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44 Comments
Shilling says:

Re: Re:

He did go to linguistics class as he used the word ‘may’.

I can give 1000 examples on how this policy ‘may’ benefit poor people but if you know that all of those examples will never be implemented especially in areas with non or little competition then it’s basically useless to even suggest that it will benefit the poor.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Silly Poor Folk...

I would agree if there was no interference from powers other than the citizenry. We know the weakest link in the voting process is the ordinary people and that it’s the money that dictates what’s gonna happen. Besides, specially in a shitty bipartisan system, there’s little you can do if you dislike all candidates.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Silly Poor Folk...

How about instead owning up to your fucking mistakes?

We are all both the victims and the fucking cause of this shit! “The Electorate” IS to blame, no matter how much whiny pissants moan otherwise.

There is a reason every nation gets the government it deserves. Because the fucking shit known as humanity will not help each other. Instead we let the 2 party system turn us against each other instead of turning against the corrupt.

Remember, if you voted for anyone in a party you voted for the party, not your country or fellow citizens! Parties were created for the express purpose of usurping the will of the people and every fucking bastard voting for one IS A FUCKING PROBLEM!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Silly Poor Folk...

Such Tripe!

You just made the case for not letting citizens vote period. If you are fool enough to think you can ever have an electorial process where there is no interference then let me introduce you to Da Nile…. not just a river in Egypt!

At the end of the day, every time you sit back on your ass, do nothing, or recuse yourself of blame with this contrived shit you made your fucking vote!

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Silly Poor Folk...

Oh, teh RAGE!

You don’t know if I am doing something to help change this status quo so you should be careful with your assumptions. In any case I’m merely pointing that sometimes even if people were more mindful about their vote there’s still a lot of power and influence that can mislead them pr even rig the process. Remember Bush didn’t win by votes but rather because the delegates chose him. Can you blame the population for this? Still, it would be an obligation to protest to change the system so these insanities don’t happen again.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Silly Poor Folk...

You again? Still using the quote from the guy who thought that governments(in particular monarchies) were ordained from on-high and therefore people got exactly what they deserved, or have you dropped that and just gone with the general idea?

By all means, if it’s simply a problem of people not voting ‘better’, feel free to point out what candidates are in the running with anything even remotely resembling equal funding to the major two that would be the ‘right’ choice.

Or tell us about the political action you’ve been involved in, I mean surely someone who goes around and tells people that it’s their fault for not voting ‘right’ or being involved enough in the political process has got to be doing his/her part to fix the problem, right?

You’re certainly quick on the blame, but I’m not seeing much/any proposed solutions to the problems from you, making it just a wee bit difficult to take you seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That completely depends on the person buying the advertising. Do you have any idea how much money is being made in just the sub-prime auto loans directed to the poorer side of society alone? There is as much or more money to be made off the poor in advertising than the wealthy just based on the ability to bilk every last cent out of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It probably does, at least by the intent of the law, but the powers that be look the other way because of the treasure trove of information waiting to be tapped.

The real issue that should scare everyone is that eventually there will be enough info on people that whatever party is in power at the time will be able to use it against candidates from the other party.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your mistake is in assuming that the think tanks put out this garbage in an effort to persuade people to their side. In reality, the pertinent agencies and representatives have already been, for the most part, bought and paid for. No one needs to be convinced. All they need to do is provide somewhat plausible talking points that can be regurgitated whenever “representatives” are questioned about blindly following the special-interest campaign donations. Viewed in this light, it only makes perfect sense.

afn29129 (profile) says:

Advertisements in general

Advertisements in general.. I really can’t think of a single advertisement that prompted me to purchase a product. Quit the reverse actually. Some adverts were quite repellent and gave me a negative impression; ‘Is that really how seller thinks of the buying public?, Nope don’t want anything to do with that.’

John85851 (profile) says:

So give up your privacy or pay for groceries

Mr. Thomas M. Lenard is actually trying to claim that adding a privacy surcharge to what’s already some of the most expensive broadband in the developed world will somehow help the poor buy groceries.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you have it backwards.
I think what he’s saying is that poor people won’t have to pay the privacy surcharge, which gives them more money to spend on groceries. Of course, he fails to follow-up and say that this means AT&T will continue to collect and mine their data in exchange for *not* paying the surcharge.
So this is yet another way the poor get screwed by big business.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I agree that a company should not charge extra to enable privacy, I do not believe that is what the internet preferences plan is doing. It actually is a discount since they did not raise prices on the regular plan. They use the deep packet inspection to allow for targeted advertising, generating additional revenue which they then credit to the consumers in the form of the cheaper monthly plan. Had they initially raised prices by the same amount of the internet preferences discount, then the author would be correct.

Chris Brand says:

Note the implicit rule

“AT&T is giving the subscriber the opportunity to allow advertisers to pay part of the subscription fee”. Of course they could do this *without* deep packet inspection (granted, advertisers may not be willing to pay as much, but we all see the same adverts on TV, so they clearly would be willing to pay something).

We’re supposed to just accept that you can’t have an advertising-supported service without giving up privacy.

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