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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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:09am

    Invasion of privacy

    Is this really legal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:20am

      Re: Invasion of privacy

      Under Title II, hopefully not. But, I suspect without it it is probably is.

      This is one reason why it is so important to take regulatory steps to reign in these abusive monopolies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Karl Bode (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:00am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 3:15pm

          Re: Re: Re: Invasion of privacy

          Which just highlights the fact that Title II is a tiny band-aid on the broken leg of lack of competition.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:15am

      Re: Invasion of privacy

      When has AT&T ever worried about the legality of their actions?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Howard (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:50pm

      Re: Invasion of privacy

      They ask for money to NOT do something to you you consider unpleasant.
      Is it me, or is it awfully sounds like racketeering?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:13am

    Encrypt everything

    Just encrypt everything - job done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:13am

    Releived

    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.

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:21am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Kennon, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:20am

      Re:

      A $5/month VPN that will support 1Gbps speeds? Post a link?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Whoever, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:56am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:30am

        Re: Get a VPN

        Where are you going to find a VPS for $5/month? $20/month will get you a tiny, no frills VPS. $5/month gets you a tiny shared hosting account that won't allow you to use it as a VPN because it's on a shared server.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:18pm

      Re: VPN

      This is a no-brainer. Save $25 by using a VPN.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:38am

    I hope net neutrality rules end up prohibiting the practice of injecting ads into people's HTTP connections.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ABjorn, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:48am

      Re:

      I would hope that rather than prohibit injection, net neutrality would just make it possible for users to have options that don't use injection. That way the users can decide which they prefer and the market should work itself out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:56am

        Re: Re:

        I would hope that rather than prohibit injection, net neutrality would just make it possible for users to have options that don't use injection.

        Net neutrality doesn't do anything to improve competition at the ISP level, it just attempts to curb monopoly abuse.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Another Anon, 10 Dec 2015 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      Wire fraud rules should have been enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:51am

    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 ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:56am

      Re:

      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 ?

      Presumably because you "agreed" to allow them to do it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      "Is it simply a matter of old and outdated laws, or are there no legal safeguards in place on communication in the USA?"

      The US has plenty of safeguards, for those who can afford them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:02am

      Re:

      Here it's illegal and horrible if a small company does it (NebuAD), but perfectly ok when a giant company with deep pockets does it (AT&T).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:30am

        Re: Re:

        It's still illegal and horrible when a giant company like AT&T does it. It's just with the army of lawyers and lobbyists that they have at their disposal, holding them accountable for it is damned near impossible.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Karl Bode (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well that's in large part because when caught, they're actually powerful enough to have the law changed (see: Mark Klein, NSA).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You don't have to change the law when you have enough government officials in your pocket that they won't enforce it. The lawyers ensure that no one else can succeed at bringing civil action against you for violating it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Derek Kerton (profile), 10 Dec 2015 @ 2:23pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Not to mention the perverse incentives where the government suggests "If you share that data with us, we won't punish you for collecting it."

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:53am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_packet_inspection#United_States

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:03am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Avatar28 (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:13am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gordon, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:14am

    Corporatism blows

    America desperately needs to be allowed to have competition in the broadband market. Until people can switch over to a provider who doesn't charge a couple of limbs to not spy on you, AT&T has [i]carte blanche[/i] to do this sort of thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:30am

      Re: Corporatism blows

      That's part of a bargain between the government and the big providers. "We'll protect you from a free market and in return you'll help us spy on everyone."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JBDragon (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 5:17pm

      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!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kennon, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:23am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:29am

      Re:

      With Google, I have a choice to use their services if I think they're valuable.

      Just try opting out when AT&T is your only choice for broadband.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:09am

    Down with AT&T! But...

    All things considered, even $115 is a pretty respectable price for Gigabit internet compared to other ISPs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:11am

      Re: Down with AT&T! But...

      All things considered, even $115 is a pretty respectable price for Gigabit internet compared to other ISPs.

      Until you start looking at industrialized countries that are not the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:38am

    VPNs

    Will they block access to VPNs, which would block access to Deep Packet Inspection? Or are they using SuperFish, to generate fake VPN certificates?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SimonTek, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:31am

    Slippery Slope

    Slippery slope to be sitting on. If they do "spy" on people for certain parties, and they are caught doing so, large lawsuit if the end user paid the "Not to be snooped on fee".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:04pm

    "A $5/month VPN that will support 1Gbps speeds? Post a link?"

    www.cryptostorm.is


    ....think it's a bit more then 5 a month though- unless you get an aleph (forever) token, or pay bi-annually (2 year token). still it's close.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jannydarling, 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:09pm

    To paraphrase Ma Bell's own Ernestine:

    They don't care
    They don't have to
    They're the Phone Company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 5:29pm

    Yeah, turns out the top tier super duper give a damn gold standard privacy plan is an extra 100 ontop of what you pay........good times

    Disclaimer
    Nsa/gchq backdoor still applies

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 6:57pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:23pm

      Re:

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

      We never decided that, but it's the sort of thing companies decide when they don't have any real competition.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:50pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:50pm

    Human right is not a comodity

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:57am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 10:15am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:42pm

    Screw AT&T. I wanted to say that because it feels good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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