Do The 'Smart Cities' Of Tomorrow Really Want Fraud-Plagued, NSA Pal AT&T As A Partner?

from the with-friends-like-these... dept

AT&T this week is running its Developer Summit alongside of CES, and the telco's biggest announcement is that it's working closely with Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas to be their preferred partner in their quest to become the "smart cities" of tomorrow. In pretty typical "Internet of Things" parlance there's more flourish than substance to the announcement, but AT&T claims they're working on solutions that will integrate nearly ever part of a city with AT&T's network -- from utility meters and city maintenance systems to transportation computers and even law-enforcement gunshot detection systems:
Cities can better manage traffic patterns of pedestrians at stadiums, parks, and busy intersections. Gun fire detection technology helps law enforcement know where a shooting occurred. It also helps them determine the number of people involved and rounds fired...AT&T is also developing a new digital dashboard that gives cities a high-level look at their communities’ conditions. The Smart City Network Operation Center (SC-NOC) offers cities a dashboard view of how assets are performing in near-real time. City officials can keep tabs on power outages, water leaks, traffic issues, and more – all from one location.
AT&T's sales pitch is basically this: if you throw a few hundred million dollars at AT&T now, you're pouring the foundation for huge returns tomorrow in the form of a hyper-efficient city of the future. The problem with this entire narrative is that this is AT&T we're talking about. If you've spent the last few years truly watching what AT&T is up to and the degree to which it battles progress, the idea of the company as the cornerstone of your city's entire infrastructure ecosystem should be utterly terrifying.

AT&T's been caught advising the FBI on how best to tap dance around surveillance and privacy law via exigent letters and other informal requests for consumer data. AT&T whistle blower Mark Klein also exposed how the teclo was splitting fiber feeds and providing the NSA with real-time access to absolutely any and every shred of data touching the AT&T network. Leak upon leak has highlighted AT&T's "extreme willingness" to snuggle up to intelligence agencies to the detriment of consumer privacy and the law, blurring obliterating the line between telecom operator and intelligence apparatus.

And that's just AT&T's surveillance history. The telco has also been at the heart of seemingly-endless fraud complaints over the last few years. AT&T was forced to pay numerous fines last year for extremely shady behavior, from ripping off programs intended for the poor, to enabling others to rip off programs designed for the hearing impaired. The telco was also caught repeatedly lying to its customers, and was even busted for making its bills intentionally more difficult to read -- just so scammers would have an easier time stealing AT&T customers' money.

If you review the laundry-list of clear fraud evidence, it's not hyperbole to say AT&T is one of the more dishonest (yet politically powerful) companies in America. And between AT&T's smart city initiative and the company's push into the connected automobile space (the telco struck new deals with both BMW and Ford this week) AT&T will soon be sitting on an absolute mountain of user data. It's a treasure trove of information the likes of which we've never seen collected before, in the hands of a company with such a disdain for user privacy, it has made opting out of snoopvertising a pricey, premium option for its subscribers.

Fortunately AT&T's smart city promises are just promises, and with any luck, the telco will be out-maneuvered in the internet of things space by smaller, hungrier, and more innovative and integrity-oriented companies. As the connected future looms, the smart choice for any "smart city" would be to keep AT&T far, far away from its essential infrastructure, instead partnering with companies that don't treat fraud and customer privacy violation like industrial-grade hobbies.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 6:52am

    Anyone else picturing Chicago inking a deal for a Smart City Network Operation Center and it constantly bursting into flames bankrupting AT&T?

    Okay just me...

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

  2. icon
    PaulT (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 6:56am

    "Gun fire detection technology helps law enforcement know where a shooting occurred. It also helps them determine the number of people involved and rounds fired.."

    Unless I'm mistaken, it also includes a handy vector for spying on any nearby conversations - or at least if it doesn't have that ability "out of the box", it could easily be modified to allow this during times when shots aren't being fired.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:08am

    And this will cost the tax payers how much? Perhaps these city officials should inform and then ask their constituents what their thoughts are on this topic.

    Oh, what am I thinking ... that will never happen.

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

  4. icon
    ThatFatMan (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:18am

    Maybe it's me, but with Governments of all kinds wanting more data, these cities and AT&T seem to make perfect partners. I can imagine that the conversation went something like this:

    AT&T: We can help you gather more data on your citizens, and mask it as an attempt to make their lives better by telling them they can live in a "Smart City"...

    Cities: Dreams do come true! Where do we sign?

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:20am

    Blume's ctOS from watch_dogs, anyone?
    Yes it was a s**t game but did it actually warn us?

    Also, at the very least ctOS *WORKED* for its users (when it wasn't busy being hacked).

    I'm afraid a similar, real-life tentative by AT&T would prioritize snooping and generally deliver really poor service to its users.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    Actually, they are useless for overhearing conversation, as they are omnidirectional, and usually placed at rooftop level. They rely on the fact that most unsilenced guns are extremely loud, and can be heard by several detectors that are spaced out by several city blocks.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:31am

    Is this a new dance craze?

    "Do The 'Smart Cities' Of Tomorrow Really Want Fraud-Plagued, NSA Pal AT&T As A Partner?"

    Depends. What is your definition of 'smart'? Is it stylish, as in that dress is smart? Is it in reference to intelligence, as in this would be a smart thing to do? Or is it in reference to smart devices, as in smart devices are connected to the Internet of Things so that whomever would like to can track your every behavior? Maybe it's in reference to pain, as in his cheek smarted after she slapped him? Is it possible that the reference is to quickness, as in AT&T signed the contracts, collected the money and smartly scampered off to spend it without doing a damned thing?

    Hmm, in all cases probably not.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:36am

    Smart technology could be useful, if people had a fixed IP address to allow them to interrogate their own home devices directly, but when they have to go via a central server they are just another tool for serving corporate interests and extending governmental control. When the ISPs move to IPV6, and give each fixed endpoint of the network its own fixed IP address block, I will maybe look at smart devices, so long as they do not rely on some central corporate server to let me see my own data.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 7:46am

    They Do

    If those smart cities get some palms greased!

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

  10. icon
    TasMot (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 8:02am

    WOW, how can I get on that gravy train? What city wants to pay me millions of dollars to "maybe" develop something useful 10 to 20 years down the line. I feel that I should ask how stupid do the politicians have to be to pay AT&T to develop something for them but I realize that in reality they are smart enough to get "contributions" to their political aspirations and post-political career jobs lined up for signing significant contracts. Hooray for legislative capture and revolving public-private doors. At least I won't be footing the bill in Chicago. Yeah for me!!!

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 8:54am

    Re: They Do

    If it's Chicago, you can rest assured that someone is making an illegal backroom deal to get this done. It would be more surprising if corruption was somehow not involved.

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

  12. icon
    kP (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 9:28am

    My condolences to DirecTV

    The further you position yourself from AT&T, the better

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 10:46am

    Am I the only one who knows of the work Boston has already done with the whole Smart City deal?
    http://www.bu.edu/hic/research/scope/

    This is like hiring AT&T to reinvent the wheel, so a huge waste of time and money. From what I know, I think most of the project is open sourced so could be implemented else where without much development.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re: They Do

    This only happens in Chi Town?
    I find this hard to believe.

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

  15. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:09am

    Finish Him!

    "the telco will be out-maneuvered in the internet of things space by smaller, hungrier, and more innovative and integrity-oriented companies"

    ...which they will subsequently buy, and integrate into their network.

    Not disagreeing with what you wrote, I just "finished that for you."

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

  16. icon
    JoeCool (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:10am

    Re:

    While the overload of gunfire data wouldn't cause fires, I could see the Chicago city workers constantly complaining to AT&T that the background color for the map is constantly red and they can't change it. :)

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:11am

    Remember that time when Chicago turned over management of their parking meters to a private consortium? .. That worked out really well for the consortium investors, not so much for the citizens of Chicago.

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

  18. icon
    JoeCool (profile), Jan 8th, 2016 @ 11:13am

    Re: Is this a new dance craze?

    I was thinking "smart" as more along the lines of Maxwell Smart. :)

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2016 @ 1:03pm

    Re:

    They want a proprietary wheel, and it's only a waste of money to the payer, not the payee. To shift metaphors, they want to own cities' circulatory systems. To wander off into tortured metaphor land: cities are printers, and ATT is HP.

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2016 @ 6:01am

    Re: Re:

    "Actually, they are useless for overhearing conversation,"

    Nice try three letter acronym

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

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2016 @ 6:06am

    Re:

    "allow them to interrogate their own home devices directly,"

    Allow them and others ...


    Imagine a bank robber who hacks the "smart system" making it look like there is a huge riot with massive gun play on the other side of the city and then proceeds to make a withdrawal.

    This is truly a brilliant idea.

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

  22. icon
    Whatever (profile), Jan 9th, 2016 @ 9:52pm

    Another Angry Post

    Another day, another angry Karl post to "enjoy".

    My take on this is that it's the difference between Techdirt and the real world. Here you gets lots of talk, and little real action. Out there you get action and at least attempts to move forward.

    Is AT&T the best partner? There are probably better, but AT&T is around for the long haul and isn't going to dry up like many of the venture capital backed companies that come and go like the breeze.

    Moreover, the concept itself is actually pretty important and well worth having. Keeping an eye on resources and assets all of the city is useful, and could perhaps lead to either savings in the future or at least marginally better services. The ore information that can be gathered should lead to better choices in the future.

    We have the technology. Applying it and making it all work together may be a huge step forward for the way we all live.

    Doing, even if it's not the best ever solution, is way better than just chatting about the best solution - or slagging off those who dare to try.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2016 @ 10:30am

    Re: Another Angry Post

    Only one thing worse than people who are all talk and no action, and that's people who do nothing but talk about people who are all talk and no action. Well, OK, even worse than that are people who criticize the critics of those who criticize something.

    Oh well, there seems to exist an infinite hierarchy of increasingly ineffectual critics. Time for me to go google 'matryoshka hypocrisy fractal'.

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2016 @ 9:57pm

    Re: Another Angry Post

    Here you are, worrying about what other people are doing. Again. What was that phrase you simply enjoy using? Physician heal thyself?

    Make your own website, host an event, build a treehouse where you and your trolling alts can hang out. Far more productive than you being a waste of space here.

    Ah, but of course you're not going to do it, because advice is for losers in Whatever's world.

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

  25. icon
    PaulT (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 12:28am

    Re: Another Angry Post

    "Here you gets lots of talk, and little real action"

    What do you expect from an opinion blog? Are you yet again so unable to address the actual points raised that you have to invent an illogical reason for attacking people here? Criticising the site for only achieving it's stated aim and not achieving an aim it's never claimed to have is pretty weak, even for you.

    The rest of your rambling seems to be you agreeing with Karl's major, albeit in the most roundabout way possible and without addressing the reason why it's not felt that AT&T are the best partner.

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

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 4:17am

    Re: Re: Another Angry Post

    Basically Whatever's shtick of "I know you're talking about a major douchebag, but I loathe Techdirt with the burning passion of a thousand suns, so fuck Techdirt" again.

    If Techdirt posted an article saying that breathing is good for you I imagine Whatever would chop his arm off rather than agree.

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

  27. icon
    klaus (profile), Jan 14th, 2016 @ 2:23am

    Re:

    I pictured a crapsack downtown Detroit, Robocop & OCP, and an ED209 with no off-switch...

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


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