AT&T Says It's Eyeing 'Wireless Discounts For Ads.' But It's Not Going To Be What You Think.

from the when-a-discount-isn't dept

AT&T is telling Reuters that it's considering offering wireless customers a "$5 to $10 reduction in their bill" in exchange for some targeted ads:

"I believe there’s a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill,” Stankey said. Various companies including Amazon.com Inc, Virgin Mobile USA and Sprint’s Boost Mobile have tested advertising supported phone services since the early 2000s but they have not caught on. AT&T is hoping that better advertising targeting could revive the idea."

Doling out discounts in exchange for ads doesn't sound like a bad idea on its face. The problem is that's not quite what AT&T is planning. AT&T's goal here is to create a paradigm where people willing to be tracked and hammered with behavioral ads will pay less than those who want to have their privacy respected. In recent years, AT&T has made it very clear the company wants a paradigm whereby opting out of snoopvertising and tracking will cost you more, effectively making privacy a luxury line item (not great for a country already in a broadband affordability crisis).

AT&T already tried some variation of this idea once, and it wasn't just "discounts for ads." The company spent several years charging its broadband subscribers up to $500 more (!) per year to opt out of its snoopvertising systems. The kicker: it only opted you out of receiving behavioral ads, not out of being tracked. This was then passed off to consumers and the press as some kind of discount, when again it was simply making privacy (more accurately the illusion of privacy) only possible with an additional charge.

The other problem, of course, is that this is AT&T. A government-pampered telecom monopoly with a very long history of talking a lot about innovation, then inevitably falling flat on its face once it actually attempts it. It's also a company with a very long history of cozying up to the NSA, repeatedly violating consumer privacy, and undermining absolutely any effort whatsoever to craft even modestly serious privacy guidelines. It's been particularly opposed to any privacy guidelines that would prohibit companies charging a surcharge for privacy protection.

This is all fairly important context Reuters' scoop oddly fails to mention.

AT&T's new pivot to ad-sponsored plans, which is still a year or two out, involves hoovering up an awful lot of location, viewing, and other data from the company's wireless, broadband, phone, and TV customers. AT&T's been a little slow to capitalize on all this data due to a heavy debt load, executive dysfunction, and an investor revolt, but the scope of what they're building from a consumer tracking perspective should be fully understood:

"AT&T engineers are creating “unified customer identifiers,” Stankey said. Such technology would allow marketers to identify users across multiple devices and serve them relevant advertising. The ability to fine tune ad targeting would allow AT&T to sell ads at higher rates, he said. AT&T has invested in developing targeted advertising on its own media properties using data from its phone, TV and internet customers, but the company has been “slower in coming up the curve” on expanding its marketplace that allows advertisers to use AT&T data to target other media companies’ audiences, Stankey said."

AT&T policy folks and lobbyists have (with the GOP's help) managed to convince a big chunk of DC and tech policy Twitter that when we talk about privacy, monopolization, and the health of the internet that "big tech" is the root of all evil. As a result we're launching a slew of "antitrust inquiries" into "big tech," while effectively gutting all meaningful oversight of telecom giants that have the same ad and consumer tracking ambitions but access to as much if not more data than the biggest Silicon Valley giants. I'm sure that kind of accountability vacuum and wholly asymmetrical tech policy won't be a problem down the road though, right?

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Filed Under: discounts, fees, price increase, privacy, targeted ads
Companies: at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2020 @ 6:49am

    I'm sure they will not drive up costs with their ads thus causing customers to exceed their caps.
    /s

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 17 Sep 2020 @ 1:27pm

      Re:

      Love that /s.
      But Google has Dumped 100,000's of games/apps on their site because of the Auto running abilities in the background, that connected the app's to your service, some at 24/7 hours per day.

      The apps, seemed to be tracking and updating adverts All the time. A single player game that Needs the internet to work, Just dont seem right. And even Google Play books, wants a connection most times, Just to read a book.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2020 @ 8:17am

    So for att customers say goodbye to even a slight semblance of privacy you.ll be tracked and monitored across all devices and thus your personal info can be used to send more ads to you
    Welcome to 1984
    This is a reason why apple is considering asking customers consent for apps and ad networks to track them while the browse the Web and of cand course this wont help you if you use a pc or an android phone.

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

  • icon
    Celyxise (profile), 17 Sep 2020 @ 9:01am

    Actually, this kind of bullshit is exactly what I think of when AT&T comes around.

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

    • identicon
      OGquaker, 17 Sep 2020 @ 1:06pm

      Re: exactly what I think of when AT&T comes around

      Gad, time to pull this one out of the woodwork: The President's Analyst (1967)
      IMDB; " Due to a copyright dispute (a film by Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction (2016) all recent video and laserdisc releases omit a sequence featuring songs by Barry McGuire on the soundtrack. Scenes are missing; one early scene at an avant-garde movie house where Dr. Schafer meets Nan & a segment in the Dr.'s nightmare involving disembodied eyeballs from a bad 3-D film. The head of the FBI is named Lux, a popular brand of vacuum cleaner. "

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2020 @ 7:51pm

      Re:

      Actually, this kind of bullshit is exactly what I think of when AT&T comes around.

      It's what I think of whenever I hear the words "Satellite" or "Cable TV".

      Originally, the cable networks were came without ADs because you paid to access them. Then, once the cretians at the top figured out they could keep charging money and milk viewer's info to advertising agencies, suddenly the ADs arrived on cable too.

      Seems like it AT&T finally figured out that they could do the same thing with their Internet service.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Sep 2020 @ 9:08am

    No worries

    With the multitude of politicians jumping on the 'we must protect the public's privacy' bandwagon to attack tech companies I'm sure they will be equally quick to condemn AT&T's attempt to engage in widespread tracking of their customers, tracking that goes far beyond what the likes of Facebook and Google engage in since you can take steps to avoid Facebook/Google and still use the internet, but when it's your ISP tracking you that is no longer an option.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2020 @ 9:30am

    On Mothers' Day sometime in the near future,

    random person calls Mother

    Computerized voice:
    "Hello, I am connecting your call, but first a word from your friends at AT&T. We see you are calling your mother on Mothers' Day. We're sure she appreciates it, but what she would really appreciate is..."

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

  • icon
    Simon Jester (profile), 17 Sep 2020 @ 10:57am

    Wireless Discounts For Ads

    Lying as usual, AT&T should have said they're gearing up to charge more for phone service unless they're bribed not to make side money with spam ads.

    AT&T is always the Dane - yours is always the geld they want.

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

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 17 Sep 2020 @ 12:37pm

    Ratchet Effect

    If this type of advertising plan becomes popular, then I predict that the discount will disappear. The advertising phone plan will get raised up to the regular price, and then they will offer a plan with no advertising at an even higher price. It's just a scheme to try to normalize spying on customers for advertising purposes, and perhaps worse.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2020 @ 6:26pm

      Re: Ratchet Effect

      ... and people find a better way to communicate,
      the cell phone will be tossed into the attic along side the thigh master, quadraphonic music system and betamax

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

  • identicon
    bob, 17 Sep 2020 @ 2:21pm

    "I believe there’s a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill,” Stankey said.

    That load being zero or near zero.

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


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