Senator Blumenthal Warns AT&T Not To Make Wireless Privacy A Luxury Option

from the the-illusion-of-value dept

Last week, we discussed how outlets like Reuters were making a big stink about a new proposal by AT&T to dole out "wireless discounts for advertising." Granted as we pointed out then, that's not really what AT&T has in mind. AT&T for years has been trying to craft a new industry paradigm whereby users who opt in to user surveillance and targeted ads pay one price, and those that opt out to protect their privacy pay significantly more.

It's something the company already has experimented with. AT&T for years charged its broadband subscribers up to $500 more annually to opt out of behavioral ads (but not data collection and tracking). AT&T, in effect, was trying to make the illusion of privacy a luxury option. It only stopped while it was attempting to gain regulatory approval for its merger with Time Warner.

AT&T says its latest wireless "discounts" are still a year or more out, but the company carefully leaked word of them to Reuters, hoping (successfully as it turns out) the outlet wouldn't include essential context.

Senator Richard Blumenthal appears to have noticed what AT&T was up to however, and sent AT&T CEO John Stankey a letter (pdf) asking for more details on what AT&T has planned, and warning the company not to try and make privacy something consumers have to shell out significantly more money for:

"AT&T should not hold privacy above consumers’ heads for additional cost. Rather than a benefit, it is clear that AT&T is seeking to legitimize more intrusion into consumers’ lives and more aggressively commoditize subscribers. AT&T’s announcement would create a “pay-forprivacy” standard in the increasingly consolidated phone market, driving prices up for those who want to opt out. You also acknowledge that an ad-supported wireless plan would cross-fertilize its AT&T data broker and ad targeting products, adding to the race to the bottom that exists in the internet ecosystem."

The problem of course is that AT&T's already framed the debate and prepared the press to call this a "discount," even though that's absolutely not what this is. AT&T has also lobbied (quite successfully) to crush nearly every attempt at a federal or state privacy law, however modest. Especially if proposed legislation involves any restrictions on charging consumers a premium to opt out of data collection and monetization. And because AT&T lobbyists have also successfully lobotomized the FCC, don't expect regulators to inject themselves into the equation any time soon.

That leaves you relying on the wisdom and power of "the market" to organically inhibit the idea of privacy as a luxury option. But because the DOJ and FCC just rubber stamped the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, there will soon be fewer competitors than ever, meaning less incentive to behave. And because consumers (thanks to the press) will genuinely view this as a "discount," that means limited pressure on an already dysfunctional and overwhelmed Congress. That leaves you waiting on AT&T's incompetence to derail such an effort. And while that's certainly possible given recent AT&T history, that's neither a guarantee nor the way you craft effective national privacy safeguards.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: fees, pay for privacy, privacy, richard blumenthal
Companies: at&t

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2020 @ 6:48pm

    Re: 'Trust me' said the proven liar

    That's also like "leave it to the invisible pink unicorn in my garage", as none of these three things exist.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.