AT&T wants to treat customers like lab rats; it’s yet another invasion of online privacy

“What’s one piece of your privacy worth? About a dollar a day, suggests telecom giant AT&T,” Dan Gillmor writes for The Guardian. “The company’s latest internet service offering in Austin, Texas comes in two flavors. The company might as well call them the ‘some privacy’ and ‘no privacy’ services. The cheaper version gives customers a discount in return for being targeted more intrusively than ever by user-specific advertising.”

Gillmor writes, “Let me explain: the company’s Austin experiment is a test to see what a specific market will bear in highly specific conditions. AT&T is offering some Austin neighborhoods its ‘U-verse with GigaPower’ product, which comes in $99 per month “standard” and $70 per month ‘premier’ editions, the latter requiring an agreement to let AT&T ‘use your individual web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the web pages you visit, to tailor ads and offers to your interests.'”

“We need laws, with teeth, that stop these companies from treating us all like mice in experimental labs. We also need end-to-end encryption of everything we do online,” Gillmor writes. “(VPNs are useful for now, but not the ultimate solution.) Until that happens, we need to recognize that the internet industry is much more interested in its bottom line than our privacy. For now, if I have to buy some privacy – and decide I can trust the promises companies make – I’ll do so, gladly.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related article:
AT&T’s gigabit service is $70 per month if you let it track your searches, Web site visits – December 11, 2013


  1. No one is putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to choose the premier plan. If they want the privacy, they can pay the extra money. If they want to save $30/mo, they can become experimental lab rats. Happens all the time in other industries (e.g., medical).

    When they *only* offer the service that invades privacy with no way to opt out, then one could argue against them (though no one is putting a gun to your head to use the service at all).

    1. I understand why people rated this comment low, but it is a choice. I prefer that I am told and allowed to make a choice. This is not the same as the government’s blanket surveillance net of all our communications where I get no choice others than I don’t communicate electronically or I stfu.

    2. And what if you end up paying the extra $30 per month? What are the guarantees that AT&T won’t still collect as much of your personal data as it can get its hands on? I do not trust AT&T to do the right thing.

      All your data are belong to us…

    3. Many consumers have very limited choice with respect to high-speed internet access in the United States. We have virtually no choice when it comes to ultra-high-speed internet. I couldn’t get anything faster than ~45 Mbps down and 11 Mbps up, even if I were willing to pay through the nose and sacrifice my privacy to the altar of capitalism.

      What happens when AT&T withdraws the $99 plan? Or keeps raising the price until it is just too painful, but you are hooked on the speed and don’t want to drop back to your old connection? How much real “choic” would you have then?

      Face it…we are pretty much screwed in the U.S. I hope that Apple comes out with a nationwide high speed wireless service in the next couple of years in combination with a new AppleTV that gives the consumer real choice in purchasing and managing programming. Bye satellite. Bye cable. Bye AT&T Uverse.

      1. Y’know, I don’t fully disagree with this, but it does concern me a little the attitude behind it.

        Try living for a while in a country like Saydi Arabia. There’s Mobily, STC, Zain, and a handful of others. They’re all ‘choices’. But the speed is terrible, even on high-end fibre lines. Internally, they’re lightening fast. As soon as you cross the border, they all bottle-neck through DNS servers that block a fair portion on the net. Anything religious but non-Muslim, anything in the least bit sexually explicit, pornographic or not, anything even a little critical of the government, anything that originates in or has ties to Israel: all blocked. Connecting to known FaceTime or other video-conferencing servers is hit or miss. So, not only does it throttle the speed, it limits what you can even connect to. But there’s plenty of choice as to which service you use to be monitored, throttled, and limited.

        Don’t be so quick to decry the US as terrible in that respect. I’d still rather have fewer choices but be allowed to go where I want at speeds technically capable and have some assurance that someone isn’t literally pouring over my internet browsing history than having many choices under the current scenario.

  2. What does it mean though if people are willing, themselves, with full disclosure, to sell their privacy rights away? A law against this would be meant to… what… save us from ourselves? If people don’t care about their privacy and are desirous to sell it away, isn’t that capitalism and freedom at work?

    1. By the extreme of that interpretation of “freedom” there would be no penalties for the tobacco executives knowing killing millions of people with their product. Ohhh… yeh…

      I’d suggest that “freedom” kind of implies some level of education, mental functioning and maturity to be able to make sensible decisions, like choosing not to smoke death sticks, no matter how many times the company tells you it’s cool. Until the population at large can function like that, we do need regulations to protect us against the unscrupulous sociopaths.

    2. The problem is, there is never “full disclosure”. The food industry fights against clear nutritional labeling, so they can get away with adding cheaper crap additives. Google advertised Android as “open”, but are quietly closing the code now that the meme is out there. As long as there is money to be made by pretending to protect privacy, while actually selling away information, companies will muddy the waters so that people won’t be able to make an informed decision.

    1. Exactly. If I did this, I would search for the most fscked up (but yet legal) shit I could possibly think of just to see what kind of ads got served up.
      “Felching one-armed Guatemalan midgets covered with honey and fire ants”

  3. He gets it wrong. We do NOT need more Government to come in and stop this, as all they do is spy on us anyway… Rather, we need this information to get out to the public and the individual to decide if they want cheaper service for being tracked or not. It’s an individual choice. Personally, I think ATT will crash and burn on this idea. People want their privacy more than saving a few bucks… I think… But let the market decide, not a few folks that wine about this to the Feds and then they mandate everything for us…

  4. This is another attempt to attach a price to privacy. Don’t let it attain a monetary value.

    For a long time it was essentially free and only casually protected by law, and it was never explicitly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

    Ever since 1952 when Harry S. Truman signed the secret order authorising and funding the NSA, happy operatives have enjoyed unregulated data collection and analysis — often with egregious results. The CIA proved even worse.

    The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a patriot of uncommon dedication, took decisive steps against the corrosive “culture of secrecy” that he insisted undermines the social compact which is the essential glue that binds citizens to a system of rules and justice.

    He died too early to see the insidious poisoning of our values and security by corporate influences emboldened by new technology ADDED TO an escalated threat from our government overlords.

    It’s no longer just the emperor that is without clothing, but anyone at all with a Title. The human race does have its redemptive qualities, but in its handling of power, it is despicable.

      1. I would sell my ‘information’ in a heartbeat if it meant that the users of that information would target ads to me that I am actually interested in. I would be a very well informed shopper and stop having ads for things that I will never want being thrown in my face.

  5. I have mixed feelings about it. While on one hand, I like that they are being “up front” about it, the other hand is that this affects poor people more. Most will go with the cheaper plan whether they like it or not.

  6. Flood their servers with useless information. If they offered me a $30/mo discount in exchange for privacy, I’d take the deal and also write a script to pull two random words from the dictionary and do a web search on that pair of words and then visit the first dozen links. Have this run repeatedly all night. Download a list of baby names, movies, famous people, political jargon and places and again run repeated random searches on those items. Then just for fun string together 6 random characters and do web searches on those.

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