Want Privacy with that High-Speed Internet? It'll Cost You
There's an old Monty Python sketch where Leon Trotsky checks into a Soviet hotel and is given a choice of rooms: bugged or unbugged. Customers with access to AT&T's high-speed fiber Internet service appear to have a similar choice: a "premium" plan with Web tracking-based advertising or a more expensive plan without.
According to AT&T, customers who choose the GigaPower service with AT&T Internet Preferences get a lower price in return for letting the company track their browsing history for more tailored advertising. The standard offer, which does not include browsing-based ads, is available for a higher price.
How much higher, though, is not entirely clear. Fiber service with Internet Preferences starts at $70 per month while the standard service is advertised at $29 per month more. As an article in Gigaom pointed out Thursday, however, other pricing waivers for the ad-based service mean the monthly cost for the ad-free service could be even higher.
AT&T has been rolling out its GigaPower fiber service to select markets across the U.S. since 2013, when it debuted the offering in Austin. Also available in parts of Dallas, Fort Worth, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, the high-speed service expanded into Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this week.
GigaPower provides customers with connection speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which -- according to AT&T -- is fast enough to let users download an entire HD movie in 36 seconds. In addition to an Internet-only service, AT&T also offers GigaPower bundles with TV or TV and cellphone service.
By opting for the Internet-only, $70-per-month service with Web-based tracking and ads, customers get a waiver on equipment, installation and activation fees. As Stacey Higginbotham pointed out in her analysis on Gigaom, that means the tracking- and ad-free service could actually cost customers an additional $44 or $62 per month.
Personal Data 'the New Gold'
AT&T describes its GigaPower service with Web-tracking as a premium offer to customers in return for more targeted advertising.
"When you select AT&T Internet Preferences, we can offer you our best pricing on GigaPower because you let us 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," the company's Internet Preference Web page says. "You won't necessarily receive more ads when you are online, but those you do see may be more suited to your interests."
Ads can be served either online or via Email or direct mail. However, AT&T emphasizes that it will not sell the browsing information it tracks "to anyone, for any reason. Period."
The revelation about AT&T's added fee for added privacy has generated new criticism for the company, which last year faced the wrath of privacy advocates for its testing of a "perma-cookie" to track mobile customers' Web behavior. (Verizon Wireless was also revealed to have used such technology.) However, other observers say the latest news opens up a much-needed conversation about online and mobile privacy.
"Monetization is the process of converting something into money," wrote Ray Shaw, who is CEO of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. "That something, courtesy of the digital age, is your personal data and it is usually a casualty of convenience. You want to use Google Search, Now, Mail, Docs, Sheets, Pictures etc; Facebook; LinkedIn; Instagram, or anything else like a free app, then you do so by accepting the fact that your data is not private. Personal data is the new gold."
Shaw added, "It is time for universal, enforceable safeguards and time to reject convenience over privacy."
Posted: 2015-02-21 @ 6:22am PT
So... extortion money for privacy.
Just a thought...:
Posted: 2015-02-21 @ 1:16am PT
Just pay 40 bucks a year and get a personal VPN. Your traffic is encrypted between you and the VPN. Meaning your ISP can't know what your browsing habits are. You don't need congress to protect you. You can do it yourself.
Posted: 2015-02-20 @ 8:52pm PT
In general, it is good to see a market for valuable goods. However this market ($44 to $62 per month extra for privacy) is (a) extremely badly priced; and (b) set on the wrong footing.
Pricing: a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service costs between $5 and $20 per month and properly configured gives even more privacy than what AT&T is trying to sell at $44 to $62. Unless they play some really bad monkey business such as censoring encrypted traffic, I will gladly take their cheap option-cum-surveillance and the only thing they would see is that all of my traffic goes to and from a single IP address, totally encrypted. Their perma-cookie gets stopped, stripped and shredded at that IP address.
Footing: the basic question to be answered is who owns the information being collected. AT&T has designed its offers from the position that it is theirs and they do us a favour not using it. This is plain wrong. The subscriber is the one generating the valuable information and the starting point should be a service that reflects that in both price and respect for ownership of the private information. Providers should be mandated to publish that exact price. They can then offer add-ons at discounts in exchange for the subscriber's owned private information. This more transparent structure will enable subscribers to compare and understand their options better. It will also, in time, enable more competitive and adaptive pricing based on the quality of the generated monetizable information. Rather than offering every subscriber the same discount, AT&T will make the discount dependent on certain data-mining parameters. I with my VPN would get zero discount. Users who splurge their whole life on Facebook for everybody to see would get a good discount. Users who are careful about their privacy will see an even bigger discount because they have more information that has not been mined yet to trade.
Posted: 2015-02-20 @ 3:23pm PT
$70 per month is surprising for monopolist AT&T. May be too surprising. What is the data cap, and what is the fee per gigabyte for going over the cap? It doesn't matter how fast the bytes come, if you can't afford to pay for them. All the monopoly ISP's (all of them) are planning to ramp up the usage-based billing model very quickly in the next few years. Both the individual companies and their industry lobbyist have publicly predicted this. They all intend to price-gouge internet service to make up for the loss of TV packages and they can't afford to lose the $150 to $250 monthly bills they now send out. They'll unfairly boost up internet service fees as quickly as they can think of ways to do it. Expect a wallop in the wallet very soon.