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Paying for Privacy: A New Trend?

Paying for Privacy: A New Trend?

AT&T’s New Internet Service Comes With a No-Snooping Option – For a Price

February 23, 2015

It’s no secret that with more technology comes less privacy, but most of us are still uneasy about the idea of internet service providers (ISPs) and other companies spying on our online activity.

Now, it looks like a new service by AT&T could begin a movement to protect consumer privacy.

However (as you might expect from a service offered by a giant telecom corporation), this privacy will come at a cost.


U-Verse and the Internet Preferences Program

AT&T calls the new service “U-verse with AT&T GigaPower,” which was rolled out in Kansas City and surrounding areas last week. It’s the “fastest Internet available from AT&T, featuring speeds up to 1 gigabit per second,” allowing users to, say, download 25 songs in less than one second, or load HD movies in less than 36 seconds.*

Pricing starts at $70 per month for U-verse High Speed Internet in eligible areas, which (not-so-coincidentally) is the same price as that of Google’s competing service, Google Fiber.

But here’s the difference: With AT&T’s gigabit service, customers can also add a $29 charge per month to opt out of its “Internet Preferences” program, preventing AT&T from collecting individuals’ web browsing history.

Traditionally, ISPs automatically use this information (including recent search terms and top-visited web pages) to serve targeted internet advertising to users. By opting out, U-verse customers’ web traffic is not routed to the Internet Preferences analytics platform (although AT&T notes that it “may collect and use web browsing information for other purposes, as described in our Privacy Policy, even if you do not participate in the Internet Preferences program”).†


Looking Ahead

It’s certainly a start, although critics say that the extra $350 annual cost is too steep.

Yet it seems that AT&T’s new service charge for privacy could set a precedent for the industry. At the very least, it may open a dialogue about how user information and privacy are treated – right now, the rules regarding internet privacy are murky at best.

Consider Google’s information-collecting policy with Google Fiber, for example: Though Google Fiber does not track users’ browsing history, Google already tracks users across its own Web properties regardless of whether they also subscribe to Google Fiber (e.g. Google searches, YouTube videos).

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