AT&T Stops Charging Broadband Users Extra For Privacy

by Karl Bode, TechDirt

A few years ago, AT&T came up with an “ingenious” idea: charge broadband consumers more money if they want to protect their privacy. Under this plan, users ordering AT&T’s U-Verse broadband service could get broadband for, say, $70 a month. But if you want to opt out of AT&T’s Internet Preferences program (which uses deep packet inspection to study your movement around the Internet down to the second) you’ll pay $30 to $50 more, per month. AT&T also made opting out as cumbersome as possible, knowing full well that few people would dare take the option.

With its decision, AT&T effectively made user privacy a luxury option.

After years of this behavior, AT&T suprisingly proclaimed last week that it would be eliminating the privacy surcharge and its Internet Preferences behavioral advertising service completely this month:

“To simplify our offering for our customers, we plan to end the optional Internet Preferences advertising program related to our fastest Internet speed tiers,” an AT&T spokesperson confirmed to Ars today. “As a result, all customers on these tiers will receive the best rate we have available for their speed tier in their area. We’ll begin communicating this update to customers early next week.”

Why the sudden AT&T about-face? While AT&T claims it’s just concerned about “simplicity,” the real reason is because the FCC is considering some basic privacy protections for broadband users, who often can’t vote against bad behavior with their wallet thanks to the lack of competition in the broadband space. AT&T’s decision to issue a surcharge for privacy was one of the primary reasons the FCC began the privacy rulemaking proceeding. AT&T’s lobbyists and lawyers clearly hope that if they eliminate this controversial program, they’ll be more easily able to argue that broadband privacy rules aren’t necessary.

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