July 7, 2013
AT&T has announced that it will begin selling customers’ smart phone data to the highest bidder, putting the telecommunications giant in line with Verizon, Facebook and other competitors that quietly use a consumer’s history for marketing purposes.
A letter to customers, for instance, described how someone identified as a movie fan will be sent personalized ads for a nearby cinema.
“People who live in a particular geographic area might appear to be very interested in movies, thanks to collective information that shows wireless devices from that area are often located in the vicinity of movie theaters,” the letter states. “We might create a ‘movie’ characteristic for that area, and deliver movie ads to the people who live there.”
A June 28 blog post from AT&T’s chief privacy officer Bob Quinn said the new policy will focus on “Providing You Service and Improving Our Network and Services,” but the online reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, with many customers looking for a way to avoid the new conditions.
“You require that we allow you to store a persistent cookie of your choosing in our web browsers to opt out,” one person wrote. “No mention of how other HTTP clients, such as email clients, can opt out. If you really did care about your customers, you would provide a way for us to opt out all traffic to/from our connection and mobile devices in one easy setting.”
One problem for any customer hoping for a new service is the lack of options, smartphone or otherwise. Facebook, Google, Twitter and Verizon each store consumer data for purposes that have not yet been made clear. And because of the profit potential that exists when a customer blindly trusts a company with their data, small Internet start-ups, including AirSage and many others, have developed a way to streamline information into dollars.
The nefarious aspect of AT&T’s announcement is underscored by the recent headlines around the National Security Agency, which has spent years has compelling wireless corporations to hand over data collected on millions of Americans. Unfortunately for the privacy of those concerned, AT&T’s new policy may only be a sign of things to come.
“Instead of merely offering customers a trusted conduit for communication, carriers are coming to see subscribers as sources of data that can be mined for profit, a practice more common among providers of free online services like Google and Facebook,” the Wall Street Journal wrote about the matter in May.