Speedy Internet May Cost You More Than Money

On March 30, 2015, AT&T offered its “GigaPower” service to Cupertino, California. It is currently offered in a handful of cities across the United States (Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Kansas, Raleigh-Durham, and Winston-Salem) with ten other planned metro areas. GigaPower is promoted as Internet service with “[b]lazing-fast speeds up to 1Gbps,” allowing the user to download twenty-five songs in one second, an HD television show in three seconds, and an HD movie in thirty-six seconds.

The price tag for this super-speed is either $139.00/month, or $110.00/month plus allowing AT&T to monitor your Internet browsing. Thus, AT&T’s customers will have to choose whether to allow such monitoring or in effect pay $29.00 for their privacy. AT&T’s “Internet Preferences” analytics program monitors all activity in order to use that information to target its customers with personalized advertisements, for which it can then charge advertisers. According to an AT&T spokesperson, opting out of the Internet Preferences program will ensure that the customer does not receive targeted ads, but AT&T’s privacy policy still allows it to collect information on its customers’ web activity for certain purposes. AT&T has stated that the benefits of these ads are that AT&T can keep its prices from rising, and since all the data is maintained in-house, it will not sell its customers’ information. AT&T claims that the “vast majority” of its customers have opted to participate in the Internet Preferences program.

This comes on the heels of the recent battle over net neutrality which resulted in the Federal Communications Commission’s February 26, 2015 adoption of “Open Internet” rules. These rules seek to “protect and maintain open, uninhibited access to legal online content without broadband Internet access providers being allowed to block, impair, or establish fast/slow lanes to lawful content.” Given that the federal government has determined that service providers cannot charge web users or websites for entry onto an Internet superhighway “fast” lane, it is unlikely that AT&T will be the only Internet service provider to start charging to maintain its customers’ privacy.

Our Privacy & Data Security Group will continue to monitor the implications of AT&T’s recent offering in this regard.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Mike Mozart

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