AT&T Wants You to Pay for Your Privacy, but Is It Worth It?

Philip Bates 12-08-2015

Good for AT&T: the telephone and Internet Service Provider (ISP) is ready to protect your privacy. At a cost.


It’s no surprise that our privacy is being infringed upon wherever we turn online. Facebook does it What Does Facebook Know About You? Why You Should Delete Facebook What does Facebook really know about you? One thing's for sure: if you want online privacy, Facebook is best avoided. Read More . Google does it Five Things Google Probably Knows About You Read More . Even your employer can track you Here's Why Your Employer Is Allowed to Track You A US sales executive is suing her former employer after they allegedly fired her for deleting an app used to track her. Yes, your employer spies on you, but are they actually allowed to...? Read More . So yes, ISPs track you too. It might seem like a great service offered by AT&T, but should you really have to pay for your own privacy? What’s the big idea? And is it actually worth that extra cash?

What They’re Offering


AT&T’s GigaPower, delivering up to 1-gigabit-a-second fibre-optic Internet, spread across America in states including Texas, North Carolina, and Illinois.

But if you want ultra-fast Internet, there’s an additional price to pay: not money, but privacy.

Earlier this year, GigaPower was introduced to Kansas City, Missouri, the standard service costing $70. That effectively lets AT&T keep tabs on your browsing, and the information gleaned from this will be used to show more appropriate, targeted advertisements. (If you wish to opt out, for $99, you’re supposedly not tracked by AT&T.)


According to a conservative estimation from Gigaom’s Stacey Higginbotham, your privacy is worth just $29, although between $44 and $66 is probably a more accurate estimate.

A spokesperson argued that:

“We can offer a lower price to customers participating in AT&T Internet Preferences because advertisers will pay us for the opportunity to deliver relevant advertising and offers tailored to our customer’s interests.”

What they’re saying is, in essence, you’re paying them the money they’d get from advertisers otherwise. Put that way, it sounds pretty understandable. But is it really something more underhand and intimidating?

What Are They Doing Now?



The company’s terms set out on their website state fairly clearly how your data is utilised:

“If you search for concert tickets, you may receive offers and ads related to restaurants near the concert venue… After you browse hotels in Miami, you may be offered discounts for rental cars there… If you are exploring a new home appliance at one retailer, you may be presented with similar appliance options from other retailers.”

Sounds helpful, right? It’s certainly something we’re all used to: feeding on your cookies, ads will appear customed to your tastes.

However, AT&T uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to filter through all the information obtained about your viewing habits: the web pages you read, the social media you use, the online shops you frequent, the videos you watch… Fortunately, encrypted sites using a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) What Is an SSL Certificate, and Do You Need One? Browsing the Internet can be scary when personal information is involved. Read More certificate prevents intimate details like credit card information from being shared.

And because they’re providing you with the ability to visit anything you want, they have a more complete coverage than any other service – even search engines like Google How Much Does Google Really Know About You? Google is no champion of user privacy, but you might be surprised just how much they know. Read More .


It doesn’t matter what device you’re using either. AT&T creates a profile about you, based on where you go online.

The company asserts that they don’t sell any information on, but they nonetheless share your details with advertisers who they profit from – therefore, they’re not technically selling your data.

Does It Really Matter?

Privacy by Rob Pongsajapan

AT&T isn’t a pantomime villain; they seem to simply view privacy as a commodity. That’s one line of thinking, and as far as we can tell, that’s exactly the company’s intentions.


But with all that information flowing through their metaphorical hands, an ISP can create a pretty accurate picture of who you are. It’s not unimaginable to consider what information in the wrong hands can mean.

And even though encryption can stop personal details from being shared, much can be gleaned from what is collected. Just look at Digital Shadow’s scouring Facebook profiles Digital Shadow Exposes What Facebook Really Knows About You While it began as a mere marketing stunt, Ubisoft's Digital Shadow remains a very useful (and potentially scary) application that shows you how much people can find out about you from Facebook. Read More : based on a few status updates, it throws some worrying password suggestions. If you haven’t got a secure password 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More , hackers, if capable of intercepting this information, could gain access to your emails, your PayPal, or your Internet banking 6 Common Sense Reasons Why You Should Bank Online If You Aren't Already [Opinion] How do you usually do your banking? Do you drive to your bank? Do you wait in long lines, just to deposit one check? Do you receive monthly paper statements? Do you file away those... Read More .

It would also make the NSA’s vision of a “front-door” key Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Surveillance is always on the cutting edge of technology. Here are four technologies that will be used to violate your privacy over the next few years. Read More to your data not just possible but also more encompassing.

It’ll matter depending on how private you wish to stay, sure, but it also has wider implications. This might start with AT&T, but what’s to stop it becoming the norm? If this proves successful, might all ISPs monitor you unless you pay them not to? Not only does it put a question over privacy; it’s a hit against net neutrality What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More too – a core principle behind the Internet’s conception. We’ve already argued over ISPs’ influence over this freedom Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Imagine a world where the content you are allowed to view on the Internet is tightly controlled by your Internet service provider. On MUO Debates, we explore and question this reality. Read More , as have geniuses on YouTube Net Neutrality, As Explained By YouTube’s Geniuses Are you still not sure what Net Neutrality actually is? Don’t feel dumb: it’s a nuanced concept. So, we tracked down videos from some of the smartest people on the Web. Read More . What’s more, privacy could become a thing only the rich can obtain. At the moment, it might be affordable to the Average Joe, but what if it increases drastically?

People worry about what Facebook is doing. This would be worse.

But this isn’t the most troubling thing…

Is It Worth Paying More?


Naturally, it depends on how private a person you are. Do you mind a company knowing, for instance, your shopping habits? Your political agenda, based on which news stories you read? Even your sexual persuasion, according to any NSFW sites you visit? And how about a potential gaming addiction, depending on which apps you’ve downloaded while using their service?

But the most concerning part of AT&T’s Internet Preferences terms is:

“If you chose not to participate in the AT&T Internet Preferences program, your Internet traffic is not routed to the Internet Preferences analytics platform. AT&T 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.”

The specifics of this are perhaps open to interpretation, but you could argue it means that your data could be collated in order to project demographical averages. Essentially, data isn’t used to create a profile of you in particular; instead, you’re a statistic, an average AT&T customer utilised to fashion appropriate en-masse advertising. Slate‘s David Auerbach makes a more chilling prediction:

“[W]ith the infrastructure to profile users, why not collect information anyway and save it for a rainy day? Storage is cheap, and you never know when a mountain of information on your customers might become useful.”

Similarly, opting out won’t stop surveillance from other agencies. Social networks will still watch you. So will search engines (apart from select ones like DuckDuckGo Get A Better Search Experience With Duck Duck Go It seems that there are a couple of services and Linux distributions (such as Linux Mint) that are switching over to Duck Duck Go as their default search engine. So why the heck are they... Read More ). And that’s without mentioning the NSA What Does the NSA Court Ruling Mean for You and The Future of Surveillance? A US appeals court has ruled that bulk collection of phone record metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) is illegal. But what does this mean for your privacy? Are you still being watched? Read More and even the UK Government if the so-called Snooper’s Charter How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to resurrect the "Snooper's Charter", a privacy-breaching set of new measures to enable enhanced monitoring of communications by the security services. Can it be stopped? Read More is passed.

How Much Will You Pay for Privacy?

Obviously, this isn’t affecting everyone. It’s very select. Nonetheless, it’s something to think about.

At least an additional $29: is it a price worth paying? It’s up to you.

Image Credits: AT&T logo, Winter in Snow, and AT&T Sunset by Mike Mozart; and Privacy by Rob Pongsajapan.

Related topics: Online Advertising, Online Privacy, SSL.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 12, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    "If this proves successful, might all ISPs monitor you unless you pay them not to?"
    Sounds to me like the "protection" offered by various civic-minded ethnic groups. :-)