How much is your online privacy worth? According to AT&T, the answer is “a premium of $29 a month over and above your standard Internet bill.”
This week, AT&T made its U-Verse with GigaPower home internet available to Kansas City residents, who already have the option of buying high-speed Internet via Google Fiber for $70 per month. Those interested in getting GigaPower will also pay $70 per month for a standard GigaPower connection, or $99 per month to “opt out” of what AT&T calls its “Internet Preferences” program.
And what does the “Internet Preferences” program entail? Here's what AT&T's “U-Verse Support” page has to say:
When you select AT&T Internet Preferences, we can offer you our best pricing on GigaPower because you let us use your individual Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the web pages you visit, to tailor ads and offers to your interests.
Translation: With AT&T Internet Preferences, we'll knock less than a buck a day off your monthly GigaPower bill, in exchange for which we'll monitor all of your online activities in hope of learning enough to increase the possibility you'll spend your money buying whatever it is we advertise to you.
How does AT&T's home fiber connection policy compare to Google Fiber's? Google toldArs Technica that it does not track the browsing history of Google Fiber customers or offer different pricing models based on how much privacy those customers want—but, of course, Google does track users of its own web properties, whether they subscribe to Fiber or not.
The U-Verse Support page went on to ask and answer the question “How does AT&T Internet Preferences work with my browser's privacy settings?”:
AT&T Internet Preferences works independently of your browser's privacy settings regarding cookies, do-not-track and private browsing. If you opt-in to AT&T Internet Preferences, AT&T will still be able to collect and use your Web browsing information independent of those settings.
Translation: “Works independently” in this context means “ignore.” AT&T Internet Preferences ignores your browser's privacy settings regarding cookies, do-not-track, and private browsing: you won't have any privacy but you will be tracked.
It's pretty clear
To be fair, not everyone thinks AT&T's offer is a bad thing. Gigoam, for example, had this to say:
“While the choice between money and privacy appears stark, the internet has always worked this way. Google, Facebook and others have become giants by giving users a “free” service that, in reality, requires them to pay with their personal information instead.
“All AT&T is doing is making the choice explicit, even as it runs the risk of stirring up outrage over making people pay for privacy.”
Gigoam's argument alludes to a well-known Internet and social-media maxim: “If you're not paying for the service, you're not their customer; you're what they're selling.” Take Facebook, for example: you don't pay to open a Facebook page, so you're not the customer: the customers are the advertisers who pay Facebook however-much money in exchange for making their advertisements visible to people like you.
But does this maxim apply to GigaPower? You still have to pay for your home Internet connection – a minimum of $70 per month. You just have to pay more if you wish to avoid AT&T's tracking everything you do online.
Then again, even if you pay the extra $348 per year to opt out, AT&T still reserves the right to monitor your browsing activities: