AT&T Adds on Privacy Charge for High Speed

For a price of $70 per month, subscribers can enjoy the ultrafast, fiber optic Internet access from AT&T. For another $29 per month, subscribers can avoid being tracked by the system.

AT&T introduced a one gigabit per second Internet service in 2013 in Austin, Texas and this past week rolled out the same in Kansas City, Missouri.

However, this service comes with one hitch: The company can track its users as they are surfing on the web. Customers who want to maintain their browsing habits to only themselves must pay to opt out.

A computer scientist from Stanford University, who focuses on monitoring technology for the Internet, said the user tracking by businesses that provide both wired and wireless Internet access is something to worry about.

Such companies can perform quite comprehensive tracking and there is no real way that customers can stop it.

Many companies allow users to opt out of the sharing of certain data without a charge, and the computer scientist questioned if the AT&T privacy opt out for $29 was designed to discourage them from opting out due to the price. The monthly charge seems like a way to normalize the AT&T practice.

A spokesperson from AT&T said that the privacy option for GigaPower is a discount for the people who do not opt out of the tracking. A lower price is offered for those participating in the regular program because advertisers pay AT&T to deliver relevant advertising, with offers that are tailored to the customers’ interests.

It is unusual for the big online companies to charge more for privacy. Facebook and Google for personal data offer free service in exchange. Despite pleas by privacy advocates, neither allows user to pay for the opportunity to avert tracking.

Little or no regulation allows providers of telecommunications to charge for the safeguards that previously consumers assumed they received by default, said an advocate for online privacy.

Many have criticized wireless carries of late for tracking their users. Verizon and AT&T opened up new lines of businesses selling the customers’ histories of mobile browsing to advertisers after they store undeletable, hidden tracking codes on the phones of their customers.