The Price of Privacy

So we finally have the official price of privacy. AT&T (one of the largest telecommunications companies in America) have announced that their GigaPower super-fast broadband service can be obtained at a discount if customers “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.”  The cost of not letting AT&T do this? $29 a month. And don’t think you can use your browsers privacy settings to stop AT&T tracking your browser history or search requests. It looks like they use deep packet inspection to examine the data packets that pass through their network and allow them to eavesdrop on your data.

So far so bad but it gets worse. It is not at all clear what GigaPower subscribers get when they pay their $29 fee to opt out of the snooping service. AT&T says that it “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.”  In other words even if you pay your ‘privacy tax’ there is no actual guarantee that AT&T won’t snoop on you anyway!

The even worse thing about this, as Bruce Schneier points out here is that “privacy becomes a luxury good” that means only those that can afford the tax can have their privacy recognised thereby driving even more of a wedge between the digital haves and have not’s.

In many ways of course at least AT&T are being transparent and telling you what they do and giving you the option of opting out (whatever that means) of not taking their service at all (assuming you don’t live in a part of the country where they don’t have a virtual monopoly). Google on the other hand offers a ‘free’ email service on the basis that it scans your emails to display what it considers are relevant ads in the hope that the user is more likely to click on them and generate more advertising revenue. This is a service you cannot opt out of. Maybe it’s time for us gmail users to switch to services like those offered by Apple which has a different business model that does not rely on building “a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers”. They just make a fortune selling us nice, shiny gadgets.

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