In a blanket mailout to clients, telecom giant AT&T recently informed their customers that as far as personal privacy is concerned, the game is about to change. Effective immediately, AT&T customers will be subject to new rules regarding privacy which are quite remarkable in scope and spirit.
You can OPT OUT HERE.
Two new programs are being introduced in the form letter sent out by Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer of the company, Mr. Robert Quinn. The first, AT&T claims, is an acknowledgment that the company will be selling what is popularly being termed as metadata in contemporary punditry, in other words demographic and marketing information rather than personal details linked to an individual name and life. The distinction is notably blurry.
The second program as outlined referred to the practice of datamining a user’s browsing habits, social networking behavior and contacts, and search histories. While this is becoming and has become standard practice for many services (in essence, offering the service for free while collecting information as relevant marketing information as a saleable byproduct) such as Facebook and Google, it is a controversial trend that upsets many privacy advocates and tech communities.
Again, you can OPT OUT HERE.
Whether or not customers choose to participate in these new marketing programs with AT&T is entirely up to them -- information on how to opt out is provided below.
How to protect your personal information and privacy if you are an AT&T customer or client
Fortunately, buried in the final lines describing the two new marketing “programs” is an out for those seeking the door with regards to belonging to a datamined cohort -- in other words, if you want to protect your privacy and personal information, AT&T is legally obligated to allow you to opt out of these programs.
It is possible to opt out of their first program “External Marketing & Analytics Reports” in which AT&T plans to sell the aggregate (or collective) data of all customers with names presumably stripped. You can do so at http://www.att.com/cmpchoice/ or by calling 1-866-344.9850.
It is also an option to remove oneself from the second AT&T marketing program, this time introducing targeted advertisements based on the data mined from a user’s previous browsing and communications history. Much like the targeted ads provided to you by Facebook or Google based upon a similar metric and algorithm, these advertisements also have the dubious benefit of utilizing “locational” services (ie. tracking your location via GPS) and providing information to you -- and from you -- based on that context. To opt-out of this second program, clients should visit adworks.att.com/adpreferences if you are browsing on PC and adworks.att.com/mobileoptout if you’re on a smartphone or other mobile device. Keep in mind that each device will need to undergo this procedure individually.
Can the full promise of privacy be kept by corporations or governments? Unlikely.
Although Robert Quinn’s form letter to the clientele does make the claim that all personal details will be absent from any marketing data sold to third parties, as we have seen with several instances of massive privacy leaks recently -- from HRSDC losing files on tens of thousands of student loan borrowers to Snowden and Sony -- there is certainly no guarantee of this particular safety.
The purported benefits of the first plan are restricted almost entirely to corporate ends, it is doubtful that AT&T will offer a reduced rate or discount to clients whom offer up their demographic data for sale. As for the second plan, providing targeted advertising and locational services is something already done before and better by competitors -- not to mention that many people simply do not like their movements and searches being tracked by anyone, let alone their phone company.
Customers and clients would be well advised to consider their options before skipping over the small print on this latest letter.
Finally, you can OPT OUT HERE.