It seems that online privacy is about to get a price tag on: the U.S. telecommunication service provider AT&T has hinted about its plans of reviving a surcharge for customers who prefer keeping their online data private.
As the AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn noted in an interview for C-SPAN, there is an ‘increasing demand for privacy’ from the consumer side. However, AT&T’s response to such demand is monetizing it instead of showing respect for user privacy and providing it as a natural feature of the service.
Initially, the controversial pay-for-privacy model was introduced in 2013, when AT&T was rolling out its super-fast gigabit broadband service. Users would have to pay at least $70 per month for a high-speed connection; however, the lowest price would come with Internet activity tracking, a so-called ‘Internet preferences’ program that allowed the company to use the collected data for targeted advertising. Users who didn’t want to be snooped on could opt out from the program by paying additional $29, which makes a total price of $99 per month. But that didn’t mean that AT&T would have stopped collecting data – what users got from paying the surcharge was simply no longer receiving targeted ads based on their browsing history.
Internet service providers (ISPs) have a broad view of what their customers do online. By handling the whole Internet traffic they can see the websites visited, apps used, the time when users are online and even the physical location if the location services on a mobile device are enabled. With the cancellation of the online privacy rules, approved by the Congress this March, ISPs have even more freedom when it comes to such data collection. The repeal of privacy regulations is a true victory for the whole telecommunications industry and a painful loss for consumer privacy: Internet providers no longer need permission to collect browsing data and share it with third parties.
The AT&T’s program received heavy critique from privacy advocates and eventually, it was stopped in 2016, dropping the extra fees. The way AT&T puts it, the decision was made in order ‘to simplify the offering for customers’. Nevertheless, now AT&T is considering bringing the pay-for-privacy mechanism back.
While AT&T positions the upcoming changes as a benefit for a customer by giving a choice to have more control over the price paid for service, it feels more like another punch to the privacy rights. It is yet unclear what price AT&T customers will have to pay to protect their private data from snooping.
The good thing is, Internet users can still browse privately without paying extra fees to their Internet service provider. Using a VPN service, like NordVPN, provides you with security and privacy online by hiding and replacing your IP address, so your Internet activity is away from the eyes of your ISP. Moreover, NordVPN keeps your personal data safe with military-grade encryption, so you can enjoy secure Internet connection no matter where you are.