from the ill-communication dept
Last week we noted that while AT&T has been trying to match Google Fiber pricing in small portions of several markets, it has been busily doing it in a very AT&T fashion. While the company is offering a $70, 1 Gbps service in some locations, the fine print indicates that users can only get that price point if they agree to AT&T’s Internet Preferences snoopvertising program. That program uses deep packet inspection to track your online behavior down to the second — and if you want to opt out, that $70 1 Gbps broadband connection quickly becomes significantly more expensive.
While most people thought this was rather dumb, AT&T actually received kudos on some fronts for trying something new. Apparently, the logic goes, AT&T charging you a major monthly fee to not be snooped on will result in some kind of privacy arms race resulting in better services and lower prices for all. While sometimes that sort of concept works (Google and Apple scurrying to profess who loves encryption more, for example), anybody who believes this is a good precedent doesn’t know the U.S. telecom market or AT&T very well.
As Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM notes, it’s not as simple as just paying AT&T a $30 to not be snooped on. AT&T actually makes it very difficult to even find the “please don’t spy on me option,” and saddles the process with a number of loopholes to prevent you from choosing it. In fact, you’re not even able to compare prices unless you plug in an address that’s in AT&T’s footprint, but currently doesn’t have AT&T service. Meanwhile, according to Higginbotham’s math, even if you’re successful in signing up, that $30 privacy fee is actually much more depending on your chosen options. If you just want broadband, opting out of AT&T snoopvertising will actually run you $44:
“Gigabit service costs $99 per month under the Standard Plan plus a $7 monthly fee modem rental fee and a $99 one-time activation fee, that nets out to a monthly cost of $114. The Internet Preference Plan waives the one-time activation and monthly modem fee which means you pay only $70 a month, giving you a true cost of $44 a month if you choose the privacy-preserving option.”
It’s worse if you want to sign up for television services:
“The Standard Plan has a higher cost of $149 per month plus the $7 monthly fee and a one-time $49 activation fee. Only you also add in a $10 monthly service fee for HD TV and a $16 monthly fee for HBO Go which are included in the Internet Preference Plan. So the comparable plan nets out to $186, which costs $66 more than the $120 you’d pay for letting AT&T sneak a peek at your home broadband web surfing habits.”
So no, AT&T isn’t opening up some brave new frontier here where consumers have greater control of privacy. It’s charging you a huge premium just to opt out of deep packet inspection, and making it as expensive and as confusing as possible to do so.