A top AT&T executive says the company may soon return to charging consumers an additional fee to protect their privacy. Last year, you might recall AT&T quietly started charging between $531 and $800 more each year if customers wanted to opt out of AT&T’s Internet Preferences program, which uses deep-packet inspection to track and monetize user behavior around the Internet. AT&T was heavily criticized for the move, and ultimately stopped charging the extra fees — but only to help secure regulatory approval for its Time Warner merger.But with AT&T getting every indication that its latest massive merger will be approved by Trump (despite a campaign promise to kill the deal), and AT&T having just successfully lobbied to kill consumer broadband privacy rules, the company says the “privacy surcharge” may be returning.In a an interview on C-SPAN, AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn was quick to acknowledge that the idea wasn’t popular among consumer advocates and customers.”We got an enormous amount of criticism from privacy advocates when we rolled out, in Austin, Texas, an ad-supported Internet service…Privacy advocates screamed about that,” said Quinn.Of course that was then and this is now.
After successfully lobbying the GOP to kill consumer privacy protections, AT&T lobbyists have shifted their attention toward killing net neutrality, and ferreting all oversight of broadband ISPs to an over-extended and ill-equipped FTC. As such, there’s very little on the horizon stopping AT&T from doing whatever it damn well pleases under the Trump administration.”As the privacy revolution evolves, I think people are going to want more control, and maybe that’s the pricing model that’s ultimately what consumers want,” said Quinn, who repeatedly tried to insist this was simply “ad-supported Internet service” that the company would be revisiting eventually.But “more control” is the opposite of what AT&T offered. The company’s U-Verse broadband customers had to navigate a confusing array of options to even find the opt out function, and even then AT&T didn’t do a very good job making it clear that protecting your own privacy would be hugely expensive. Also note that while paying this additional money stopped you from seeing targeted ads, it didn’t even truly stop AT&T from collecting this data.