The company tries to calm any fears about our sensitive information ending up who knows where, being used for who knows what, by saying, don’t worry, it will be “anonymous” information about groups of customers. But AT&T, I am not buying it.
If these data sets were not chock full of valuable information about habits, hobbies and activities, AT&T would not be so interested in selling them and others would not want to buy them. We also know that anonymous data sets often do not stay anonymous for long.
Recent academic research shows that it takes as few as four location data points to uniquely identify 95% of individuals. Documents unearthed by the ACLU in 2011 reveal that AT&T has a hefty stockpile of location data about its customers, perhaps going as far back as 2008. Web searches have been de-anonymized as well. AOL thought it had anonymized a data set of 657,000 users and web searches back in 2006, but it did not take long to link searches for “60 single men,” “landscapers in Lilburn, GA,” people with the last name Arnold, and homes sold in her subdivision, to an elderly widow named Thelma Arnold who lived in Lilburn, Georgia. And portions of a Netflix data set that included 10 million movie rankings by 500,000 customers were de-anonymized in 2007. Add in information about the mobile apps we use, such as the public transportation app that helps us get around town, or the fitness app we use to monitor our health, and it is not hard to imagine that these AT&T data sets could potentially go a long way to identifying many of us and revealing intimate details about what we do, where we go, and who we know.
So yes, I will be opting out of AT&T using my wireless location information, U-verse information, and website browsing and mobile application usage for “external marketing and analytics reports.” I can do so by visiting att.com/cmpchoice, or calling 1.866.344.9850.
I am also not interested in AT&T making inferences about my interests based on where I may travel and sending me advertisements based on my location. So, I will be opting out of this new invasive program too. I will have to visit adworks.att.com/adpreferences from each of my computers or adworks.att.com/mobileoptout from each of my mobile devices.