Free Future

AT&T Wants Us to Pay Them With Our Money And Our Privacy – How to Opt Out

By Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California at 5:43pm

I received an email from AT&T today. Did you? It turns out that AT&T is revising its privacy policy to make it “easier to understand” and by the way, also to let us know that they want us to pay them with our money and our privacy, too. Unless we opt out, the company is going to start selling information about where we go, what we search for, what apps we use, and what we watch, to other businesses. On top of that, they want to send us advertisements based on our location, too.

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.

AT&T has also invited feedback about its privacy policy. My feedback is: AT&T, I am not interested in paying you with my money and my privacy, too. I am relieved that as a telecommunications company, you must comply with some existing privacy laws and that at least I had the opportunity to opt-out of your selling my information. But as companies like yours collect more and more data, retain it for long periods of time, and then share it, sell it, and hand it over to the government, it becomes even more clear why we really need to strengthen privacy protections for the modern digital world. I hope that many others will join me in learning more and taking action to demand a privacy upgrade at www.dotrights.org.

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