Privacy and How to Lose It

Melissa Swartz | No Jitter | June 24, 2015

No-Jitter-Logo-borderGoogle and AT&T high-speed Internet services may seem like a bargain, but what are they costing consumers in privacy?

I live in Kansas City, which was the first city selected by Google to roll out the Google Fiber service that offers Gigabit Internet connections and TV for (often) less than what other providers charged for 15MB Internet and TV. I have seen Google Fiber signs in front of many residential houses during the deployment, and now they have a small business offering.

One of the big local news stories this week is AT&T’s announcement that it will be offering its new U-verse with GigaPower service, with features and pricing that are quite similar to the Google offerings.

Already, Google Fiber’s presence in the marketplace has caused other cable providers to lower their prices. With the addition of AT&T’s new services, competition will escalate. Most of the news stories focus on the angle that competition is great for consumers, basically telling us all how lucky we are.

But the news articles don’t talk about the loss of privacy.

Below is information from the privacy policies for both companies (or should they be called “lack of privacy” policies?). Information has truly become a currency of its own, and as the saying goes , ‘If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold’.

While competition usually is good for the consumer, we all need to understand that our monthly payments to these companies are only the beginning of the revenues they gain from us.

Here is more detail on the information that they collect and how they use it:

AT&T

According to Ars Technica, “AT&T charges an additional $29 a month to customers who opt out of AT&T’s ‘Internet Preferences’ program.” AT&T says, “We can offer you our best pricing on GigaPower because you let us use your individual Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to tailor ads and offers to your interests.”

The AT&T Privacy Policy explains, “Whenever you do something like buy one of our products, stream a movie or download an app, information is created.” They collect information such as:

  • Account Information includes your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, service-related details such as payment data, security codes, service history and other information like that
  • Network Performance & Usage Information tells how you use AT&T’s network, products and services, and how well the equipment and network is performing
  • Web Browsing & Wireless Application Information reveals the websites you visit and the mobile applications you use on AT&T’s network
  • Location Information shows where your wireless device is located, as well as your ZIP code and street address
  • U-verse Information details which programs you watch and record, the games you play, the applications you use and similar information about how you use AT&T’s U-verse services and applications

Google

Google also collects information about you. According to its Privacy Policy, the company collects information in two ways: by you giving it directly to Google and by the company collecting it from your use of its services.

The information gathered through your service use includes:

  • Device information such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number. Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.
  • Log information, which includes:
    • Details of how you used its service, such as your search queries
    • Telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information, and types of calls
    • Internet protocol address
    • Device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL
    • Cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your Google Account
  • Location information
  • Unique application numbers
  • Local storage
  • Cookies and similar technologies

Still think these services are a bargain?

This column was originally featured on No Jitter as part of the contributors column “SCTC Perspectives,” a weekly post written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC). The SCTC is an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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