You'll pay more for privacy with AT&T's gigabit broadband

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AT&T launched its U-verse with AT&T GigaPower broadband network in Kansas City, Mo., over the weekend, with prices beginning at $70 per month. But there’s a catch: If you want AT&T to “ignore” what you’re doing online, you’ll pay almost $30 more per month for the privilege.

U-Verse with AT&T GigaPower previously went live in Austin, Tex., and in parts of North Carolina. The service that went live Sunday in Kansas City includes suburbs in both Kansas and Missouri. The pricing tiers seem relatively simple, beginning at $70 per month for gigabit Internet service; $120 per month to add TV, including HBO; and $150 for gigabit Internet service, TV, and VoIP phone.

But there’s a catch: Those prices include subscribing to U-verse with AT&T GigaPower Internet Preferences, AT&T speak for targeted ads. If you subscribe to the GigaPower services, AT&T will use location, your search history, and even your apparent intentions to offer you targeted ads. For example, AT&T will serve up ads to restaurants near a concert you may be buying tickets for, or an ad for a new dishwasher from Best Buy if you’re researching one being sold by Sears.

And it includes spam. “For example, if you search for a car online, you may receive an email notifying you of a local dealership’s sale,” AT&T says. AT&T representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Why this matters: Trading your personal information in exchange for free services has been the business model adopted by many, many Web services, including Facebook, Google, and more. AT&T has just put a price on it.

Paying for privacy

AT&T characterizes its prying eyes as a useful service for consumers—and in the examples cited, they might be. But when you think about what you could search for in private—symptoms of medical conditions, investment opportunities, new employers, and porn are just a few—AT&T’s “discount” might not be so attractive. According to Ars Technica, you’ll pay $29 more per month—a dollar per day, basically—to block AT&T from peering over your shoulder.

As Ars notes, AT&T’s GigaPower has followed Google Fiber into both Austin and Kansas City, and offers the same basic price as Google’s own gigabit services—unless you want to opt out of ads. AT&T has already said that it plans to bring GigaPower to Silicon Valley, and eventually to 100 “candidate municipalities” across the country.

AT&T already asks you to sign a three-year contract for U-verse with AT&T GigaPower, with early termination fees of up to $180 if you cancel early. Fortunately, AT&T does allow customers to opt in or out of the Internet Preferences without apparent penalty. And it won’t sell your personal information on to other companies—it will reserve that information for itself. 

It’s almost certain that using “private” modes like Google’s incognito mode won’t hide you from AT&T, as that feature simply wipes your history, not your browser traffic. And there’s no guarantee that so-called “anonymous browsers” will work, either. 

Does Google do the same? Not directly, according to the Google Fiber privacy policy. But while Google won’t necessarily collect personal information while you surf, the company reserves the right to buy that information from outside companies: “commercially available demographic, geographic, or interest information,” specifically.

 Update: AT&T has confirmed the $29/mo pricing difference between U-verse with AT&T GigaPower Internet Preferences and th version without ads.

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