AT&T, which is rolling out high-speed broadband service in Austin, Texas, intends to offer a cheaper plan to subscribers who are willing to receive ads targeted based on their Web activity, the company said on Wednesday.
The telecom said on Wednesday that its new fiber network will offer service with speeds of up to 300 Mbps, which will increase to 1 Gbps next year. Austin residents can sign up for “premier” service for $70 a month, or “standard” service for $99 a month. AT&T also will waive equipment, installation and activation fees for people who sign up for premier service.
But to be eligible for the premier service, people must agree to participate in AT&T's targeted-ad program, which the company describes as follows: “AT&T may use your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.”
Privacy advocates have previously challenged ad targeting by Internet service providers, which have access to almost everything users do online -- including their search activity. Ad networks, which rely on cookies to target people, typically have access to more limited data.
Given the vast amount of data available to ISPs, some advocates have said that broadband carriers should obtain users' explicit consent before engaging in this type of ad targeting. Here, AT&T seems to be doing so, says Harold Feld, senior vice president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge.
“As far as I know, there's no legal problem, particularly because this is very much an opt-in program,” he says. But, he adds, the initiative troubles him. “I'm not happy with the trend. I'd rather that privacy be a right than a commodity that is bought and sold. I have the same feeling about this program that I do when debating questions about whether people should be allowed to sell their organs and teeth.”