Privacy Advocates Have Issues With AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

Within hours of AT&T's announcement that it planned to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion, consumer groups condemned the move for its effect on the market. Consolidation in the wireless space would obviously leave consumers with fewer choices of carriers and could very well also result in higher prices, for at least some consumers.

Some advocates immediately suggested that the Federal Communications Commission should require AT&T to adhere to neutrality principles as a condition of the merger. That term seems logical, given that a merger would leave AT&T/T-Mobile subscribers with fewer alternatives than before should the network decide to start blocking traffic. At least one commissioner, Michael Copps, seems to agree; he recently said that neutrality conditions would be "important" to the deal.

But the concerns about the merger aren't limited to pricing or neutrality. Some privacy advocates have also raised questions about the deal. Privacy researcher Chris Soghoian called T-Mobile "the most privacy preserving of the major wireless carriers," noting that the company doesn't keep IP addresses of its mobile users. "In comparison, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all keep logs regarding the IP addresses they issue to their customers, and in some cases, even the individual URLs of the pages viewed from handsets," he wrote on his blog.

Soghoian favors blocking the merger altogether. But, he said on his blog, if the deal goes through, "the FTC should at least extract strict privacy guarantees from AT&T that include a policy of not retaining IP address allocation or other Internet browsing logs."

Now, Jeff Chester, executive director of the privacy advocacy organization Center for Digital Democracy, is also urging regulators to examine AT&T's data collection practices when evaluating the planned acquisition.

His organization plans to call on the FCC and FTC to specifically address the privacy concerns posed by the merger. "As more Americans rely on their cell phones to conduct their personal and business affairs, it is critical that any merger of this significance trigger serious scrutiny on how it impacts both their privacy and consumer welfare," he writes in a letter slated to be sent to the FCC and FTC on Monday. "AT&T will have even more small and large business and consumer data available to use for its mobile advertising business after it acquires T-Mobile."

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