Does Anyone Care About Privacy Anymore?

Isn't it grand that privacy is a profit center for AT&T? If you live in Kansas City or Austin and want its speedy-as-Google fiber online service, you pay $70 a month, but you have to agree to let AT&T spy on your online activities like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit. If you don't want to allow that (or try to block it in any way), you have to pony up another $29 a month/$350 a year -- for privacy. So much for that ad blocker you just downloaded.

While this is really no different from sites and services that give you something free if you take ads with it, or ask you to pay for the "no ads premium" version, maybe the better way to position this would be to offer users a discounted fee of $70 a month if they accept AT&T's snooping. The way it is sounds now is that you are being financially penalized if you want privacy.

According to a recent post, unlike with other ISPs, customers can’t thwart AT&T's data collection through cookie settings or private browsing, since the company is drawing the data right from its fiber connection. Which certainly gives one pause before doing a little video chat in the buff with that special someone across the country.

I think the underlying problem is that consumers never really know how much Internet companies know about them. Years ago it was possible to look at enough search terms to construct a pretty accurate (if allegedly "anonymous") profile of any single individual. The NSA, thanks only to the Snowden disclosures, gave us all a chill with the depth and breadth of its data collection. Long gone are the days when ad-tech companies could claim that they don't collect any PII. They always have, but said that they didn't need it to serve you "ads and offers tailored to your interests."

Then along comes the Frappening scandal, where photos saved to mobile phones and allegedly secure SnapChat photos are plastered across the Internet. And suddenly the digital age is not so much fun anymore (or more fun, depending on which side of the camera you were on).

Both online and mobile are so ingrained in our lives and have become so essential, there’s little chance folks are going to abandon these services. But what they are going to do is complain to guys in Washington who have little to no idea how their legislation might trample otherwise perfectly legitimate business models and start-ups. As my old man used to say, "It rains on the just and the unjust."

For years the small part of the ad-tech industry that is playing by the rules has urged the entire industry to be more transparent, letting consumers know exactly what companies know about them. The reason most companies haven't done this is that they know more about you than they want you to know. Look at all the fish caught in the infamous Wall Street Journal "What They Know" series net.

One would have thought that after these repeated privacy-related body blows, consumers would be less passive about data collection. Or have we all decided that the convenience of digital media is a fair trade for privacy?  Only your legislators know.

3 comments about "Does Anyone Care About Privacy Anymore?".
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  1. Craig Spiezle from AgeLight LLC, February 20, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.

    +1. users need to have a real choice to opt out of data collection, usage and sharing. Unfortunately the current About Ad program falls short in may ways in meeting these goals. Consumer control is good for the long-term interests of the ad industry, the consumer and for the brands and content sites they frequent

  2. Tom Goodwin from Tomorrow, February 21, 2015 at 10:54 a.m.

    Great piece.
    I'm unusual and not naive and I just accept that the battle for privacy was lost in about 2006. Companies track our moves, get over it. We can either get paranoid, worry endlessly, constantly change our behavior, or just accept it's part of modern life and the worst thing that will happen most of the times is that we'll get better ads, fewer ads, more relevant ads and more personal spam. I can cope with that. Privacy is off value, let's not worry about it but focus on we get in return for losing it.

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, February 23, 2015 at 4:35 p.m.

    Intelligent companies do not need to track users to deliver very relevant ads.

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