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AT&T to Offer Fiber-Optic Internet Service at a (Faustian) Bargain

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 18, 2015 9:22 AM

A few years ago, Google began quite an experiment: It offered fiber optic Internet service to the good citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, for an astounding $70 per month. So, basically, for the same price you pay Comcast, AT&T, or Time Warner, you get Internet speeds that are 100 times faster.

First, the ISPs balked. Then their trade groups tried to lobby state legislatures to make it illegal to offer fiber optic service. Now, it looks like they're actually going to play ball. For a price.

70 Bucks a Month (Asterisk)

TechDirt reports that AT&T is set to begin offering gigabit Internet service in Austin and Kansas City for the same $70 that Google is charging. What's the catch? You have to agree that AT&T can snoop on your Internet traffic in order to serve you ads.

According to AT&T's "GigaPower" FAQ, users will receive ads tailored to their browsing history "online, via email or through direct mail." In the same FAQ, AT&T claims it "won't sell your personal Web browsing information for any reason," even though that's exactly what it appears to be doing.

Notably, AT&T is honest about one thing: If you sign up for its fiber service, there's nothing you can do, short of opting out of the program, to stop the tracking and ad delivery. Your browser settings don't matter; "[i]f you opt-in to AT&T Internet Preferences, AT&T will still be able to collect and use your Web browsing information independent of those settings."

Privacy Will Cost You

Users who don't want Ma Bell reading over their shoulder will pay $30 more per month for the privilege of having their traffic uninspected. TechDirt doesn't have any information on what technology AT&T will be using, but that's only because AT&T isn't saying what it is. And what if a user browses the Internet through a secure VPN in order to thwart AT&T's ad-bots? Also unclear.

The technology enabling this "feature" is likely similar to one that allowed Verizon to inject ads into cell data users' mobile Web browsers. Using a unique identifier, Verizon was able to tie ads to an individual device with a "zombie cookie" that respawned itself even after a user deleted it.

For its part, Google's policy, reports Ars Technica, is that it collects information as users interact with Google services, but it does that whether or not someone is using Google Fiber. It also collects technical information about Fiber use, but that's for "network management, security or maintenance," not advertising.

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