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AT&T, Verizon To Require Opt-In For User Tracking

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the about-thirteen-years-late dept.

Privacy 59

ehaggis writes "The Washington Post reports that AT&T and Verizon have pledged not to track customers' internet behavior unless given explicit, opt-in permission. The two companies made this commitment in a Congressional hearing. A Verizon vice president is quoted: 'Verizon believes that before a company captures certain Internet-usage data... it should obtain meaningful, affirmative consent from consumers.' The article also mentions a survey quoted by a congressman indicating that '72 percent of Americans worry their online activities are being tracked by companies.'"

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59 comments

Why? (3, Insightful)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164359)

Maybe I'm paranoid, but how can user tracking ever be a good thing?

Nobody said it will be good for YOU (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164415)

Well, nobody said it will be good for _you_. You're just supposed to believe that it'll be good for the economy -- in the same way, say, telemarketing calls or companies selling your private data are -- and saves the company some money, and _of_ _course_ they'll pass the savings on to you, the consumer.

Re:Nobody said it will be good for YOU (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164491)

Well, nobody said it will be good for _you_. You're just supposed to believe that it'll be good for the economy -- in the same way, say, telemarketing calls or companies selling your private data are -- and saves the company some money, and _of_ _course_ they'll pass the savings on to you, the consumer.

Psssst. Hey, buddy. I've got 10 copies of Duke Nuke 'Em Forever. Wanna buy any?

Re:Nobody said it will be good for YOU (2, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#25170503)

It will be good for the economy. In particular, the 'economy' of the ISPs. You either opt-in, so the ISP makes money showing you targeted ads, or you don't, and will need to pay the ISP an extra $5/month.

Sure, it's not like this now, but it will eventually be like this (similar to having to pay a fee to the manufacturer to "remove" the crapware from your new computer)...

Re:Why? (5, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164423)

User tracking can't be good. The information gleaned from 15 million users can be. Imagine if you could see every search for political terms from anywhere. Those Google trends charts start to be more meaningful than they already are. Perhaps a researcher might want to know what level of exposure there is to cellular radiation among pre-teens? There are thousands of statistics that might probably be useful if everyone allowed tracking. Nobody wants big brother following them around town, or listening to their conversations. The dangers are imminent, and the idea that a health care provider might in the future refuse treatment of a skin tumor on your cheek because of recorded cellular usage is frighteningly real.

The desire of big brother to want to be able to track anyone anytime is also a great danger. The bad guys will always thwart such efforts and only the innocent will be harmed.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164515)

Blanket tracking, of course, is not good, but if I had a child, you'd damn better believe that I would track where they go online. My house, my money paying the bills, my rules. Of course, I don't need an ISP to do that sort of tracking because I understand how to set all of that up myself, but there are a lot of people out there that don't understand how it all works and may want a little help. So, in that regard, I have no problems with allowing opt-in use tracking.

(Isn't that the whole argument about requiring user tracking? I thought that a lot of the free-market, anti-government types were the ones crowing that the government shouldn't mandate online user tracking, and if a market for such a thing were to exist, new ISPs specializing in it would be formed or existing ISPs would offer it as an option. That's exactly what has happened here.)

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164789)

Your children must grow up to be the perfect citizens - accustomed to surveillance and mistrusted. Good job, asshole.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

MasterOfMagic (151058) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164971)

First, I don't have any children. Second, trust but verify. Children make mistakes - that's how they learn. As their parent and legal guardian, it's my job to minimize the impact of those mistakes and hopefully help them learn. Third, when my children start paying for the Internet connection which, by the way, is not a necessity, then they'll have the right to decide how they're going to use it. I pay for it, so I get to set and enforce the ground rules.

I'm not saying spy on their every move, but if I see little Johnny running off to the hate speech sites or little Jenny running off to findasugardaddy.com, I have a vested interest in what is going on. It would be bad parenting of me not to find out.

Re:Why? (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166247)

I find it particularly disturbing that, these days, parents have to justify themselves (or feel the need to) about monitoring the activities of their children.

Add to that the fact it is YOU paying for the internet connection (regardless of they being your children).

Something is VERY wrong.

Re:Why? (1)

MasterOfMagic (151058) | more than 5 years ago | (#25167883)

(If it weren't obvious, I was OP above who is being called an "asshole".)

Meh, if I can't handle being called an asshole by some anonymous coward who is clearly either a troll or an entitled kid, then I have no business being on the Internet. Like I said in the original post above, my house, my money, my rules.

Re:Why? (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 5 years ago | (#25171483)

BRAVO. It is good to see someone to have the gust to say so in public, specially among all this "privacy at all costs, screw everything else" crowd we have on Slashdot (mostly).

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25169479)

Third, when my children start paying for the Internet connection which, by the way, is not a necessity, then they'll have the right to decide how they're going to use it. I pay for it, so I get to set and enforce the ground rules.

I think it is good that you will pay close attention to what your children do. But should you have to use the flow of money as a justification for oversight/control?
Should it be okay for your kids to get piercings, full-body tattoos, green hair and black painted fingernails all without your consent if they earned the money and paid for those things?

On the other side of the coin, some parents might use their payment for many things as a basis to enforce some things that most of us would consider going too far (even if legal).
Some husbands use money to control their wives.

The influence/power of money can be a very negative thing even with adults.
I would hope that kids could understand that the rules are an important good thing with good reasons and respect them for those reasons instead of complying because of whose money is involved.
Remind them that you set rules for yourself too... even simple things, like not driving when too tired.

(Disclaimer: I'm not a parent, so I may be clueless as to what actually works in practice)

Re:Why? (1)

MasterOfMagic (151058) | more than 5 years ago | (#25169659)

(I am the person who wrote the GP post, and as it says, I am not a parent either.)

I agree. It's wrong to use it as sole justification, but there's nothing wrong with using it as part justification. My house, my rules, my money. Ideally, my goal is to help my children to grow into adults and learn about the world. My actions may look petty or arbitrary to you, but I'm doing what I'm doing for a reason.

Re:Why? (1)

owndao (1025990) | more than 5 years ago | (#25175323)

Don't worry. I'm sure we can trust them to guard this information with their lives. After all, they fought so hard against illegal wiretapping and then insisted that they should pay the full penalty of law for any breaches in that regard... Oops! I reserve the right to revise and consent to the inclusion of the above comment, that may or may not have been written by me depending upon whether I can remember it or not, in the record. I relinquish my remaining minutes to the next special interest group in line.

Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164387)

If I'm to go by what other companies think it's a clearly affirmative accepting a contract, it'll probably go like this: somewhere in the fine print of their contract, or maybe in an EULA on their router/modem config page, will be something like "I agree to be tracked, and the company can do whatever it wishes with my data." And if you don't agree, then you can't use their service. Bonus points if:

A) you only find that out after you bougt the service and,

B) they're the only choice you have.

Hey, it worked for software EULAs, didn't it?

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (4, Interesting)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164429)

Or maybe, just maybe, these companies are fed up with 3 letter agencies poking their noses around and this is a way to 'stick it to the man'

Perhaps they will be able to hold up their hands and say "We got nothing, sorry"

Nobody does 'opt-in' these days, very probably there is a little more to this story.

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (2, Interesting)

rpillala (583965) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165917)

This is certainly not the case. The three letter agencies are increasingly staffed with contractors from private firms. The idea of selling intelligence collection to the private sector has been gaining ground since GHW Bush years, and really took off after 9/11. At that time, the government found that they had laid off all the analysts who could do the kind of cold war work they needed, and had to rehire them at several times their old rate. Estimates put the number of contractors at CIA (for example) at 70% of the budget. The budget is, of course, highly classified and we can't know for certain.

That's neither here nor there, but companies like Verizon wouldn't say no to a fat payday like they've been getting. In the name of corporate responsibility? Responsibility to anyone but their shareholders? If there hadn't been huge sums of money involved, Verizon wouldn't have cooperated with warrantless wiretapping programs in the first place.

As recently as last year, a study group comprised of executives from Booz Allen Hamilton, SAIC, and other intelligence contractors reached the conclusion that foreign and domestic intelligence operations need to be more interconnected than they have been in the past. Surprise, surprise, since it means they'll get a lot more work from the govt.

Read Spies for Hire [timshorrock.com] by Tim Shorrock.

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 5 years ago | (#25174383)

No need for me to read about spying good sir, I am a disgruntled former defence signals directorate drone, willing to exchange secrets for carbonated diet beverage or preferably beer. :-)

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (3, Insightful)

pha7boy (1242512) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164487)

that would not really be "opt in" it would be more like "force in" - I assume it will be one of those mildly worded pop-ups that most people will hit yes/no on without actually reading it. Those paying attention will be able to keep themselves out of it, but then again, it's not the "geek" the marketers are after - it's the housewife/grandma/teen that is the big prize.

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (1)

elysiana (1152995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164945)

This is hardly a "force-in". It's the consumer's responsibility to read the terms of their contract. There have been several times where I have decided not to invest in a service because I found some fine print that I didn't like. Just because it's hard to find and often overlooked doesn't mean they're forcing you to agree to use their service and any terms it entails.

As an aside, I think that there should also be an option to opt OUT at any time.

Re:Buried in page 15 of the EULA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25166931)

Already in the Verizon Wireless contract, which unless you know where to go, or do some serious digging, you don't get a copy until you sign up.

Let me guess... (3, Insightful)

Shajenko42 (627901) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164389)

The "opt-in" will be part of the agreement to get service in the first place, thereby adhering to the letter of this promise, but not the spirit.

Re:Let me guess... (2, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165885)

The "opt-in" will be part of the agreement to get service in the first place, thereby adhering to the letter of this promise, but not the spirit.

Or, the ever popular "by continuing to use this service you agree to all terms and conditions" when they change their TOS to existing customers.

I simply have a hard time that these companies will keep this one little line item separate, and make sure that when you click on it you are only clicking on it.

The propensity to bundle all of the things into one big uber license it just too common, and companies retroactively changing TOS is hardly new.

Cheers

Define "meaningful" opt-in (4, Insightful)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164391)

Will they really lay it all out for the customer: "We want to spy on you. Is that cool?" Or will they try and hide it in section 10.123.31 of the TOS: "By breathing, you hereby give ATT perpetual, non-revocable permission to spy on you."

Re:Define "meaningful" opt-in (1, Funny)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164629)

What if it's buried as the iFrame exploit attached to "Click Here to Install"?

Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164397)

I'm pretty sure the "explicit opt-in" will be something buried deep within the TOS agreement, like, page 30 or something. I don't trust these guys one bit. They've been dirty, they're still dirty, and they're getting nastier every day.

woohoo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164403)

This makes me happy. Not as happy as shaved pussy, but it's nice.

BS (2, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164405)

AT&T cannot ever be trusted.

Re:BS (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165283)

AT&T cannot ever be trusted.

Sorry, but the validity of your knee-jerk reaction is relevant only to the government's spying efforts. Which are not the subject of the article.

I have ATT DSL service. I have few objections to my service agreement. More importantly, I use my service to an extent not possible by those seduced by the promises of cable companies, whom I consider for the most part to be bottom of the barrel feeders. That's a roundabout way of saying that yes, the government may be spying on me, but I get to laugh doubly hard at the Comcastic jokes.

As for the article itself, you can argue whether such efforts are being made in good faith or whether they're a good idea generally, but it's entirely possible that for the likes of ATT, for example, trading off minimal (at present) consumer protections to prevent forced industry-wide regulation by the government could be viewed as a positive step.

So, yes, you can trust ATT. In the same way you can trust all large businesses. Trust in their self-interested motivations to find compromise and avoid bumping up against the self-interested choices or actions of consumers, or by the government who (hopefully) represents them.

Re:BS (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166143)

Actually I wasn't referring to the government spying. I was referring to AT&T making a fraudulent claim against me because one of their clerks screwed up when I returned a cable modem 9 years ago. They tried to charge me ridiculous fees saying I never returned my cable modem. I produced a receipt and they still didn't remove the claim.

That's a large part of why I don't trust AT&T.

Re:BS (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166991)

AT&T and cable modem? Am I the only one confused here?

Re:BS (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25167387)

Yes, you are. [wikipedia.org]

Re:BS (1)

blargster (239820) | more than 5 years ago | (#25170321)

No, he's not. By the same Wikipedia article you linked to, the AT&T Broadband company was sold to Comcast in 2002 and is not in any way the same AT&T that exists today.

Re:BS (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25174393)

Yup, not the same AT&T that exists today. Which is good, because we're not talking about the AT&T of today:

Quoting from great-grandfather post, the original subject of this discussion:

Actually I wasn't referring to the government spying. I was referring to AT&T making a fraudulent claim against me because one of their clerks screwed up when I returned a cable modem 9 years ago. They tried to charge me ridiculous fees saying I never returned my cable modem. I produced a receipt and they still didn't remove the claim.

OK, that's 9 years ago. Which would be in the timeframe of AT&T Cable. Which did exist at the time. So the story is credible.

(Here's the part where you cover up for your poor reading comprehension skills by mumbling something about holding a grudge against AT&T when the cable division doesn't even exist any more.)

Opting-Out Mr. Anderson? (5, Funny)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164483)

So, tell me Mr. Anderson, why didn't YOU opt-in?

I mean, if you aren't doing anything wrong, you might as well, right?

My colleagues believe that I am wasting my time with you, but I believe you wish to do the right thing. We're willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start.

Re:Opting-Out Mr. Anderson? (1)

supernova_hq (1014429) | more than 5 years ago | (#25167855)

We're willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start.

Does this mean they'll forget about my torrents?

Re:Opting-Out Mr. Anderson? (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 5 years ago | (#25168537)

>Does this mean they'll forget about my torrents?

No, we need to leave those open for easy Sentinel access

Hello slash dot (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164617)

It has come to my attention that you are all a bunch of heterosexual straight people who prefer penis in vagina intercourse. ha ha ha ha ha!

Opt-In Via Clickjacking (2, Funny)

Prototerm (762512) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164707)

Clickjacking is about the only way they'd be able to get anyone to give their "informed" consent.

"The rest of the web world"? (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164729)

OK, if I was getting my internet service through Google instead of AT&T I'd be more worried about Google, as opposed to AT&T, tracking my online activity.

Not hat I'm exactly happy about Google's history, but damn, when an ISP can see every page you visit no matter who's hosting it they should be expected to hold to a higher standard of behavior.

Re:"The rest of the web world"? (2, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166041)

Not hat I'm exactly happy about Google's history, but damn, when an ISP can see every page you visit no matter who's hosting it they should be expected to hold to a higher standard of behavior.

Yes. As much as people argue that an ISP isn't a common carrier, they essentially fill the role.

They can't have it both ways. Either they're just a medium and what you transmit is none of their business, allowing them to retain zero liability for what you send. Or, they're not a common carrier, and they can read it all they want but also be on the hook for policing it.

Cheers

The one thing you can be guaranteed of.. (1)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164797)

is whatever it is, that AT&T is lying about it.

I used to work for those guys, and "not telling the customer what is going on" was the first hour of training. (As in, how to do it effectively without sounding like you are doing it.)

After the mystery rooms are gone, they may have a shred of credibility. But now? Uhm, no.

The only reason they decided this..... (3, Insightful)

bleh-of-the-huns (17740) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164919)

voluntarily, is because they are trying to head off government regulation of private data.

But people are right, it will probably be buried inside the TOS, which makes for an interesting dilemma, since requiring explicit permission to use the data would allow you to say yes or no without affecting your service, but if you say no to the TOS because the clause is in there, you can be denied service....

How about a discount? (2, Insightful)

sBox (512691) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165141)

If they offered a break on our monthly bills for anonymous usage statistics, I bet 72% of Americans would take it.

Uh huhh, riiiight. (2, Insightful)

handmedowns (628517) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165227)

Why is this even relevant since we already know they assisted with warrantless wiretapping? Are they trying to prove they have a conscience or prove that they've got ethics and respect our privacy so long as no one else asks them to violate it? What a joke. I will never support AT&T or Verizon in any way that I'll be aware of.

The Beast Exposed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165259)

From the article:

"If given a choice and clear notice, most people probably would not "opt in" to tracking -- and advertising would suffer..."

"Every advertising platform and business model would be put at risk."

It is obvious that from the outset these business models were based deliberately on surreptitious methods with no thought whatsoever given to future consequences. Such actions are both flagrantly unconscionable and inexcusable.

The consumer must come first. If many businesses will fail because of an "opt in" policy then so be it. The fault is entirely upon these short-sighted -- if not totally corrupt -- investors and entrepreneurs.

splonge (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165617)

and mortifY1ng

comcast or verizon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165703)

Comcast throttling my bandwidth is more attractive than trusting AT&T's word. Once a lier, always a lier.

there needs to be more choice in service providers in the U.S.

What if your on the Opt-in list? (1)

McFly69 (603543) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166005)

How do you check if your on the Opt-in list? When signing up for any service provider, you have to check of an dagree to these LONG agreements. What if one of the questiosn forces you to opt-in? So back to my orginal question, how do we check if we are already on the opt-in list?

They're just trying to forestall legislation (1)

rubato (883366) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166007)

This isn't a suddenoutbreakofcommonsense, at least in the way the tagger meant it. They just want to avoid legislation which would require opt-in before they could do any user tracking, with criminal penalties for failure to comply.

Trusting them to uphold this pledge in any meaningful way is like trusting the deregulated banks not to invest in overly risky derivatives. That should never have been left to their discretion; neither should this.

Read the fine print.... (1)

Bullfish (858648) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166449)

Telecos and Cable companies love the negative option approach (you're in unless you tell us you're not) and bury it in fine print. It will be interesting to see how they word future agreements and how they bury the provisos.

Whatever 'certain' data means... (1)

doojsdad (1162065) | more than 5 years ago | (#25166521)

What he said is essentially meaningless since he didn't say "Internet-usage data" or "all Internet-usage data". The word 'certain' could be anything and nothing. I'm not convinced.

72% (1)

omfglearntoplay (1163771) | more than 5 years ago | (#25167007)

Something about the '72 percent of Americans worry their online activities are being tracked by companies.' thing just pisses me right off. It's like saying it doesn't matter if people aren't aware they are being screwed over, so let's take a survey to see if we really need to address it or not. Maybe we can learn how to keep secrets better and fuck over the public a little more. These surveys are great!

Really though, I don't give a shit who is worried about it or not. If the bastards are doing it, then address that. We don't need everything tracked in the name of security. If you are infringing on 99.9% of innocent people to catch the .1%, then it's obviously wrong.

Nothing to worry about guys! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25167483)

It's not like they'll continue to track information or use what they've already gathered over the past years.

Sure they were given immunity from lawsuits for exactly that situation, but that doesn't mean they'll want to get away with it!

Dear AT&T / Verizon Customer (2, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25168233)

Please accept this check for $8.99 as a show of gratitude for being a customer.

Please note depositing the check indicates you want to enroll in our free customer satisfaction service. The CSS includes free online billing information and free online customer tracking services. You'll also be able to get offers for special discounts to concerts and shows!

RTFA and you'll see... (1)

Net_fiend (811742) | more than 5 years ago | (#25170071)

that it has to do with the big 2 trying to keep the government from regulating them on tracking users' browsing habits. The article indicated that this was about saying "hey we don't want regulation from you we can regulate ourselves see". Which we all still know is a crock since we as the consumer have no actual oversight on how this all actually works behind the scenes.

The article had nothing to do with the government wire tappings, etc. Although I would yield to the fact that they didn't explicitly say anything against doing so. Basically Verizon and ATT were saying hey we handle our customer data and choices for them better than Google does, go after Google.

Now, with that being said I wouldn't assume you're "safe" (depending on your paranoia level) from peering eyes on your activities both on your mobile web and phone usage. If the military/CIA/NSA/[insert hated 3 letter FED here] deem your usage an urgent matter of national security they're going to be able to see whatever you've done assuming the said provider has the data. I don't know why everyone thinks that just because it isn't outlined in some law or some TOS or EULA that this doesn't happen. Sad as it is at this point in our history (regardless of whom is in power) the government does whatever the hell it wants to whom ever the hell it wants. And good luck trying to stop them or get any reparations from them when its over and you're laying in the street naked after being raped.

This is the reality we live in and it won't change until we as a society (idiots and all) decide we want real change and no I don't mean the Obama "change". Yeesh that guy needs another slogan. And no, I'm not rooting for the other guy either. But you know what...just as posted in another slashdot "thread" trading one asshat for another really isn't a "choice".

AT&T and Verizon have pledged (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25174409)

And AT&T has never, every lied to Congress before.

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