AT&T will no longer monitor the Web surfing habits of home internet customers using its fastest, gigabit speed connections, the company said Friday.
Kansas City is one of a handful of markets where customers in select neighborhoods can buy the service.
When AT&T launched its Gigapower service in Kansas City two years ago, moving to compete with Google Fiber’s similarly fast home internet service, it offered two price levels.
U-verse customers could pay $100 a month for the super-speed connections and bar the company from tracking what data traveled to and from their homes.
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For $70 a month, the company promised the same 1,000 megabits per second speeds, but it would record what AT&T called “internet preferences” that would influence the ads fed to its customers. In theory, that would make for more precise targeting, which would be attractive to advertisers and, possibly, to the consumers they hope to reach.
“I see a company … manipulating consumers into choosing to give up their privacy,” wrote Stacey Higginbotham at the time on the now-defunct GigaOm.
AT&T told customers who opted for the discounted price that it would track “the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter. … AT&T Internet Preferences works independently of your browser’s privacy settings regarding cookies, do-not-track, and private browsing. If 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.”
Now, AT&T is changing course.
First reported by the Ars Technica website, which noted an internet forum where someone had reported a customer service representative referencing a company memo, AT&T issued a brief statement on Friday.
“To simplify our offering for our customers, we plan to end the optional Internet Preferences advertising program related to our fastest internet speed tiers,” the statement reads. “As a result, all customers on these tiers will receive the best rate we have available for their speed tier in their area. We’ll begin communicating this update to customers early next week.”
The company will dump that tracking and charge anybody who buys its Gigapower level connections $70 per month for a connection in the Kansas City market. So customers who took the privacy-light discounted service will no longer see AT&T watch what they watch. Those who paid a premium to keep their behavior secret will see their rates drop $30 a month.
Google Fiber, which debuted industrial speed internet connections to home consumers in Kansas City, does not use that service to catalog what websites users visits. However, its companion cable-style video service pays attention to what shows viewers watch.
Using that data, advertisers can pinpoint ads to a specific TV in a home. So two televisions in the same home watching the same program simultaneously might see different commercials based on how long-term viewing habits differ in the bedroom and the living room.